Why Tammie Jo Shults is a Name We Should All Know

Last week I attended the Women’s Leadership Conference of Northeast Ohio. Throughout the day, I listened to inspiring keynotes and breakout sessions from inspiring female business women, investors, entrepreneurs, and motivational speakers. You can read my first blog about what I learned from speaker Ilana Golan here. Today’s blog is about my key takeaway from Melody Stewart, Judge in the Ohio Court of Appeals – Eighth District.

Stewart’s breakout topic was about implicit bias. Implicit bias is the unconscious attribution of particular qualities to a member of a certain social group. Implicit stereotypes are influenced by experience, and are based on learned associations between various qualities and social categories, including race or gender. Throughout her session, Stewart put up scenarios or photos on her Mentimeter presentation and people discretely on their phones could thumbs up or thumbs down the photo or scenario.

There was one scenario in particular that impacted me and showed me how far we have yet to come regarding gender equality. On the slide, it said the following: “You board a plane and a female voice welcomes you. ‘This is your captain’.” Of the 100 female audience participants, only 1 voted thumbs down to that scenario. Then, Stewart asked the following. “In April, a female pilot rescued 149 passengers from a damaged Southwest plane. Does anyone know her name?”

Crickets. In a room of 100 women, not one soul knew her name. To make matters worse, aside from 2 women in the room, none of us even knew the story about the flight and miraculous landing. Yet everyone in the room knew about U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in 2009 when Captain Sully heroically landed a plane on the Hudson River after a large flock of birds took out both engines, and 155 passengers survived.

When I googled the Southwest Flight in April 2018, the first 5 headlines that show up are as follows:

“Calm Female Pilot Saves Lives On Southwest Flight With Hole From Shredded Engine”

Heroic Female Fighter Pilot Saves Lives of Hundreds of Passengers”

“Southwest Airlines Pilot Who Saved 149 People with Emergency Landing was One of the First Women in Fly Fighter Jets”

“Hero who landed Southwest flight broke barriers as Navy Pilot”

“Southwest pilot, a former Navy fighter pilot, praised for her ‘nerves of steel’ during emergency”

It is shocking and saddening that the top 5 headlines that came up didn’t even say Tammie Jo Shults’ name. These headlines are from credible news sources and national publications. Tammie Jo Shults is a hero, period. She is more than a novelty just because she is a minority in the aviation industry. Tammie Jo Shults calmly brought her twin-engine Boeing 737 in for an emergency landing in Philadelphia after the Southwest jet blew an engine and shattered a passenger’s window, partially sucking a passenger out of the window on a flight Tuesday, April 17, 2018, from New York's LaGuardia airport to Dallas.

Shults alerted air traffic controllers about the situation and and requested medical professionals be ready upon her landing. After landing, she walked the aisles to check on each passenger personally. The passenger who was partially sucked out of the window passed away later in the hospital but all other passengers and crew survived.

Tammie Jo Shults deserves just as much recognition and respect as Captain Sully has received. Captain Sully has gone on to write a highly successful book and Clint Eastwood directed a film about his life. He is famous and well respected. Yet Tammie Jo Shults, who only 5 months ago saved 149 passengers, is not a household name. So I encourage you all, share the story of Tammie Jo Shults with your friends and on social media. Let’s make her name known far and wide.