Michelle Bryan: A US Airways Champion for Diversity
When Michelle V. Bryan joined US Airways 19 years ago, she never asked how many women were in decision-making positions, or whether there was a policy to promote diversity.
When she checked three months later, Bryan, appointed last spring to executive vice president, corporate affairs and general counsel, was “taken aback at the dearth of women in key positions,” Bryan said.
A staff attorney focusing on issues related to employees, benefits, and labor relations, Bryan made it her personal mission that a then white maledominated US Airways adhered to discrimination laws and affirmative-action obligations.
By inviting herself to staff meetings and speaking out on diversity, Bryan affected change while moving up the corporate ladder. By the time she was appointed vice president and deputy general counsel in 1995, the company had developed an integrated system to promote diversity at all levels, going beyond compliance.
“We had integrated it at every level the day you walked in the door. We had set numeric goals for hiring, retention, and the placement of women and minorities,” she said, adding that managers who met those goals were financially compensated.
Bryan feels that the best way to bring diversity to a company is by hiring from the top down, rather than bringing women and minorities up through the ranks. “I focused heavily on management placement,” she said, “of hiring a certain percentage of women and minorities in these positions. People tend to hire people like themselves. It’s a very uphill battle to have all white males at the top.”
In 1999, Bryan was promoted to senior vice president of human resources. Now, as executive vice president, corporate affairs and general counsel, Bryan’s nine-lawyer legal team includes five women and four minorities. She oversees the legal, security, corporate communications, and government affairs departments, playing a key role in bringing the company back from bankruptcy amid the crisis in the aviation industry. “I want to make sure this company emerges from bankruptcy,” she says confidently.
Having risen near the very top of the corporate ladder in less than 20 years, Bryan is a prime example of how diversity efforts result in the best man or woman for the job. After toppling an entrenched white-male hierarchy, the current financial strife in aviation should be no problem.
Bryan has come a long way from the naïve young lady in Syracuse, N.Y. who had thought she might want to get involved in politics. Today, the legal, security, and government affairs departments, as well as corporate communications for US Airways report to her.
The company’s highest-ranking female employee, she not only possesses energy, intelligence, and confidence, but also the belief that a corporate philosophy that focuses on diversity in the workplace helps a company to achieve its goals. As a champion for diversity, she will ensure that opportunities exist for individuals who work hard and persevere, and for individuals who can best serve the goals of their employers.
Tom Calarco is a freelance writer from Schenectady, N.Y. His book The Outpost to Freedom, a History of the Underground Railroad in Upstate New York, is set for publication in 2003.
From the December 2002 issue of Diversity & The Bar®