With a background in international tourism and air service development, Stephanie Wear relishes her current role in helping London Gatwick airport to meet its ambitious growth targets.
Stephanie Wear grew up in two worlds, with one foot firmly planted in each: the world of her mother’s family in Spain, and the place she was born, the United States.
Her first language was Spanish, and while growing up in Washington DC her mother ensured she would not forget it.
“When I was little, she would drag me to Spain every summer,” Wear recalls. “I just wanted to be a normal kid that could go to summer camp with her friends.
“But now as I look back, that was the best gift she ever gave me.”
Wear, now 38, has used that gift wisely, and built an exciting aviation career for herself on both sides of the Atlantic.
After graduating from a US university with a degree in international business and politics, she went to Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, and worked for the local chamber of commerce, the tourism office and convention bureau.
After a decade and a half, she returned to the USA and joined Philadelphia International airport as director of air service development and cargo services. In late 2021, Wear went back to Europe, becoming vice-president of aviation development at London Gatwick airport, the continent’s 10th largest.
“It’s a very dynamic role,” she says. “It entails traditional air service development – making sure that our incumbent carriers are as successful as possible and helping carriers that are establishing their presence here at Gatwick with their marketing efforts.
“As we’re coming out of the pandemic, Gatwick has plans to build back even better, and to grow to 70 million passengers annually by 2029,” she adds.
Wear was aware of the importance of aviation from an early age. Her father worked for the United States Agency for International Development, the government agency responsible for civilian foreign aid and development assistance.
“He relied on flying to do his job. I saw how travel can connect people and cultures, and can transfer goods, develop economies and change the world,” she says.
“I came at aviation through a side door. Tourism is the economic driver of the Canary Islands, and without it, the islands would be nothing,” she says. “Without air service, there would be no tourism. Aviation is an incredible industry. It’s full of fascinating people.”
As a minority in a male-dominated industry, though, she sometimes felt forced into being something she was not.
“At the beginning of my career, I tried to dress much older. I would dye my hair really dark, I’d wear big pearls, and I’d wear beiges and browns and blacks and do anything I could to make myself look older and more serious. I found myself adopting a bit of a brash personality. I almost took on this persona to try to make myself more forceful because I felt like I needed to be that way to have my voice heard.”
With time, though, and as she gained confidence, she recognised that being her authentic self was much more valuable.
“I am every bit as good if not better than the people that I’m sitting at the table with, and I realised my true style actually has a lot of advantages,” she says.
But the industry is tough, and demands a great deal from those who want to succeed in it, she adds. Long hours and a lot of flexibility coupled with persistent bias often makes it harder for women to get ahead.
“If you host an event, and the networking aspect of the event is golf, for example, you’re going to leave a lot of people out,” she says. “I don’t play golf, and not playing golf has kept me out of conversations and networking opportunities.”
While her personal evolution has helped her become more comfortable, she says the industry is beginning to shift, too.
“We’ve taken a massive step forward in the last 10 years,” Wear notes. “There’s an awareness now that wasn’t there before. Now we need to take the second step, which is to start implementing changes and different behaviors in order to foster a better workplace for women.”
“It’s still very difficult for a woman to break into the C-suite. We’re seeing more women in senior leadership roles, but we don’t have enough in the C-suite,” she adds.
Sometimes, however, it is women themselves who hesitate in making those audacious, daring decisions that could help get them there, and get there faster.
“It’s harder for females to take risks and to be bold in their career choices because even if you don’t have children, you’re still a sister, a wife or a partner, a daughter, you’re a best friend, you have a circle that relies on you,” she says.
“But every time I have made that bold choice – the difficult choice to move far away from my family, to relocate and to go to a different culture – it’s been incredibly rewarding, and I’ve never regretted it.
“Being smart, and being bold in your choices is really important for women in this industry,” she says.
And there is no doubt that Wear has her eyes on the ultimate prize.
“I want to be CEO of an airport one day. Hands down. I will not stop until I get there.”