Flying Over the Glass Ceiling – Shermika Kuweju

Shermika Kuweju – Regional Manager of Sales and Marketing at Turkish Airlines.

With a little over two decades of increasing sales, growing bottom lines and spearheading operational improvements, Shermika Kuweju is one of the high-flying ladies of the Airline industry of Sri Lanka. 

Having begun her career in Kuwait at Qatar Airways, Shermika was later transferred to Sri Lanka to join the airline’s Finance team, which resulted in her working with a number of other departments including Fare Construction, Reservations, Ticketing and Customer Care. “This was my eye opening to look into the many viewpoints of ensuring customer satisfaction along with airline profitability.”   

At Thai Airways, her role in the Sales and Marketing Team provided Shermika with a significant amount of experience thanks to her General Manager at the time, who inspired her to be the target oriented multi-tasker she is today. “The biggest achievement was the flight increase from 5 to 7 flights per week with maximum profitability and revenue growth. I worked hard to introduce a flexi-price system to Thai Airways, which was another important achievement. I was responsible for Thai Airways’ operations under Sales and Marketing in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.”   

“My time at Oman Air brought with it a series of new challenges. As the District Sales Manager, it was my responsibility to ensure that the designated target was achieved and the product was soundly established in the Sri Lankan market, while also bringing profit to the airline. Changing local market figures from the Middle Eastern to European sectors with a limited number of countries in Europe was a challenge and thereby a tremendous achievement.”

Currently as the Regional Manager of Sales and Marketing at Turkish Airlines, Shermika plays a major role in maintaining the Airline’s momentum of profitability. Turkish Airlines flies to more than 318 destinations in 126 countries, and via its strong network, the airline has aided in the development of tourism in and out of Sri Lanka by way of promotional activities in collaboration with its other offices across the globe. “My best achievement with Turkish Airlines has been the Year on Year continuous Net Sales profit under local market and increase flights numbers. I also received the award for ‘The Best Motivation Idea by an Employee’ for the year 2017-2018. There have been many obstacles and challenges in my journey to where I am today. As women you need to be brave and positive, because that is how you will succeed in climbing the ladder of any career path you choose.”

When asked for her opinion on the most influential female personality of the Airline industry, Shermika responded without hesitation, “Amelia Earhart is one of the most famous female pilots in Aviation history. Before her disappearance, she was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and the first person to fly solo across the Pacific. She was truly an inspiration to women, her attitude toward success and failure is summed up in the following quote, “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.””

Shermika proceeded to list being target oriented, thinking outside the box, passion and strength of character as the characteristics most necessary in a female member of the Airline industry. 

Speaking on the low number of female pilots and CEOs in the industry, Shermika stated, “A group of determined women initiated this process by participating in the aircraft-engineering sector and pursuing careers as pilots. However, these women faced various challenges, which resulted in setbacks to their effective growth in the industry. In fact, vital issues encountered in the past are still present and often overlooked in today’s aviation industry. Therefore, identifying these problems and proposing solutions with effective corrective measures is necessary to increase and motivate female pilots globally.”

According to Shermika, the airline industry is an important contributor towards economic development. It has not only increased world trade activity by enabling the faster and easier movement of passengers and goods, but has also provided jobs to millions of people. In order to encourage more women to work their way up the Airline hierarchy, the industry should have more space and development opportunities for women based on their abilities. Thus, making sure that more women have a seat at the table. Investing in more inclusive talent management and succession processes is another step towards making sure that women have a fair chance at climbing the industry’s hierarchy.

On Turkish Airlines’ methodology of ensuring gender equality amongst its employees, Shermika commented, “The Airline always rewards energetic and dynamic employees on their various achievements without any gender consideration.” Last year a global study was launched by the world-wide Aviation industry. Discussing her opinion on the study, Shermika explained, “Titled the “Soaring through the Glass Ceiling” initiative, the purpose of the study is to identify and promote means by which the Aviation and Aerospace industry can more effectively recruit and advance women into leadership roles. The study identified five primary inhibitors to obtaining greater representation of women in the Aviation industry – Lack of opportunity for advancement or upward mobility, Lack of female executives or board members, meaning there are a lack of female leaders as role models, Systemic policies and practices that close off potential career paths and Organizations that do not prioritize or promote diversity. It also noted challenges associated with biases e.g. enduring stereotypes that men “take charge” and women “take care”. Reducing bias is an important step towards mitigating this persistent challenge.”