Fearless Females: It’s a Woman’s World
Stories by Jennifer Florendo
Photos by Imagine Studios & FOX
The saying “It’s a man’s world” implies that life is unfair to women. It was Marilyn Monroe who said, “I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it.” Our Fearless Females show that it is possible to excel in any man’s world … and that they can do it in heels.
Whether you need reassurance for your career choice or the motivation to make a career move, these three featured women share their amazing stories of how they achieved it all.
Karen Whalen: The sky is her limit
Occupation: Director of Operations and Chief Pilot for Vegas 500 Air
Experience: 10 years
First Flight: A family vacation to California at the age of five
Karen Whelan grew up in a time when flight attendants were known as stewardesses. They would choose eager children and take them to the cockpit to meet the pilots. Whelan happened to be one of the chosen. At the age of five, Whelan flew for the first time and received set of wings from one of the pilots. As the years went by, her interest in all-things-aviation grew. It was no surprise when, years later, Whelan pursued her field of interest in college.
“When I went in for orientation, they asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. And at 18 years old, who knows what they really want to be?” Whelan recalls. “They asked what I liked to do and the first thing I said was to travel. And they said, ‘Why don’t you become a pilot?’” She now holds a degree in aeronautics and commercial aviation and is the lead pilot for Vegas 500 Tours.
And at first sight, it’s easy to see how one may think that she followed in the professional footsteps of a flight attendant. There isn’t a day that goes by when the petite Whelan doesn’t hear an unpleasant remark about her career choice. “Every day. Twice a day. It’s not just when flying. When you meet people in everyday conversation they ask what you do, and when I say a pilot, it’s still that ‘oh my gosh, there is a woman pilot in the room …’”
Whelan has grown accustomed to the daily remark ritual, and there isn’t a line she hasn’t heard. “‘Do you have enough oil? Do you know how to get there?’ Those comments never end. I have to deal with it every day, but it’s not anything personal against you; people just don’t know any better. You just keep going on with your day because it’s a daily thing,” she says.
Sure it’s a “daily thing,” but it’s also become a daily thing for Whelan to be prepared with a comeback. A passenger once remarked that she would make a better flight attendant than a pilot. “I said that my education would say otherwise. It was a perfect flight and the landing was awesome. They were like, ‘Awesome, good job,’” says Whelan. “Everyone says ‘good job’ and ‘you are a great pilot.’” They are all happy and say you are the best woman pilot ever. And I’m like, ‘I am probably the only woman pilot (they’ve ever had).’”
Whelan’s track record of success and love of what she does keeps her motivated while working in a male-dominated field. Experience has made the pilot stronger and wiser. She shares some sound advice for those wanting to fly in her footsteps: “Stick with it and figure out what you want in life. I had challenges and road bumps along the way. If it’s a dream, something that you are just meant to do and that you really have a passion for, then it’s really going to be worth it in the end. I know how good of a pilot I am and how hard I worked to get where I am,” she concludes.
Jennifer Jackson:Who’s the boss?
Occupation: Sales Manager Internet Director at Cadillac of Las Vegas
Experience: 18 years
First Car Driven: Chevy S-10
First Car Sold: Teal Chevy Blazer
Jennifer Jackson’s career in sales began while in college at the age of 17. She took a part-time job at a car dealership, a place that most women despise visiting. But, for Jackson, it didn’t take long to fall in love with the job. She eventually left school to work full time and quickly make her mark in sales, even with the quintessential, challenging customer. “They (co-workers) were like ‘oh we are going to send in the new girl, hahaha,’ and I walked out there and sold him the car,” says Jackson, proudly.
Her career quickly progressed. Within a few years, Jackson became a full-time sales manager, received her degree in automotive marketing and management, and was hired on the spot at the interview for a position at Cadillac of Las Vegas.
Three weeks later, Jackson moved from Detroit to Las Vegas to establish the business development center before advancing into the sales manager position, where she is today.
