Amelia is the managing director, assistant treasurer of American Airlines. Her job responsibilities include leading American Airlines’ corporate finance, debt administration and global banking teams, and participating on the company’s corporate finance deal team, which performs all of the financing for American Airlines and has executed over $20 billion of financings and refinancings since 2014.
On top of being a respected leader, Amelia is extremely passionate about helping women develop their business acumen in their careers as a critical way to get ahead and stand out from the crowd early in their career. She’s heavily involved in the company’s MBA recruitment program, and has also co-founded a grassroots initiative, Advancing Women in Aviation, that has taken her around the world, speaking to senior level men and women about the issues that women, supervisors, and companies face in the efforts to attract, retain and advance female talent.
In our interview with Amelia, she shares her top tips for women to command the conference room and, ultimately, the boardroom.
When you’re traveling around the world promoting your Advancing Women in Aviation initiative, what’s a common topic you discuss?
We talk about some of the myriad drivers of what we call “the leaky pipeline,” the situation where, in Fortune 500 companies, 50% of entry-level employees are female, yet only 5% of CEOs are female. That pathway, from entry level to CEO, is a very leaky pipeline and there are many, many factors which contribute to it. We endeavor to both raise awareness about those factors as well as engage both male and female leaders on the path of trying to change that.
What can women can do on their own to advance the movement of seeing more women in leadership?
There are a few key areas where women’s own behaviors could be sabotaging their chances for success, including the practice of certain communication styles, reluctance to self-promote, and fear of negotiation.
On the first one, women need to recognize that their communication patterns may be detracting from their authority. As females we’re always taught to smile a lot, to be very facilitative and to make everyone feel very comfortable around us.
We need to recognize that these same communication patterns and traditionally female body language are sometimes not supportive of presenting ourselves as strong leaders. Whether it’s using “up speak”, ending sentences with the sound of a question, or rather than saying "I think we should do A, B and C", they might say "Has anyone thought about A or B or C?” A male counterpart can make the same point, but he would use his body language to say "I'm establishing dominance here!" and say "We should do A, B and C!” People will look at him and say "Wow, that's a strong leader," and they will look at her and go "Did she make a comment? I didn't hear." We’ve been taught these behaviors since we were little girls, so it's not something that comes naturally to a lot of women, and it takes effort to unlearn that.
What can women do to become more fearless in their careers?
Women must become comfortable with self-promotion – our male peers certainly are! Especially early in your career, you should focus more on your capacity to learn, and less on what you have already done. Women have to break out of that mold where when we see a job posting, look at the requirements of the job and say, "Oh, I meet 9 out of those 10 but I don't have that tenth one so I'm not going to apply". A guy will look at the same job posting and say "I did one thing on the list and I can probably do the other 9 so I'm going to go in and ask for that job". In fact, he may feel entitled to it!
On the topic of job searching, share some advice on the important of negotiations during the job application process.
The best time to start negotiating for salary is before you ever walk in the door. Call people in the business and gather some market intel on the going rates are for salary, signing bonus, etc. You’d be surprised what people will tell you if you just ask. Be prepared to let prospective employers know early in the process what your salary expectations are, and start higher than where you hope to end up. Your market intel is critical here! And, not only should women be negotiating for salary, but you should seek out positions with incentive-based compensation. While this may be unlikely in an entry level position, once you've been in your career for 5-7 years, you should be looking for incentive-based compensation. That means not only a salary but bonuses and equity-based compensation. It's extremely rare for anyone to earn a seven figure income in any given year if they do not have equity compensation. Any equity compensation is usually a good thing, but the greatest equity upside may be in young companies likely to go public, or in more mature companies likely to be acquired or even spun off. So, think strategically about your income potential in your chosen industry or field.
What advice to you have for women who are mentoring future leaders?
We talk all the time about networking and branding, but I think we should focus more on actual business acumen; that is, the drivers of the success or failure of the business. Sometimes senior leaders don’t think about this because they figure it’s a given. Mentors should put this front and center. If a mentee doesn’t understand the fundamental drivers of a company’s revenues, costs, and competition, then all the networking and branding in the world will not help them to be successful in the long run.
How can a mentor break the communication barrier so that a younger, new-hired mentee understand the value of what they’re being taught?
As a mentor, you need to have a very honest conversation about what it takes to be successful in whatever industry you are a part of. Help them understand what’s driving change in their industry; what are the factors, and how can they affect them. Determining the competitive landscape, and what is the regulatory environment.
It’s really digging down into the actual business that you’re in. So when the mentee has a meeting with their boss or is making a presentation, they don’t just make sure that their PowerPoints doesn’t have any typos. You have to have a good presentation that tells a story, and has a real value proposition. You need to show that you understand the real drivers of profit and loss in your industry (assuming you’re in a for-profit industry). In the end, for most organizations making money is the name of the game.