08 May 2014
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The Sky's the Limit

Jeanette Eaton is piloting new career horizons
for women in aviation.

by Jill Radsken

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Jeanette Eaton (PMD 72, 1997) is helping a new generation of women take flight.

A helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft pilot, Eaton has become an advocate to youth, especially girls, who are considering careers in aviation. "I see a lot of myself in the girls I meet," says Eaton, who recently was promoted to an executive for Global Business, Commercial Systems and Services at Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, overseeing non-military sales, customer completions and support worldwide.

Eaton's message, which she has spread everywhere from Girl Scout troop meetings to school assemblies, is one of possibility.

"The industry needs more women in it. Women are very detail-oriented and, when it comes to flying, tend to have a delicate touch, but aren't over-controlling," she says.

Noting that "there is a ton of scholarship money out there," Eaton encourages young women to explore the options as she did. While in college, Eaton studied electrical engineering, and a tuition reimbursement program from United Technologies Corporation enabled her to get dual master's degrees in operations management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and engineering at Boston University.

Her soaring academic performance resulted in more opportunity—this time at Harvard—in the Program for Management Development (PMD). It was an experience that opened her eyes to the world.

"Seventy percent of the class was international. They spoke multiple languages. To hear other leadership styles—it took the blinders off as to how sheltered I was," Eaton says.

After completing the PMD program, Eaton returned to the business world as international program manager for the Blackhawk helicopter at Sikorsky Aircraft, then as commercial sales manager. She also became a fixed-wing pilot, and when Bell Helicopter pursued her several years later, she negotiated in helicopter training. She now holds a dual commercial rating for both fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft.

Eaton took command of Bell's sales in the US's Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, but always with a mind to mentoring young women so they could have the same opportunities she had.

"As a sales person, I'm always asking something of people. I have to give back to the community," she says. She currently devotes time to serve on the board of the Eastern Regional Helicopter Council and several aviation organizations, including the Whirly-Girls, a network of women helicopter pilots, and the Ninety-Nines, an international group of female pilots founded by Amelia Earhart.

"I realized I should do things like speak at schools and career fairs, encourage and try to help women get into aviation," she says.

Eaton also found the camaraderie invaluable. "We help each other out. There's mentoring, being a sounding board, getting another woman's perspective," she says. "I've met some incredible women who are inspirational to me."

She recalled how one fellow female flier, an Air Force officer, helped her negotiate an unpleasant work situation two years ago at a former company. "I was struggling with a boss. I was the number-one salesperson, and very unhappy with my rating," Eaton says. "She coached me, encouraged me to find a mentor within the company to help navigate this in an analytic, not emotional, manner."

Eaton got results and her performance review was fixed. But there was a larger takeaway—about the value of having a network of women to lean on—that she brought back with her to Sikorsky last summer when she was hired to oversee the marketing department. Her success in marketing, led to her latest promotion to leading Global Business.

While her new leadership position will allow Eaton to direct and support Sikorsky's global sales staff, but she also hopes to expand her reach as a coach and a sounding board for other young women pilots.

"Diversity is good for everyone. There are not a lot of females in the aviation community, but there's a lot of opportunity" she says. "If you have an interest, call me. Write me. I'm here."

Photo by Benoit Cortet

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