Flying high: Atlantic airport CEO’s buck national trend

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Flying high: Atlantic airport CEO’s buck national trend

Category : News

Women are still grounded from corporate roles in many industries in the country, but in Atlantic Canada, female leaders are flying high running several of the region’s airports.

Five of the 12 commercial airports in the region, in fact – The Fredericton International Airport, Bathurst airport, Halifax Stanfield International Airport, JA Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport and Stephenville International Airport – are all run by women.

That accounts for 42 per cent – a huge difference from most of corporate Canada, where women still struggle to reach top positions.

An annual study released this month by executive search firm Rosenzweig & Company found that nine per cent of Canada’s 100 biggest publicly traded companies are run by women. That’s up from 7.9 per cent a year ago.

Advocacy groups have argued that women should make up at least 30 per cent of seats on corporate boards. A study released last fall by Canadian Securities Administrators suggested women still only make up 12 per cent of boards – up from 11 per cent the year before, but still nowhere close to the minimum called for.

And nowhere close to the percentage of women running Atlantic Canada’s airports.

Monette Pasher, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Airports Association, said women running local airports is a recent phenomenon.

“Ten years ago there wasn’t one woman that was the CEO of an Atlantic Canada airport,” she said.

It doesn’t appear to be a trend that’s mirrored at other Canadian airports. Of all 26 major national airports, only Fredericton’s and Halifax’s are run by women.

Johanne Gallant, CEO of the Fredericton International Airport Authority, said she believes the high number of women running airports in Atlantic Canada is proof the region is progressive when it comes to striving for that kind of gender parity.

“It’s a positive thing to see that Atlantic Canada and New Brunswick are leading the country in having more gender balance in the CEO role, and I look forward to a day when this is no longer news because we will have a diverse group of people in leadership roles across Canada,” she said.

Before she was hired to run Fredericton International Airport in 2015, she was acting CEO of the Greater Moncton International Airport for two years. Gallant said she’s had nothing but support.

“One thing about this community in Fredericton is that people are very progressive. They have embraced bringing a bilingual female CEO,” she said.

She said it’s been satisfying to see the airport’s growth but it’s come with challenges, such as the ongoing need to expand the airport’s space.

“This terminal is in great need. It’s overcapacity at this point. It’s a good challenge. That means we’re growing.”

Jennifer Henry has been the executive director for the Northern New Brunswick Airport Authority since 2007. She was one of the first female airport managers hired in the region.

Henry said she’s focused on bringing the airport to a standard to serve the region over the next several decades. She has no plans to leave the position. It continues to be a rewarding and challenging role, she said.

“I don’t want to make it about men versus women kind of thing but I think things are coming along where women are taking their place from a management perspective,” she said.

“I think this shows that women are becoming more comfortable in taking leadership positions. We are five examples in Atlantic Canada and, hopefully throughout Atlantic Canada, that it’s completely within our purview.”

She also noted several women hold managerial positions at area airports. When airport executives retire, there is a good chance about half or more of these positions could be filled by women moving up the ranks, she said.

Henry said she didn’t allow her gender or age to stand in her way of going for the airport’s executive director position when she was in her mid 30s. Her best advise to other women who want to take their place as corporate leaders is to simply go for it and to showcase their skills.

“The opportunities are there for the best qualified people. If it’s a woman, great. If it’s a man, great. At the end of the day the job requires that an airport be run well and the challenges are the same whether you’re a man or a woman.”

Joyce Carter took over as president and CEO of the Halifax International Airport Authority in 1999. She became the airport’s CEO in 2006, its chief strategy officer in 2008, and has been president amd CEO since 2014.

Brenda Martin has been the airport manager of the Stephenville Airport Authority on the west coast of Newfoundland since 2011.

Helen MacInnis, who has been the CEO of the Sydney Airport Authority since 2011, is soon retiring.

Tammy Schirle, an associate professor of economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the high number of female CEOs of Atlantic Canada’s airports could make for an interesting case study “to find out what makes these five women unique and what skill sets they bring to the job and their experience relative to the men who are doing these jobs.”

Air passenger traffic in Atlantic Canada has been on a steady upward climb, growing by 20 per cent in the last decade.

Credits: Laverne Stweart | The Daily Gleaner