United CEO Oscar Munoz penned a letter to employees reflecting upon Black History Month.
It brought my attention M’Lis Ward, the first female African-American captain for a major U.S. airline. She is Denver-based Airbus A320 pilot for United.
Here is Munoz’s letter:
Dear United family,
Earlier this week, our new President of California, Janet Lamkin, attended a ceremony in L.A. with a very special United employee as a guest: our Denver-based colleague, Captain M’Lis Ward. As a fellow alum of USC, I’ve come to know and regard M’Lis as a friend over the years. For those of you who know and work with Captain Ward, you already know she’s exceptional. She is an outstanding pilot, commanding the Airbus A320. Not only was she proud to represent United this week at the groundbreaking ceremony of the new United Airlines Memorial Coliseum, she also played on the Trojans championship-winning basketball team during her college days; she also served in the ROTC. She is a wonderful friend and mentor to so many people, especially young women, whom she has inspired to pursue careers in aviation.
You may also know her as the first female African-American captain for a major U.S. airline. As someone who has managed to break one of the highest glass ceilings there is — at 35,000 feet — her example of perseverance and professionalism is something that we can all be proud to have United associated with. I know I feel honored to be her colleague. But, it also shows how far we have yet to go before true equality of opportunity is the expectation, not the rare exception.
M’Lis’ story teaches us something else that I think is important as we observe Black History Month in the United States this February. To be sure, we ought to reflect on the long arc of history through which our African-American brothers and sisters have marched in order to achieve greater civil, racial and economic justice in the United States. We are also poignantly reminded of the tragic nature of much of that history, especially as we observe the 50th anniversary of the tumultuous events that marked the year 1968, culminating in the loss of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Teams at our hubs and stations across the system, as well as at the Corporate Support Center in Chicago, will be hosting various events throughout the month, and I encourage everyone to participate as much as possible.
As much as this month is about looking back at the past – at the events that roiled the United States and affect us still – it should also be about looking to one another in the present and asking what we can do today to advance the causes of opportunity and equality, respect and acceptance. I hope we look to leaders like Captain Ward and take confidence from the fact that, while we have much further progress to make, progress is indeed possible.
I truly hope everyone in the United family feels their talents are valued and their backgrounds celebrated. Wherever and whenever we fall short of that basic imperative, I insist that we take steps to make it right. Ultimately, we should aspire to make United a place where everyone can get ahead and no one is left behind; a place where people of every background and belief, color and orientation, feel empowered and respected.
That is a universal lesson we should all take to heart as we participate in the events during this important month.
Once again, Munoz demonstrates his primary role at United: a unifying figure that moves the airline toward progress that transcends far more than operational performance.
Next up, however, we will talk United operational performance.