The aviation industry as a whole exhibits a large gender gap in the cockpit, the engineering corps, and the boardroom. Facing looming pilot shortages and increased scrutiny, many in the industry are now vowing to recruit, train, and promote more female pilots, mechanics, and executives, and to work towards parity in pay and gender representation.
For many female pilots, mechanics, and would-be executives, the aviation industry is still a boys’ club. Reuters reports British Aviation Minister Liz Sugg as saying that fewer than 5 percent of pilots for UK airlines are women. Globally, the numbers aren’t much higher. “There are fundamental gender issues in aviation and aerospace,” Sugg says.
Systemic change may be coming, however, especially as the industry faces a pilot shortage that is curtailing many carriers’ growth. The uproar last month when the head of Qatar Airways said a woman could not do his job reveals that the call for increased female representation also reaches into the boardroom.
Women in the industry think it’s high time. Charlotte Pederson, who was the first female pilot in Denmark’s air force and currently serves as chief executive of Luxaviation Helicopters, remarked, “We can’t just recruit from half the population.”
Recruitment is one thing, while retention is another. Critics point to large pay gaps between men and women in aviation as well as a lack of gender parity in upper level management as barriers to overcome.
Insiders and airline carriers are seeking to understand where this gender gap comes from and how to address it moving forward. At a recent industry conference in the UK, hundreds of executives attended a panel on this topic; over 50 aviation and aerospace operators signed a pledge to set internal targets for gender diversity and inclusion and to increase the number of women in their senior leadership positions. Reuters reports that easyJet has set a target to increase their number of female pilots to 20 percent by 2020, and other airlines have posted similar goals.
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