International Women’s Day
Employee Roundtable (Part 1)Four ANA managers discuss the importance of
having role models and recognizing diverse career paths.

2022 / 03 / 04
Diversity & Inclusion (D&I)

March 8 is International Women’s Day, an opportunity for people around the world to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Women are vital to the continued success of ANA, and we are proud to have been recognized by Women’s advocacy groups for our work to create an equitable workplace that values the contributions of women.

Four managers of the ANA Group, Noriko Abe, Maiko Imada, Yurika Iwano, and Megumi Toh participated in this two-part series on the role women play in moving ANA forward.

Joining the ANA Group

Q: What is your history with the ANA Group?

Noriko Abe: I joined the Reservation Desk team in 1989 and have worked in Accounting, Sales, and Inventory Management before taking on my current position at the Operations Management Center. My sister also joined ANA a few years before me. When I was with Accounting, I had the opportunity to work directly with her as she worked at airport ticketing. It has been fun working with my sister.

Four managers of the ANA Group (from left):
Noriko Abe, Yurika Iwano, Maiko Imada and Megumi Toh

Maiko Imada: I started as a member of the ground-handling staff at Narita Airport, then moved on to work in Passenger Services. I loved working at the airport and enjoyed learning how each customer is unique. In that position, we strove to be observant, agile and flexible at all times in order to meet customer expectations. I appreciated how teams worked together to accomplish their respective tasks for the operation of each flight. In total, I worked for Passenger Service over 10 years. After that, I was transferred to Corporate Planning, Products & Services and my current position at Customer Experience Strategy. It has been 13 years since I left airport duties, but my experience there created the foundation for who I am as an ANA employee.

Yurika Iwano: Since I studied Information Engineering in college, I thought I would join an IT company. As I was job hunting, I discovered ANA was hiring female pilots and applied for the position. Although I was not hired as a pilot, I met inspiring people in the process. They were so passionate about what they were doing at ANA, I thought it must be as a result of the unique company culture. So, I decided to join ANA as an engineer instead.

Today, 10% of the Engineering & Maintenance Center employees are women, but when I joined the department in 2006, I was one of just a few female engineers. In the past, Engineering & Maintenance was considered a “workplace for men” due to its reputation as “kitanai (dirty), kiken (dangerous), kitsui (tough).” It is a physical job, but I have never been treated differently just because I am a woman. Rather, I was told to come up with solutions that enabled me to overcome physical challenges, such as lifting heavy objects. I believe having more women has helped the department to establish safer work practices and thus a safer working environment for everybody. We now have many female leaders and role models within the department.

Megumi Toh managing training and education for cabin attendants

Megumi Toh: When I was traveling abroad as a student, there was a passenger who suddenly became ill on the plane. I then witnessed how a few cabin attendants took care of the passenger in a calm and professional manner. It was inspiring to see how they demonstrated her expertise under such tense circumstances. That’s when I knew I wanted to become a cabin attendant. I was drawn to ANA because the company was an underdog back then and was providing new cabin attendants with the opportunity to fly internationally. The unique company culture and outlook of ANA as a challenger gave me the motivation that I wanted to grow with the company.

What Life is Like at ANA

Q: What does your current position entail?

Abe: Currently, I work at the OMC, Line Support team. I am involved in fleet scheduling, mainly for domestic operations and this covers both regular and irregular flight scheduling. I have been with OMC for 13 years, which is quite a long time to stay with one department. Although I did not choose to join OMC, it was a natural fit as I was familiar with inventory management from my previous position.

Maiko Imada at the beginning of her career with ANA

Imada: The Customer Experience Strategy division is only 3 years old, and I have been with the team since its establishment. My job is to create customer experiences that make our passengers want to fly with ANA or recommend our flights to others. So, I am always asking myself, “What can elevate customer experiences?”

I believe that the ANA Care Promise is a good example of what we do. For today’s air travelers, safety against COVID-19 is the highest priority. With that in mind, we publicize the protocols that ANA uses to ensure a clean and safe journey for our passengers. Currently, we are strategizing a new service model that will keep ANA competitive in the post-COVID market. It is all about understanding what our customers want and do not want.

