Women in Aviation Series

Illustration credit: Marcelo Cáceres

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re profiling influential women in aviation to gain insight into how they navigate through a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Sarah Rae Murphy
Vice President, Financial Planning and Analysis
United Airlines

As vice president of Financial Planning and Analysis for United Airlines, Sarah Murphy oversees the airline’s $33 billion cost structure, manages its business planning functions and leads financial goal setting. These functions include annual and strategic (5 year) operating and capital planning, the 18-month rolling forecast and enterprise financial analysis.

Sarah joined United in 2006 and has held various positions of increasing responsibility, previously serving as the managing director of Financial Planning and Capital Planning and the controller for United’s administrative divisions. She also served as the managing director of Investor Relations, and has worked in roles in the Mileage Plus, corporate strategy, revenue management and customer experience departments. Prior to United, Sarah worked at Merrill Lynch in its investment banking division.

In 2015, Sarah was named one of Crain’s Chicago Business “40 under 40.” She holds a bachelor of science degree from Columbia University’s The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Sarah Rae Murphy

Sarah Rae Murphy, United Airlines’ vice president of Financial Planning and Analysis

FAST FACTS
Location: ORD
Now reading: When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
Favorite Airport Restaurant: Mission Bar & Grill at SFO Terminal 3
Passport stamp you wish you had: Japan
Female role model: My mom, Susan Rae Murphy. She is a strong advocate, support system and source of constructive feedback for me and my two sisters, and she has helped shape our personal and professional success.
The future of flight will be: Streamlined

How did you become involved in the aviation industry?

My first job after college was as an analyst at an investment bank in Chicago. I wasn’t passionate about the work I was doing at the time, and I knew that I wanted my job to energize me. I was always passionate about travel and, during that time, United was rapidly changing. It seemed like there was an opportunity for me to have a positive impact at the airline. After my first week at United, I was hooked. Ten years later, I am certain joining United was the best professional decision I’ve made to date.

How influential are women in today’s aviation industry?

Women in today’s aviation industry are very influential and are becoming even more influential. I’m proud that United has a diverse group of female leaders across the organization, with officers in finance, operations, technology, employee engagement and customer divisions. We bring great ideas and perspectives to United’s strategy and business decisions.

What are the biggest professional hurdles women in the industry face today?

I don’t necessarily think there are professional hurdles that are specific to the aviation industry, but there are hurdles for women in business. We have a responsibility to create more opportunities for women and help advance their careers in the aviation industry. One way we are trying to promote advancement for women at United is through a women’s Business Resource Group called uIMPACT. It is one of many ways for women at United to network, develop professionally and influence United’s path forward.

Why is it important that women are represented equally to men (in terms of numbers and stature) in the aviation industry?

Women make more than 80% of consumer purchase decisions and constitute a meaningful portion of business travelers. When our industry better reflects our diverse customer base, we will deliver an even better product and, in turn, better financial results.

Women make more than 80% of consumer purchase decisions and constitute a meaningful portion of business travelers. When our industry better reflects our diverse customer base, we will deliver an even better product and, in turn, better financial results.

What was your most memorable experience as an airline passenger?

Last summer, my fiancé and I were returning home after getting engaged in Venice, and the United Airlines flight attendant noticed that I couldn’t stop smiling. We started chatting about what had happened, and once he heard the details, he announced our engagement to the entire plane! During the flight, many of the other passengers stopped by to congratulate us.  It was something I won’t soon forget!

What would your advice be to a young woman interested in a career in your field?

Now is a fantastic time to work at an airline, especially in the finance organization. We’re looking for the best and the brightest talent to help us achieve our full potential and challenge the status quo. I would suggest that any young woman with the goal of joining an airline like United put her hat in the ring. Apply to open positions, network with people working in the industry – both men and women – and don’t give up!