Professional Women Controllers’ Conference 2022

19-22 April 2022, Charlotte, North Carolina

It was an honour to attend this year’s Professional Women Controllers’ Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. The conference was heart-filling and inspiring in equal measure, and I enjoyed a wonderfully warm welcome from the committee members. PWC have created an uplifting training environment alongside solidarity and sisterhood and the opportunity to network. In their words, the Professional Women Controllers, PWC, was founded in 1978 by Sue Townsend and Jacque Smith to be an advocate of a culturally diverse workforce. Its purpose is to encourage women to enter the air traffic control profession. Their vision is to achieve a balanced workforce that reflects the demographics of society and to be a resource that provides support, training, encouragement, and camaraderie for all air traffic professionals. It offers a place to learn about yourself, meet new friends and make professional contacts.

As keen readers of previous reports on PWC will notice PWC takes a different location each year and this year’s Professional Women Controllers Conference was held in Charlotte, North Carolina. The city of Charlotte was named in honour of Charlotte of Mecklenberg-Strelitz, the queen consort of King George III, and is commonly referred to as the Queen City. This local history inspired the theme for this year’s conference of Queen’s Landing, Connect and Learn Together and goes some way to explain the tiaras and crowns you may see in the photos. Many more photos can be found of the conference on their website.

It's worth noting that PWC registration is open to all air traffic controllers, and they are extremely welcoming of international attendees. I can’t recommend the experience highly enough, should you have the opportunity to go, take it! The FAA considers the conference to provide personal and professional development and permits conference attendees paid time off to attend as it.

Next year the conference is in Puerto Rico! You can read more about PWC on their website and find contact details here:

Here are some brief highlights of the sessions I attended:

The PWC conference was officially opened with the US National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. Followed by a welcome from Timothy Arel, the acting Chief Operating Officer, FAA and Jenn Lemmon, President, PWC. Tim talked passionately about the importance of collaboration and encouraging diversity within aviation.

Next was a fascinating presentation by Judy Curtis, Executive Vice President of the Beechcraft Museum. Jody has witnessed the Museum grow from the Staggerwing Museum Foundation to the current 78,000 square foot, climate controlled, world class general aviation museum it is today. The museum was established in 1973 in Tullahoma, Tennessee and is a tribute to Walter Beech. Walter collaborated to produce the Staggerwing which took its first flight in 1932. Judy described Mrs Olive Ann Beech, born in 1903, as a tenacious and formidable woman by all accounts and was considered the ‘First Lady of Aviation’. Olive was a fearless and formidable leader of Beech and continued as the president of the company after Walter’s death in 1950. She took no rest from company work and even had a phone line installed in hospital with a direct line to Beech HQ when she was giving birth. In 1956 she was titled ‘Top Man” by Business Week.

What message would Olive give to PWC today:

  • Do your best
  • Show what you can do
  • Perform well

‘Work Life Solutions’ and NATCA rep Jennifer Malloy:

Jennifer described the Nursing Mothers Program and the room/pod provisions associated with it. She detailed the provisions they aim for including portable lactation pods for units with limited space.

‘Daily Stress Balance and Work Life Survival’ by Michelle Hamilton.

During her session, Michelle focussed on understanding your personal values. She discussed the importance of delegation including considering why people don’t delegate when they should.

Next was an extraordinary presentation from Wendy Buckingham (pictured below, with Jenn Lemmon, President PWC): ‘Resiliency in the face of life’s battles’. Currently a serving member of the USAF, while on active duty, she practiced in a variety of legal areas as an

Assistant Staff Judge Advocate before deploying in June 2009 to Baghdad, Iraq. While transiting in the red zone in Iraq on August 21, 2009, her convoy was struck by an explosively formed projectile (EFP). A large piece of shrapnel from the EFP shattered the top of her right tibia causing significant damage to her right leg. She also sustained minor injuries to her face, left hand, and left leg. Following five surgical procedures and eight months of rehabilitation, Wendy returned to active duty. Wendy described in detail her experience of the attack in Iraq and how it set her on a slow road of rehabilitation. She described times when she was so eager to get her strength back that she was working harder and faster than her body could repair itself and had to accept that her body was setting its own pace. She learnt the importance of being patient in recovery. She described the lessons of resilience in overcoming adversity and the importance of the language that we use to describe ourselves and others.

