Growing up in the South Pacific island nation of Fiji, Nazia Taylor (’13) was used to interacting with people from different backgrounds. Fiji is a melting pot of cultures and religions, she says. When she moved to the United States at age 15, she noticed it was different.
“It was a huge culture change,” says Taylor, who earned an M.S. in Management with an emphasis in Aviation/Aerospace Industrial Management from Embry-Riddle.
Taylor’s unique perspective and background have contributed to her success as a senior project manager at American Airlines in Tempe, Arizona, and fueled her passion for bringing diverse people together. That passion took root when she volunteered to lead the Employee Business Resource Group: Bridges.
Founded to “bridge” the gaps among the airline’s culturally diverse workforce, the Bridges’ membership grew from eight to more than 300 during Taylor’s six-year tenure as president. It even drew the attention of CEO Doug Parker who attended its multicultural events.
“Bridges was a platform where I felt I could really make a difference,” Taylor says. It was an opportunity to change people’s attitudes from “just tolerating individuals, to understanding and accepting them,” she explains.
Diversity in Action
A third-generation Fijian, Taylor grew up attending a Muslim school. Her great-grandparents were indentured laborers from India, before immigrating to the former British colony.
However, she says, “I did not experience discrimination until I came to the U.S. I embraced diversity, because that is how I was raised.”
Her high school in California was diverse, but students tended to stick with people of similar backgrounds and ethnicities. Taylor says she disliked the cliques and refused to limit her friendships with people based on religion, race or ethnicity.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, Taylor worked in banking. When she moved to Arizona, she got an entry-level job at US Airways. It was then that she discovered she “loved” aviation.
At US Airways, which merged with American Airlines in 2013, Taylor attended a meeting hosted by Bridges, which started as a multi-faith group that focused mostly on Islam. Tapped to be president in 2009, she decided to revamp the group and expand its scope.
“One of the most important principles Nazia and I held true to was finding ways to show that our diversity as human beings was not only acceptable, but understandable,” says Tandy Wheeler, who served with Taylor as vice president and treasurer of Bridges. Bridges’ events included everything from demonstrations of Japanese calligraphy to Greek dancing.
“Helping to take the mystery out of ordinary things made it safe to then look at the more sensitive aspects of a culture or religion,” Wheeler says. Today, Bridges is one of 22 distinct Employee Business Resource Groups at American Airlines, which represent the employees and their beliefs, nationalities and backgrounds.
Path to Success
In 2010, Taylor entered graduate school at Embry-Riddle’s Worldwide Campus. Her courses were online, but she says she received a lot of detailed feedback and personal attention from her instructors. “The biggest thing I learned at Embry-Riddle is you need to keep improving yourself,” she says.
In the meantime, at US Airways, she started working for the heavy maintenance planning team. Taylor says it bothered her that she didn’t know more about the mechanical side of aviation. So, she enrolled in a local program to earn her airframe and powerplant certificate.
Working a full-time job, attending graduate school online and earning her A&P certificate, all at the same time, made for a grueling schedule. But, Taylor says, “I wanted to prove to the vendors and my co-workers that I could do this. When you work in the industry, people’s lives are at risk, and people need to trust you.”
Just as she was completing her graduate degree, Taylor and her husband, Arthur, found out they were expecting twin girls. She was four months pregnant when she walked across the stage at Embry-Riddle’s commencement ceremony at the Prescott Campus.
Taylor’s life took a new turn when her daughters were born. The twins arrived early — at just 25 weeks — both born weighing less than 2 pounds. Taylor stayed home for eight months to care for her daughters. Today, the girls, who will turn six this year, are thriving.
Beyond work and family, Taylor says she wants to continue to unite people through mutual understanding and education, and make a positive impact, especially in her chosen field of aviation.
She is an active member of and adviser and coach to the president of the Phoenix Chapter of Bridges. And, since 2018, she’s served as president of the Indian Employee Business Resource Group.
“I want to be more involved, give back and become more engaged,” Taylor says. “I want to make a difference — that’s what drives me.”