How is COVID-19 affecting women in aviation?
The aviation industry is currently facing a global crisis that has seen major commercial airlines struggle financially and make significant redundancies in staffing. Business aviation has benefitted (in part) from the global pandemic that has restricted many commercial airlines. But the story is more nuanced than simply a rise in business aviation activity and a decline in commercial flights; there is an important social element to consider. With schools around the world closed, primary care and home-schooling usually falls to mothers. For women in aviation that are also working mothers, this presents challenges, setbacks, and reduced opportunities.
The bigger picture for women in aviation – are we moving forward?
According to theBBC News in 2018, globally, women made up just 5.18% of commercial pilots with Indian airlines employing the highest proportion of female pilots at 12.4%. Women in many parts of the world aspiring to enter careers in aviation have historically faced difficulties due to cultural barriers and the high cost of education and training that disadvantages those from less affluent backgrounds. More recently, perceptions of careers in aviation being male are being challenged by some organisations. There is a new narrative specifically supporting women by promoting a ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ attitude. If young women cannot see careers in aviation – through role models in the industry, or in their own minds – they’re less likely to be it someday.
By highlighting and promoting diverse examples of successful women throughout the aviation industry across social media, more young women are becoming aware of the attractions of aviation as a career, shifting their thinking and beliefs that the industry is not a place for them. An example of this would be Eva Claire, an airline pilot from the Netherlands who moved to Hong Kong in 2018 to fly the Boeing 747. Her Instagram has 176k followers.
Initiatives to reach out proactively to students have also been on the rise to encourage young women’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects, which can be useful in aviation or other technical careers that have historically been perceived as ‘male’ industries. In Singapore, however, statistics from the Ministry of Education show that women account for just 25-35 percent of the total intake for engineering and computing degrees. As a result, the global STEM workforce is dominated by men, with women accounting for less than 25 percent.
How fair is Business Aviation for women?
The business aviation sector should be recognised for its efforts in engaging women and girls. “In 2015, We were tasked with creating a brand and a series of events and tools to engage young people in business aviation,” said Sarah Keates, Founder of WOI. “We developed AsBAA Discovery and rolled out the corporate social responsibility programme across schools and colleges in Asia. The initiative, led by Sarah Kalmeta has been successful, engaging thousands of students across the region. Much of its success is testament to the motivations of young people of both genders to explore careers in business aviation, and of the industry to support and engage the next generation”.
Good examples of fair gender practices exist in business aviation and in the airlines, for example, Ethiopian Airlines has a maintenance workforce made up of 30 percent of women, which is a strong statistic – but can’t we (collectively) do better? Before the global coronavirus pandemic, the gender parity gap was expected to continue narrowing. However, current circumstances have completely changed the landscape and it is now more essential than ever to work collaboratively in moving forwards as a supportive business community.
Organisations such as Women in Aviation International have actively promoted a multi-pronged approach through challenging perceptions, showcasing positive role models in the media, and educating girls about the aviation business through to sponsoring scholarships and communicating the potential of aviation as a career.
Why is important that we find innovative and creative ways to support and empower women?
The WiAA Project (Women in Aviation Asia) has rightly identified that currently it is essential to remain watchful of any backward trend on women empowerment and the way forward is to inspire the next generation to seize opportunities with both hands, supporting one another in building an international community where women support women in their aviation aspirations.
For those of us that work in the industry, we know what amazing career prospects exist, and we see many OEMs, operators, and service providers taking the lead on equal opportunities programmes. But, for every success story, there are also companies that continue to discriminate, whilst paying lip service to “equal opportunities”. Doing the right thing is a societal responsibility and a task that will take a commitment from men, women, and organisations large and small. We take this opportunity to give support and best wishes to The WiAA Project.
Written by Sarah Keates, Founder