‘Servant leadership’ by Migdalia Gonzalez:

During her seminar Migdalia described servant leadership as empowering others as well as the qualities of a successful servant-leader.

‘Get Up and Fight’ by Dr Jean Kanokogi (pictured below, with Jacque Smith, one of the founder members of PWC):

Rusty (Jean’s mother) who is considered to be the ‘Mother of Women’s Judo’ was born in Brooklyn, New York. In 1959, Rusty competed at the YMCA judo championship in Utica, New York, disguised as a man but her medal was taken once it was realised, she was a woman. In 1984 she advocated for Women’s Judo in the Olympics. Rusty was a formidable and unstoppable force, she fearlessly advocated for women in judo and succeeded.

‘Leadership lessons’ by Virginia ‘Ginny’ Boyle:

Virginia (Ginny) Boyle is currently serving as the Vice President for System Operations Services. She talked about resilience and responding to setbacks. Throughout her career, and especially when she had setbacks, she reminds herself of the phrase: ‘When someone closes a door crawl through the window!’.

‘FAA Special Ops’ by Greg Bean and Chad Whitman:

Greg and Chad gave an overview of System Operations Security which includes National Defense, Homeland security, law enforcement and emergency operations including disaster response. AJR-2 was founded after September 11, 2001, with the intention of protecting the US against air domain related threats. They are tasked with trouble shooting unusual events for example a hypoxic event.

‘Space 101’ by Duane Freer and James Hatt:

Among other aspects Duane and James described the 2nd Space Race and the factors in its development as well as The Space Operations group, the FAA’s Air Traffic Organisation’s (ATO) office of primary responsibility for launch and re-entry of space operations, which oversees the ATO effort to integrate space operations into the NAS (National Airspace System).

‘CISM’ by NATCA reps, Sarah Grampp and Andrea Moore:

NATCA have 15 CISM Peer debriefers across the US appointed by the Union. Managers access CISM support through the EAP. Debriefing usually involves a group of 3 or more and follows the Mitchell model 7 step process.

‘Dead Reckoning’ by Diane Vaughan:

Diane has written three books on how things go wrong in organisations: Controlling Unlawful Organisational Behaviour, Uncoupling, and The Challenger Launch Decision. The fourth book in the project, Dead Reckoning: Air Traffic Control, System Effects, and Risk (September 2021) is her negative case, looking at how the air traffic control system gets it (mostly) right. As part of her research Diane considered boundaries, boundary work and resilience in Air Traffic Control. She asked the question: What makes this system so safe, what do controllers do that technology can’t replace?

Fireside chat with Tim Arel, the acting Chief Operating Officer, FAA:

This was an informal conversation in which Tim talked about future plans and ATC recovery from COVID. He described some of issues regarding the implementation of 5G and the implications for aviation. He also talked more generally about motivation for working and said it’s important to ‘Find your why’ and not be pulled in by the ‘tyranny of the urgent’; try to operate strategically. Tim emphasised the importance of understanding when to operate tactically and when to think strategically. He also said to always build in the time for effective communication. Feel empowered and ‘Drive it like you stole it!’

Lastly, there was a workshop on ‘Giving and Receiving Feedback’ by Angela E. Kochuba

This session was skills based. Angela talked through the benefits of different feedback models. There were role play exercises with other conference attendees to practice the skills she described. Aside from the skills the big take away from this session is to GIVE MORE POSITIVE FEEDBACK! There are plenty of times when we could give positive feedback whether it’s to a colleague, a friend, or a family member. Take the time and just do it!

Esthi Thurston
ATCOs’ Branch

Leave a Reply