In the 21st century, it is still hard to believe that with so much emphasis on gender equality in the workplace, and while women are evident in customer service and administrative roles, females are so vastly under-represented in the aviation and aerospace sectors. More than 60% of sales personnel are female worldwide; however, behind the closed doors of the cockpits, board rooms and hangers; there is a completely different story.

All female UPT Class 77-08 of Williams Air Force Base, May 1977.

Gender Imbalance

The number of women in non-traditional roles, such as pilots and engineers, exposes an uneven balance of gender in the workplace, which exists in a way up to the board level. According to Women in Aviation International, 6.6% of women are pilots in the US. In Canada, statistics show that only 5.2% of licensed airplane pilots are women. Statistics from the UK Civil Aviation Authority shows, only 3.3% of licensed air transport pilots are female.

Moreover, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering, only 6% of the UK’s engineering professionals are females, and a Labor Force Survey from 2004 concludes that there is an even lower proportion of women working in aerospace than engineering in general (11% compared with 19%).

Female Role Models

“Part of today’s problem is just down to the lack of visible role models in aviation,” believes Clare Parker MD of Academist Help. She further added: “Most ladies feel uncomfortable flying an aircraft, as so few are working in the cockpits.”

“The fact cannot be denied that if young women were continually exposed to successful role models in the aviation industry, then more young girls would believe non-traditional roles are achievable for them too.” Says Alexandra Karanika, Project Engineer at Hellenic Aerospace Industry.

Hence, if a young girl sees a woman in aviation with a successful career, she may be more inclined to consider it as something good for her as well. Exposing young girls to aviation is vital to fulfilling the workforce needs of this industry.

While Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, the director of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, also its first female president in 2010, asserts that cultural norms take time to change. “The more women know stories about the achievements of their predecessors, demonstrating in books and through different media, the more they can envision those roles for themselves,” she said.

Setting Examples

Airbus is a somewhat setting example of how commercial organizations should support female to enter into the aviation industry. It runs many activities to encourage girls into engineering. Airbus has also launched the Industrial Cadets (IC) program that has taught hundreds of girls about aeronautical engineering and aviation. Moreover, giving young women hands-on experience of flying also plays a big part in inspiring them to pursue a career in the aviation and aerospace sectors.

“The Women of Aviation Worldwide” week was celebrated in March 2013, which exposed more than 17,000 girls worldwide to the opportunities available in the aviation industry. The organizers discovered that more than 76% of the attendees had never exposed to aviation activities before the event.

Women Onboard

“Businesses with the highest representation of women IN their top management teams delivered 35.1% higher return on equity and 34% higher total return to shareholders than companies with the lowest representation”. (US-based Catalyst)

To achieve the above, women need to be more confident, capable, and wise with their abilities and improve their communication and networking skills. It is harder for them to grow in environments such as aviation or aerospace, where they are widely outnumbered, but effective networking is vital. Also, mentoring is a crucial factor for them to make their next career move.