In spiked heels or Timberland boots: driving for equality within the FAA

There is nothing new about the importance of gender balance and representation, yet nobody denies that aviation is still a male-dominated industry.  Women (and men) around the world continue to address the gender under-representation in the sector and many are actively involved in encouraging those women already engaged in the sector – and those that will make up the next generation.  Within the United States Federal Aviation Administration, the campaign is alive and kicking with a group of determined, passionate, energetic and inspirational women.  We spoke to two of them in Washington DC about their work and invited them to accept an ‘AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award’ to recognize their significant collective efforts.

What has changed in recent years, what is the current situation, and what is about to change? Those were the questions we put to the FAA’s leaders Deloris W. Martin and Ali McDermott. 

AeroTime News: What were your first impressions, did you find aviation male dominated when you came into the field?

Deloris W. Martin: I am human resources by trade, and my first impression was that yes, it was very heavily male dominated, especially in a lot of positions that I was hiring for. And that did awaken another level of awareness for me. I have become very passionate in terms of what I thought the industry should look like. The first thing I realized was how few women pilots there were, and also how few women technical support, such as inspectors or engineers, particularly aerospace engineers worked there. And so, for me it became important to be able to expand the candidate pool, to be able to find people who were just as qualified, or perhaps a little off the beaten path to come into the field of aviation.

Ali McDermott: My first impressions of the FAA and especially the air traffic organization was that it was a very operationally focused culture, and was definitely male dominated, because it’s a microcosm of the broader country, the broader world. The broader world is male dominated. You take that and put it in an operational environment where the majority of those operations are performed by males, you end up with a very male dominated culture, in many ways that people aren’t even aware of, because they became so used to it. I was lucky that people wanted to change and they were looking for a voice to hold them accountable, and help them enact those changes. That is a very rare case. So, the industry is extremely male dominated and dictated by the broader culture, but it’s also open to change, which is unusual in most industries.

AeroTime News: And what made you take the step to become an advocate of equality at the FAA?

Ali McDermott: I ended up in the aviation industry because I had this really strong drive to make a difference in the world. I have a core value of fairness. So, I headed out to Washington, DC, started working in politics at a really young age, and then started contacting with various agencies, figuring out where I can make a difference, an impact on the broader global culture. So I ended up with the air traffic organization in the FAA, and saw this brilliant population that was very operational, very male dominated. And they knew that they needed to change. I was a cultural anthropologist, and they asked me would I consider coming in in a leadership role, to help to drive some of the cultural changes that they knew they needed. And I’ve been with them for ten years, never looked back. And in those ten years, I have been able to see some great changes occur.

Ali McDermott and Deloris W. Martin.

Deloris W. Martin: My passion for diversity and inclusion did not start at the FAA. I am a first-generation college student, I come from very rural and humble background. The opportunities just were not there. It took the devotion off three teachers in my high school to convince me that I really can do more than, you know, work at a fast food restaurant or in a factory sewing garments, that there is so much more to the world. They encouraged me. And it became an expectation that I would step out to do some of those things, and it was the reason I decided I would go to college and try to make a better life for the next generation.

AeroTime News: On that note, if there was one more thing you could change about the aviation industry in the next ten years, what would that be?

Deloris W. Martin: Awareness. This is very special time we live in, we have to get more women, more people of color into aviation, they can help us carry the banner not just in the US, but around the world. Because if we look at the industry, its life is rather one-dimensional. Yet there are so many layers that can be added to the rich history of aviation, we just have to be aware of them.

Ali McDermott: The one change I would like to see probably sounds too ambitious. But I really do think we’re on a precipice of change, and that we have to maximize our momentum right now. So that one change that I would like to see, is the move into a culture that represents that rich landscape of not just the United States, but the world. It is a difficult task. How do we represent all voices? How does everybody see an equal place? Aviation is a microcosm of the broader society, and it has this incredibly huge force and impact. It is the perfect place to start that change.

AeroTime News: And what would be a message for all the women in aviation you would like to send, the one that could have an impact able to bring in those changes?

Ali McDermott: So my message would be that you are so much smarter, more courageous, more capable than what you’ve ever thought you are. And to stretch yourself every day, do something that makes you uncomfortable. And when you do that, you are going to see how limitless your abilities are. Enforce that until you surprise yourself, and you will find yourself in a leadership position where you are able to impact hundreds, if not thousands of other women.

Deloris W. Martin: My message would be that we are here, and we are making an impact. We need to continue doing that. But we need to do more. I’m excited for us. I’m excited to be a part of it. I’m excited for all of my sisters around the world. Let’s use this platform to bring others along with us. Let’s make it our mission to bring someone else along with us into this career field. And congratulations to all the women around the world in aviation. It’s not been easy, and it probably won’t be easy. We still have some firsts. We still have some doors to kick in. So we can do them with spiked heels. We can do them with Timberland boots, we can do them in tennis shoes. Let’s do it.

WATCH the video for the full interview.

The AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award was presented to four women at the FAA: Deloris Martin, Ali McDermott, Sadie Perez and Sharon Boesen.

The citation read: In recognition of their energy and the dedication shown to furthering civil rights and equality across the FAA and the aviation sector; for developing inspirational programs and promoting diversity and inclusion across the workforce; for encouraging the next generation of women in aviation; and for engaging in all opportunities to continue this important work. The AeroTime Global Executive Committee recognizes the positive influence of these efforts and the significance of the impact on the aviation industry and its people, both today and into the future.

AeroTime CEO, Richard Stephenson said, “I have seen first hand the efforts these women go to in order to promote equality and to encourage the next generation of girls and young women to enter the aviation industry.  They are passionate about their work and they are tireless in their efforts.  It is only right that their contribution should be acknowledged and commended and I am delighted to have the opportunity to present them with this richly deserved award.” 

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