MORE WOMEN IN AIR, BUT STILL ON LOW RUNGS

MORE WOMEN IN AIR, BUT STILL ON LOW RUNGS

In the traditionally male-dominated world of air cargo, the numbers of women in the industry has increased significantly over the past two decades.

However, the number of women who have broken into the upper echelons remains small, and the rate at which change is occurring is unremarkable.As in other industries, the percentage of women in the pipeline far exceeds the percentage of women at the top. Although statistics about the numbers of women in the industry are nonexistent, it is striking how few women there are in the upper levels of the industry's foremost companies.

WHAT'S THE DEAL?

What accounts for the discrepancy between the numbers of women in the work force and the numbers in the corner suite? According to several high-ranking women, discrimination has not been a hindrance to their careers.

None of the interviewees stated that they had problems working with supervisors, colleagues or subordinates because of their gender, or felt that there was a glass ceiling keeping them from attaining higher positions. ''There's no limit on moving through the ranks. Management is very supportive," said Francine Crespi, regional sales director for Quick Courier International in New York.

Many of the women emphasized the growth in the numbers of women in the industry overall. Others said that the status of women had not changed in their companies, because the situation had always been equitable.

"Here in this particular department, there's never been any difference. It's helpful; it's not a male-female situation. It's more like 'Hey, we're in this together.' There wasn't a need for a change," said Judy Berkowitz, area manager of cargo sales for Trans World Airlines Inc.

LOW TURNOVER RATE

Some say that the scarcity of women in air cargo management can be accounted for by the low turnover rate in the industry. Susan Skolnik, president of Envirotainer Leasing Ltd. in San Diego, said: "It appears to be a male-dominated industry, but I think this is because in airlines it takes a long time to see these kinds of changes. People stay in their jobs for a long time, and there isn't a real high turnover rate.

"In terms of being male-dominated, women aren't looked down upon in the industry," she said. "The appearance is more due to the employment status of a long time ago. People stay in their jobs in the airlines for 10, 15, 25 years."

The low numbers of women at higher levels at large companies may also be due to their concentration in only a few areas of air cargo. Among the women who are in upper management, very few control the operations side of the business.

"As far as operations, I don't see much change. There are still not many people in higher levels there," said Mary Jane McLaughlin Ely, president of Primac Courier Inc. in New York.

In addition to inclination, a difference in atmosphere may account for the dearth of women in operations. Joan Lynch, cargo customer service manager for Air France said: "The second floor is sales and office work, it's more professional. In the warehouse there's more joking around, but there's a lot of respect there too.

"There's no one here who can't handle themselves, let's put it that way," said Ms. Lynch. "In the warehouse, there are guys palletizing freight, so the language is going to be coarser. Ten or 12 years ago, that kind of thing was more prevalent."

Women do have an especially large presence in areas where verbal communication plays a role. Of the top ranked women in the industry, many head the marketing, customer service or sales departments of their companies, and women are present in large numbers at all levels in these areas.

"There are a lot of women cargo sales reps," said Ms. Lynch. "In Los Angeles all of them might be women, in Chicago two-thirds are women, starting about a year and a half ago two-sixths are in New York."

Ms. Crespi noted the growth in numbers of women in sales: "I've been in the industry since 1981 and at that point, probably in terms of sales women, there were only a handful. Ten years later there's a lot more acceptance of women in the industry. I think we've proven that we can be knowledgeable and reliable, and that it's not a man's world just because it's cargo."

VISIBLE POSITIONS

Ms. Ely explained why women are increasingly predominating in this area: "I was the first cargo sales rep at Northwest Orient. Back in the '70s it was very unusual. But they found that women are very successful in sales, and they're so visible. This is true in many industries, not just air freight. Many companies hire women in services.

''This is partly because in services women are more sensitive, and more service-oriented either by nature or by training or conditioning," she said. ''I've found that women are more able to accept rejection than men, to not take it personally. With men their egos get involved. In marketing too - it's a matter of having better verbal skills."

Ms. Lynch concurred. "There's a more enlightened outlook. Quite frankly, the women are better than the men. They have more stick-to-it-ness and they're more aggressive. Many of them come up from customer service, which is a stepping stone to being a sales rep. I don't think the old management would have promoted them. Now they do because they need people with product management knowledge."

Carolina Muoio, air express manager at John F. Kennedy International Airport for Radix International, noted that being a woman in sales can be advantageous: "If you're in sales, it's definitely positive. If you're attractive and you have good rapport, doors open more easily. But in my position, it has no bearing. It's your own personal attitude that makes a difference."

Many agree with Ms. Muoio's latter sentiment, espousing a gender-blind viewpoint with regard to their own positions. "I really am opposed to the premise of this article," said Therese Corso, director of cargo marketing services at KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. "I think it's wrong to classify a person by their gender, and to single out a person because of it."

Similarly, Carole A. Presley, senior vice president for marketing and corporate communications at Federal Express Corp., responded by fax: "I don't think of myself as a high-ranking woman, never have, never will."

''When I was in high school you could be a nurse, a secretary or a teacher," said Ms. Skolnik. "Girls played with dolls and boys played with footballs. I've never been a women's libber. I've always thought that if you were smart and worked hard you could get to wherever you wanted."

Ms. Ely added: "It's always a surprise that a woman runs anything, that she owns airplanes, and equipment. I think it's really on an individual basis. I had 10 years background in the business before starting this company, so I had paid my dues and people respected me. If you don't have that experience now and you try to sell people something, they may not trust you, whether you're a man or a woman."