Iwano: I belong to the Engineering & Maintenance Center, Power Plant, Engineering department. My main duty is to evaluate Boeing 767 engines as well as to communicate with manufacturers, airline partners and governmental agencies.

Toh: In the first decade after joining ANA, I focused on my flight duty. Then, I started training other cabin attendants and in recent years, I have primarily trained cabin attendants stationed outside Japan. Initially, I was sad to leave my fight duty, but being an instructor gave me an opportunity to utilize what I was learning back then at business school, including intercultural communication, coaching and global branding. Currently, I train, support and manage about 80 cabin attendants.

Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your job?

Noriko Abe, right, during her second year working for ANA reservation center

Toh: Prior to COVID-19, I was able to train cabin attendants inflight, but now, I mainly communicate with them online through seminars and meetings. Due to the pandemic, the expectations of our customers have changed and will continue to change. I try to remind trainees that we, as cabin attendants, are here to provide comfort and care to each customer. Additionally, we have less opportunities to brush up on our skills inflight because of the reduced flight operations. Particularly, those who joined the company in 2019 and 2020 haven’t gotten enough infight experience. As an instructor, I am keenly aware of the gap in their experience and try to prepare them through desk trainings for the day when we resume full operations.

One positive impact of the pandemic is that we now offer more options for how cabin attendants’ work; suitable to where they are in their life. It has encouraged us to rediscover our own unique career paths.

Abe: At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw a serious drop in reservations and it was a challenge to reduce flights in short notice. Once infection rates stabilized, we saw a surge in reservations and the need to bring flights back. I was constantly having sleepless nights evaluating and reevaluating our seat inventory and flight schedules. It has become my habit to watch the news closely. As we can only adjust flight schedules 2 weeks ahead of time, it is often hard to accurately predict booking trends.

Q: What are some of your most memorable experiences at the ANA Group?

Imada: When ANA started implementing the new booking system to optimize inventory control for international flights, we began routinely overselling our flights. As many of our international flights were not operating daily at that time, we had to tell customers at the airport to come back in a few days. Understandingly, many of them got very upset and it became stressful for the airport staff, too. As a young grand-handling staff, I thought the situation was so damaging to ANA that it would cause the company to go under. Armed with supporting voices from my colleagues, I visited the headquarters to complain to the team about the booking system. To my surprise, they welcomed me. They told me they were willing to listen to me as long as I let them explain the reason why they decided to implement the system to begin with. As I listened, I realized I was naïve to think I was the only one who cared about our customers and the company. I was impressed by the team I spoke with. The experience made me want to learn more about different teams and perspectives within the ANA Group, all sharing the common goal of serving our customers.

Yurika Iwano posing with her colleague in front of an ANA aircraft engine

Iwano: When I was a child, I used to live in Germany and I always wanted to work with global partners. Through my current position, I had the opportunity to work with a Maintenance, Repair and Operations company in Germany. While they prioritized efficiency, I was able to communicate ANA’s commitment to safety and trust while elevating the quality of their work to ANA standards. I was happy with my accomplishment and appreciated ANA for giving me the chance to represent the company.

Toh: In 2010, ANA introduced the inflight meal/drink ordering system using the touch panel for First and Business class passengers. It was an innovative concept, but ended up with passengers waiting hours to be served. Due to passengers being allowed to order whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, we often did not have enough to accommodate all of the orders made through the system. Additionally, cabin attendants were busy apologizing for the inconveniences, which caused further delays in service. It was a nightmare. What we learned from the experience was that we needed to improve our ability to communicate with the teams that plan and implement inflight products and services. We needed to communicate logically and effectively so that our voices could be heard. It gave me a chance to learn problem-solving techniques.

In part 2 of this series, we will hear more from Noriko Abe, Maiko Imada, Yurika Iwano, and Megumi Toh about being a woman in the aviation industry and advice they would give to their colleagues.