Jackson is the only female on the sales team. Of course, early on in her role, Jackson had to endure a test drive from her team. “It’s always fun when you go into a new store, being female with all men, and everyone wants to try you on and to see if you know what you are talking about or to see if you got hired just because you are a blonde.”
Jackson is often mistaken as the receptionist by new customers and endures many questioning looks when she helps out a team member. “You’re the boss?” is heard more times than not, but she goes about her business and remains professional. “If someone has a problem, it’s their issue. I don’t let that get to me,” says Jackson.
Jackson has clearly worked hard in her career, and happily shares the credit with her team. “I’ve been in this industry for a long time and it’s not often that you get a truly great team together. It’s kind of like sports teams; it’s not that often that you get a really great team. Right now we have that team and it’s just amazing. It gets better every day.”
She has good advice for anyone looking to do something challenging or intimidating. “If you have passion for what it is that you want to do, then go after it, no matter what. Make a plan and take each step to get where you need to be. If you get a couple of ‘no’s’ don’t worry about it. Just keep going. Set yourself up for success and it will happen.”
Jackson was recently selected to participate in the Sonic Automotive Leadership Academy and is working toward becoming a general manager. She takes pride in creating a warm and welcoming environment for women who come into her store. “I want them to know they are in good hands and are going to be well taken care of,” says Jackson.
DJ Tina T: The tables are turned
Occupation: Resident DJ at Marquee Nightclub at Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
Experience: 12 years
First Cassette Owned: A dubbed copy of 2 Live Crew’s “As Nasty As They Wanna Be”
Website: djtinat.com and campspinoff.com
Before the world came to know her as DJ Tina T, a 15-year-old named Tina was just a girl playing with turntables. She continued that routine through high school and into college where a passerby noticed her equipment in her dorm room. They struck up a conversation, and he introduced her to the music marketing class that changed her life.
While it prepared her for things like how to make a bio and a demo tape, it did not prepare her for how long it may take to find a gig, or what may happen once she did land one.
After graduation, Tina headed to Los Angeles. Selling everything except for the turntables and her clothes, she couch camped while searching for jobs. “It definitely didn’t happen right away. It took about a year and a half of no DJ gigs. I was trying to get my name out there, but I wasn’t really getting booked anywhere.”
She eventually got booked, but it wasn’t the big break for which she had hoped: her first song was a bust. “Everyone was REALLY booing and had no mercy for me at all. They were like ‘Booooo. You %$^&*@ suck. This is #$%%$&*@.’”
The offending song was “Bust a Move” by Young MC. The power went out, instigating more criticism. When it came back, so did the song, much to the dismay of the crowd.
The well-established DJ often finds herself the subject of furrowed brows, eye raises and is even mistaken for the girlfriend out buying her boyfriend a gift. “I’ll say to the sales guy, ‘I need to pick up some needles.’ And they’d ask what kind of needles my boyfriend uses. ‘Excuse me? I use Shure M44-7s. I don’t have a boyfriend.’ And he’s like ‘okaaaaay.’ Little things like that are very, very common.”
With years of experience under her belt, a fear of recreating the “Bust a Move” moment looms. But to fear, Tina says this: “No matter what people say, no matter what people do to you, no matter what happens throughout your journey, it’s never going to make you stop doing what you do. The more you do, the more that people want to discourage you. I think that fearless is definitely not letting anything stand in the way of your dreams.”
Tina has proven that you don’t need to rely on sexy or skimpy to make a name for yourself. She even has her own slogan: “Less Skin, More Skill.” Tina wants to be a role model for young girls and aspiring young DJs. She has established her own DJ camp for kids called Camp Spinoff and is involved with The Boys and Girls Club, recently giving a speech on breaking down stereotypes and pursuing careers in a male-dominated industry. “There were about 300 young girls there. They should never let guys intimidate them or feel like they can’t do it,” she concludes.