"Look mom a girl pilot" seemed an odd statement to me, but through the eyes of the young girl boarding our airplane the youthful first officer with platinum blond hair and bright blue eyes seemed odd to her. She then looked to the left at me, a grey haired man and I was half expecting her to say "look mom an old man", but realized that I was more aligned with her paradigm of what a airline pilot should look like. She simply said “hi”.
I stopped what I was doing for a moment reflecting on the significance of this young girl’s statement. This simple intrusion into my routine world and her innocent statement spoke volumes towards the preconceived notions we have about woman in the aviation community. I wanted to say to this young passenger that plenty of woman fly and if she put her mind to it she could also fly.
The only problem is I really had no knowledge to prove my point, other than my personal experiences in teaching woman to fly and flying with woman at the airlines. I then set out to gain the knowledge I needed to be better prepared next time I speak with a young girl or woman about learning to fly and careers available for woman in aviation.
Six Percent Of Pilots are Woman
Quick research on the internet led me an organization called Woman In Aviation International. According to their website there are over 600,000 thousand pilots and only six percent are woman. Having flown since the late 80's I had no idea the numbers were so low but that may be due to my unique experiences.
While working full time as a flight instructor I had many female students and was shocked that the numbers were so low but probably because I never really noticed. Upon further reflection I realized that yes the majority of my students were male, the audiences I spoke to at safety meetings where full of men, and the flying club I am in has very few females.
Why Aren't There More Woman Pilots?
I never took the time to reflect on why there are so few female pilots but from years of teaching and flying with woman I have my own theories. First, I think people still have some preconceived notion that men in some way are more predisposed to be better pilots.
I ran into this same attitude when I began in the computer industry in the eighties. I even had a professor that believed woman should not be programming computers because it was a "man's job". As much as it sounds crazy to say this today I think this same attitude may still be prevalent in the aviation industry.
Second, because the number of female pilots is so low there is not a large support network for the growth of woman in aviation. There is one organization that is doing some wonderful work promoting aviation for woman and it is called Woman In Aviation International. For a true ground swell of new female aviators we must promote the message early and often, that woman can fly.
Early in a young girl’s life they should be exposed to an aviation career as a great opportunity. This can be done during career days and through educating career counselors and teachers in schools throughout the country. The message must also be promoted often and be a consistent part of their career options throughout a girl’s early life. An aviation career should also be promoted amongst those looking to change careers and be a larger part of any continuing education and career counseling.
Third, the success of any pilot is dependent upon the support and education given by our aviation educators and flight instructors. The instructors internal attitude and preconceived notions towards a student can dramatically affect the success of the student.
One of the problems I have found in the past is the attitudes towards females trying to fly is much different than towards males pursuing a pilots certificate. I have seen some of my colleagues change the way they teach females because they feel a female is going to have such a tough future trying to break into a male dominated field. Some instructors have been as extreme as saying they feel woman shouldn't fly. These are attitudes the instructor himself must change although there is not much we can do about this except suggest woman steer clear of such instructors.
In my experience these same instructors who had these attitudes were complaining they did not have enough students. They do a disservice to themselves and the industry by promoting such an attitude towards woman in the aviation community. My advice to male flight instructors teaching woman to fly is simple; do a good job teaching all your students how to fly whether they are male or female. There are no changes you need to make in your teaching methods but there might be an attitude change in your view towards female pilots.
Why We Need More Female Pilots
Prior to flying I was a majority shareholder in an international seafood company. Imagine if we only marketed to men and sold little or no seafood to women. Well that is exactly what the aviation community has done with promoting their product of aviation towards potential pilots. I feel we have only successfully reached half the potential number of pilots. Imagine how strong the industry would be if we had an equal number of woman involved in aviation as we had men!
We are not doing a good job of attracting female pilots which is reflected in the dismal number of woman aviators. To have a true resurgence in the aviation and flying community all of our organizations must embrace the critical role woman have played in aviation and the critical role they will play in our future.
How To Get More Woman To Fly
The future of our aviation community and the growth of the pilot population depends on our promoting flying as an avocation, career, or business tool towards the large untapped population of potential female pilots. To do this we must not look to fellow woman pilots to be ambassadors to future woman aviators, but we must rely upon the recruitment of male advocates promoting woman to join the ranks of pilots and aviation professionals.
Let me speak to male pilots for a moment. To truly become a man advocating woman in aviation you must first internalize the important role women serve in our aviation community and be willing to promote flying to people of all walks of life. I think more men should join the ranks of organizations such as Women In Aviation. Ultimately, I would like to see more male advocates within Woman In Aviation promoting the future of our aviation community through the recruitment of more female aviators. If one of these organizations had a male advocacy wing I would be the first to join.
As I think of the important aviators I have know in my life one of my former employers stands out. She owned one of the oldest flight schools in the state of Texas and had taught many military pilots how to fly during WWII. This was a period where a woman’s role in the military was relegated to very few jobs as was the same in many industries throughout the United States.
During slow times my boss would take me into her office and tell me stories of the War and how she grew her business. One story really stuck out in my mind. One day I asked her what it was like to be a woman flight instructor during World War II. She told me how some of the pilots would resent her teaching them but a good instructor is a good instructor and if the cadets wanted to learn how to land well they would come to her for instruction.
Years later my former boss Maybell Fletcher was inducted into the Texas Aviation Hall Of Fame after many decades of running a successful flight school and being an advocate of aerospace education in the state of Texas. Her words still resonate in my mind to this day “a good instructor is a good instructor”.
I have reused Maybell’s words in many forms but if you or someone you know wants to learn how to fly remember that a good pilot is a good pilot and it does not matter if they are male or female. The aviation world is open to all and if you or someone you know is a female interested in flying I will be your biggest advocate and would be excited to see you join our special community of fliers.
Aviation is a world where woman pilots are finally beginning to be woven into the fabric of our flying community thus making it much stronger. I encourage all pilots to become advocates for Woman In Aviation. One of the ways you can do this is by joining those organizations that promote Woman pilots such as Woman In Aviation. As a matter of fact I am going to join today.
For More Information:
Woman In Aviation International Website
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