F/O Karen Lacy Shatters Glass Ceiling

On Jan. 1, 2017, F/O Karen Lacy (ExpressJet) made ALPA history when she officially became the first female executive vice president (EVP) in the Association’s history. Air Line Pilot reached out to Lacy to get her thoughts on this momentous achievement and what led her here. Below is the extended version of her interview, with additional text from the print edition.

Q.   First of all, congratulations. With your election to the Executive Council, you broke an ALPA glass ceiling. What was your initial reaction?

A.   “Wait, what year is this? How is this still a thing? Well, then I guess it’s about time.” I knew that women in elected ALPA positions were rare, but I wasn’t aware that I’d be a “first.” I was told about it just after the election was completed and before Tim [Canoll, ALPA’s president] officially announced the results, so I didn’t really have time for it to sink in before my name was announced. Then I couldn’t stop smiling.

Q.   You’ve worked on a Merger Committee, your airline’s Steering Committee, as a first officer rep, and on the Fee-for-Departure Committee at the national level. And now EVP. What’s compelled you to step up and volunteer throughout your ALPA career? And how has that work paved your way to where you are now?

A.   I knew from day one that I wanted to be involved with the union. Once you get involved with ALPA and are doing good work, I’ve found that it’s fairly easy to get tasked with new projects and fill different roles. My work on the Fee-for-Departure Committee, in particular, opened my eyes to the challenges pilots are facing on local, national, and global levels, and the importance of unity throughout all the threats to our career. I’m passionate about doing what I can to make sure every ALPA pilot has a long and fulfilling career.

Q.   And how did you get started in your career?

A.   My dad and his parents had their private pilots’ licenses so aviation is in my blood, and I’ve always been interested in flying. I went to college for aviation, but I started in August 2001; and as we all know, the pilot career path was pretty bleak around then. Because of that, after graduation I tried several nonflying jobs. Eventually I started flight instructing in my spare time, and I finally accepted that being a pilot was what I was meant to do. I took the plunge and started at the regionals knowing that my career path might be bumpy. I haven’t regretted my decision at all—being a pilot is truly the best job in the world.

Q.   Do you have any mentors, either as a pilot or with your ALPA work? Are you a mentor?

A.   Oh, I have had a lot of mentors. It takes a village, you know? My first pilot mentor was my grandma, who got her pilot’s license at 60-some-years-old. I wouldn’t be the pilot I am without my instructors and students (especially the difficult ones!) who pushed me and challenged me. And as far as ALPA work, there are many great people that I’ve had the honor of working with, learning from, and (sometimes) disagreeing with. I have to give a shout out to Paul Ryder, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with on the XJT steering committee and the FFDC. He’s a genuinely nice guy who wants every pilot to succeed, and I strive to be as driven, kind, and visionary as Paul. As far as whether or not I’m a mentor—I’m not sure. I hope I’ve inspired someone along the way. One of my goals is to inspire young girls to give aviation a shot, and I hope to work more on that in the future.

Q.   What’s been your proudest moment as an airline pilot?

A.   It seems like every milestone is better than the previous one. I remember thinking after I soloed for the first time, “Now I’m a real pilot!” Then I thought the same thing after my private pilot checkride, CFI checkride, and when I got hired at a Part 121 airline. But getting a standing ovation after it was announced that I was the first female EVP was really cool.

Q.   What do you look forward to most during your time on the Executive Council?

A.   I’m excited to work with the other guys on the Council. I’ve known most of them through my other ALPA work, and they’re all genuine, intelligent, and caring people. I think we’re going to have a lot of interesting conversations and do good work.

Q.   You're coming to the Executive Council from the FFD Committee; how do you anticipate addressing the challenges in the FFD sector during your time?

A.   The regional airline model is broken, and it has been for a long time. I believe there are a number of ways we can help fix the broken regional model—such as brand liability and increased preferential hiring programs. But the first step is unity and communication—between the FFD carriers and the major airlines they feed. I think we’re on the right track, but I’d like to help facilitate more conversations and bring more awareness to the issues.

Q.   Many of the challenges airline pilots face are gender neutral. What issues are specific to female pilots? And do you think you’ll have the opportunity to address those issues as a member of the Executive Council?

A.   Most of the maternity policies at the airlines are pretty bad, to be perfectly honest. I think that’s one of the reasons why there aren’t more female airline pilots. We need to strive to match our maternity policies to the level of other work rules and policies that we continue to achieve. Changing and directing bargaining policy isn’t what the Executive Council does. That being said, I’d like to do what I can to make the people with the negotiating power aware of that policy deficiency and the importance of overcoming it.

Q.   What do you believe will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of women?

A.   I think it’s going to be making little girls aware that they can actually be anything they want. For instance, while women have been in aviation for a long time, female pilots are still embarrassingly rare. Several times, I’ve had female passengers exclaim to me, “I didn’t know women could be pilots!” I think that attitude is still pervasive, and a lot of little girls aren’t being encouraged to pursue nontraditional careers—particularly in STEM fields. Another big issue that I see affecting the next generation of women is balance. Now that all the doors are open to women, we need to learn how to achieve a healthy work/life balance. We need to accept that it’s impossible to have an amazing career, healthy relationships, and have a Pinterest-worthy house, all while looking like a million dollars.

Q.   Finally, now that you’ve broken one glass ceiling, are there any others at ALPA you have your eye on?

A.   Being a first wasn’t my intention, it was just a happy consequence. The only other title I have my eye on is “captain.”

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)