Friday, July 27, 2012

Women Pilots: Why so few?

Celebrating 35 years as a commercial airline captain opened many memories and thoughts about being one of the first women to reach this goal. This led to my thinking about why are there so few young women today who are as passionate as I was to have such a career? Doing a bit of research, I recently read that “fewer than 500 women are flying as captains with major airlines worldwide.” They went on to say that fewer than 4 percent of jet-qualified pilots in the world are women. (I’m the first to agree that even these numbers don’t accurately reflect the category “flying as captains with major airlines worldwide” since many are flying as first officers, and I have no stats on how many non-US women ATP-equivalent pilots are out there.) Since I was amazed by these numbers, I began to query fellow pilots as to their thoughts on why so few women choose to go into professional aviation as well as did a bit of digging on my own. My first concern came when I came across a set of women pilot stats while cleaning out my files, dated 1987. The approximate number of women pilots with ATP ratings (which I assume is how they still determine numbers of women jet-qualified pilots) at the end of 1986 was only 3 percent, showing a mere 1% gain over the next 25+ years. So, assuming the number is still very small, I began to ask questions of pilots I flew with to get their input on why we still have so very few women interested in pilot careers. It quickly became apparent to me that there are many reasons which could account for the lack of female aviators and there’s no viable way to discover which may be real vs. those that are imagined. From my perspective, there are probably 7 categories for consideration: 1. Upbringing: How were they were raised and were they encouraged to consider various careers? Did she socialize only with other little girls or did she integrate well into a male oriented/dominated upbringing? 2. Influence/Encouragement: Did she have parents or close adult friends who encouraged her to become involved in non-traditional career paths? 3. Technical Skills: Did she have a natural bent toward things technical and/or enjoy how things work to help with the high technical skills/training needed to survive in the aviation world? 4. Passion to travel: Did she possess a wanderlust or passion for the apparently nomadic lifestyle pilots lead and did she find constant travel exciting and enriching? 5. Survival skills: Were strong survival skills a part of her personality allowing her to pursue a non-traditional career with little regard for possible harassment or discrimination? 6. Mentorship: Did she have access to the how-to information needed or at least a mentor to assist and encourage her program? 7. Funding: a most basic need for our expensive and extensive training. There are so many issues that can complicate the completion of what’s a rather long career path. Getting interested in the field is just the beginning. Enjoying the long road to a well-paid job is quite another. You need some real passion and desire to stay the course and arrive at the destination eager to continue. If you have any ideas on the subject, I’d like to hear from you. Next time we’ll talk about what it takes to survive the trials of a pilot job once you decide that this lifestyle IS for you.