Many times when we hear the name “Pilot” or “Astronaut” or “Aeronautical Engineer”, the image of a male comes to our mind. The belief is: technical jobs are for men not women. For decades, women in Aviation battle with limited opportunities and an unequal system. The trends in these fields are scary and sometimes, we wonder: ‘is there hope for women?’
Women in technical fields
In most “technical” fields, majority of workers are men and minority, women. This has been the case for a very long time, but the numbers are slowly measuring up.
According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 44% of medical doctors, 33% of Astronauts, 29% of Scientists, and 21% of Engineers are women. These figures have gradually increased. For instance, in 2010, women comprised only 28% in Science and Engineering fields according to National Science Foundation. Although this might seem small, it is worth celebrating.
Unfortunately, the growth of women in “technical fields” is not seen in the aviation industry. In a report titled “Women in Aviation: A Workforce Report”, less than 5% of Maintenance technicians and Airline executives are women. Also in the same report, 11-20% of Aerospace engineers, dispatchers, airport managers, air traffic controllers, aviation higher education leadership and cybersecurity are women.
In addition, only 5% of airline pilots and 3% of Aviation CEOs are women according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots and the Airports Council International (ACI) Insights respectively.
Strong presence at the onset
Although women occupy relatively low numbers in the aviation industry, they had a strong presence at the onset.
Innovations in the aviation industry can be traced back to the 18th century. The aviation industry and airlines have existed for two hundred and over one hundred years respectively. Some early milestones are hot air balloons, the first powered aircraft in the 1900s and the first airline in 1909.
From these early days, however, women have been prominent in the Aviation sector. For instance, in 1910, Raymonde de Laroche, became the first female licensed pilot. Also by 1971, Betty Rose Dillon, was the first female member of the International Civil Aviation Organisations (ICAO) Council.
The million-dollar question, however, is: ‘Why is the percentage of female workers in the aviation industry so low?’
Why are the numbers so low?
A study called “Soaring through the Glass Ceiling ” conducted by IAWA (International Aviation Womens Association), Korn Ferry and five other industry associations, surveyed 2,400 women in the aviation and aerospace industry. The study, aimed to help women soar, reported that 34% of the respondents experienced equal treatment with men, while 40% claimed they had no voice in their organisations.
The study also revealed ‘five primary inhibitors’ as the main reasons for low presence of women. They were:
- Lack of opportunity for advancement in their aviation career.
- Lack of female executives or board members.
- Systemic policies and practices that close off or stagnate potential career paths.
- Organisations that do not promote and practice diversity.
- The challenges associated with navigating gender biases (stereotypes like men “take charge” and women “take care”)
It is relieving to discover that incompetence or lack of interest are not the reasons for the low presence of women. Rather, the biased structure of the aviation industry discourage women. In spite of this struggle, women are making great impact in the industry.
Some notable examples are Harpreet A De Singh, first Indian female CEO in 2020. Teara Fraser, the first Canadian woman to establish an airline (called Iskwew Airline) in 2019. Angela Gittens, the Director General of The Airports Council International from 2008 to 2020.
The new Aviation: diversity and inclusion
Men and women are taking necessary actions to encourage women in the Aviation and Aerospace field. The industry is working towards diversity and inclusion, and many NGOs and companies are frontline pushers of this.
For instance, organisations like Women in Aviation International and International Society of Women Airline Pilot provide mentorship, networking, financial assistance and job opportunities for women interested in the aviation industry. These organisations reach a wide range of girls and are found across the world.
Also, foundations like “Girls Fly Programme in Africa Foundation” educate girls about aviation and aerospace. This foundation is found in Botswana, Cameroon, Kenya, and South Africa and has impacted over 70,000 girls.
Companies too are not left out as some are striving to increase the women work force in Aviation. A US based airline, United Airlines plans to train up to 10,000 pilots by 2030, half of which would be female and/or people of colours.
These are just some of the different ways women are encouraged to choose careers in technical fields. These efforts and more brighten the future for women in the aviation industry.