Women In Aviation 2020: Sarah Cooney

by Sarah Cooney on 03/04/2020

Hello, I am the Director of Sales for the Americas for all Commercial Aviation products across L3Harris, based out of Phoenix, Arizona. I began work at L3Harris in September 2018 after more than 25 years in the aerospace industry and the United States Air Force (USAF). I elected to move to L3Harris based on the opportunity to develop and mature a cross-division sales team for CAS. It has been incredibly rewarding to work with the Americas sales team as we forge a new structure and new processes for our expanded product portfolio.

The Americas team has responsibility for sales of all CAS products and services across North and South America. The Military sales team has the responsibility for the sale of our commercial avionics to the military and defense customers across the globe. My role is to ensure that CAS is successful in providing solutions for these customers. Every day is unique but my activities are focused on aligning our capabilities to our customers’ needs. I spend most of my time meeting with customers and working on new opportunities or supporting my team through their trials.

I love my job, more specifically I enjoy the fast-paced challenge of a sales role within the aviation industry. In particular I like working with my customers and peers to find better solutions to the challenges we face in the aerospace and security markets. Whether it is an improved security system for increased detection, a lighter avionics solution to reduce fuel burn or enhanced training tools that enable safer skies it is thrilling to find a solution that improves the situation.

However, throughout my career there have been several occurrences where I have faced challenges and stereotypes as a woman in the industry. There are some memorable instances and while I was incredibly incensed at the time I can look at most of them now with humour and use them as examples for others. While in the military, one role of the senior officer was to approve any commercial flights overflying the military training areas. The Korean airmen would come hurrying up to the Officer’s in Charge desk with the paperwork in hand to get approvals and would blanch at seeing me, their steps would falter, they would look around helplessly at their peers and often go scrambling around me to find the nearest man in USAF uniform who would direct them back to me. The first few times this happened really irritated me, but over the remaining months of my tour I worked hard to be more visible and approachable and chalked it up as an opportunity to knock down stereotypes. As cliché as it sounds there have been multiple instances where I’ve been the only women in a senior meeting but fortunately only twice where I was asked to get the coffee – I quickly replied, “Thank you, I’m fine” and busied myself in preparation for the meeting.

There are several important things I have learned during my career. First, listen more than speak and make sure that during meetings you seek inputs of those that might not speak up in hopes it will lead to decisions based on multiple diverse inputs. Secondly, learn when to back down or walk away from an issue, cause or opportunity. Finally, take action, avoid analysis paralysis and don’t wait for someone else to do it for you.

To all women looking to start in the aviation industry, raise your hand for the task or assignment you aren’t quite sure you can do. Apply for the job you want even if your skills don’t match the criteria 100%. More importantly, be a role model for the next generation by volunteering in sports, clubs and charitable organizations. Through my time as a trip leader for Girl Scouts of America Arizona Cactus-Pine Council and my years as a girls’ soccer coach for American Youth Soccer Organization I became acutely aware of how critical it is for girls to see that their leaders or coaches are women. I believe that a key criterion for encouraging girls in non-traditional activities is to provide role models and hands-on opportunities.