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Women in Leadership Tout Mentorship, Equity

Special Coverage: 2022 AX Conference

The 2022 Airport Experience Conference kicked off its range of educational sessions on Monday morning with the second annual Women in Leadership breakfast. The event included a panel discussion led by AXN Publisher Melissa K. Montes and featuring four women who are currently leading organizations and teams in the airport and concessions spaces.

The panelists discussed only their beginnings as women in a male-dominated space, but also what they’re doing these days to keep the next generation of both men and women leaders engaged and thriving in the workforce.

A common theme of the discussion was the necessity of taking risks when developing a career. Nancy Knipp, president at Airport Dimensions, said she urges young professionals to fully explore their options. “If you are starting your career and you have the opportunity to move, to live in different areas, to try different places and go outside your comfort zone, that’s how you grow,” she said. “In taking risks, I was able to move into different positions.”

Director of Boise Airport (BOI) Rebecca Hupp echoed this sentiment, recalling her first airport role as part of a management training program meant to develop young professionals for supervisory roles. When a job offer materialized mid-program, she was tempted to jump but was advised by a mentor to stay the course.

“I was called into his office and told to finish the program instead of taking the job. He made me realize I was thinking about the next step instead of the next ten steps,” said Hupp. “He made me take that risk, and I’m glad he did.”

Airport Dimensions’ Knipp also mentioned that building a supportive network of both peers and mentors can help build confidence when feeling isolated. Judy Byrd, president and CEO of Byrd Retail Group, agreed, telling the story of when she first began working in airports in Chicago.

“There were two very strong women who were on the legal team for negotiations with a law firm representing the city. They took me under their wing and taught me the ins and outs as the terminal was being built,” Byrd said. “The room never looked like [it does today]. There were very few women at these conferences. …I had the double-hit of being the only woman in the room, and [often the only black person].”

Kate Webb, director of concessions at Tampa International Airport (TPA), felt similarly, echoing the need to amplify voices that might be sharing the most innovative ideas. “When we have two or more voices in the room saying similar things, it really moves that needle. Sometimes, I might be one of only two women in the room, but it can be powerful if they’ll listen to us a little bit more because they haven’t heard that voice before.”

And it’s not just the corporate side. These insights apply also to the customer-facing employees that tend to get left behind in equity discussions. At TPA, there is a program for customers and staff to nominate employees who go above and beyond in the course of their work. When awarding these accolades, the TPA team makes a spectacle of the award and the employee that earned it. “We want people to know who our superstars are and we want you to know that we see you and appreciate you,” said Webb.