Knowledge is Genderless: Why it’s important to break down the pilot stereotype
Aviation, like other science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) orientated industries, is undoubtedly male-dominated. Attracting women to the industry has been an issue for a long time. But, as Ada Lovelace, the famous mathematician and writer proves, women can become visionaries, pioneers and contribute to any industry, including aviation.
Today is Ada Lovelace Day- an international celebration of the achievements of women in STEM. At BALPA, we are joining the celebrations by highlighting women pilots and looking at some of the issues that affect women who chose the piloting profession.
I am a member of BALPA and BALPA Women Pilots – a group set up to provide networking opportunities for women pilots, to give valuable support in the community and to help identify and address the issues that affect women in this industry. Those of us who have made it into the profession have a unique insight into the challenges that women here face and are able to help the aviation industry shine a spotlight on and address those issues.
We know one big issue is visibility. For decades the image of a pilot has been a white middle-aged man. Young women considering careers simply couldn’t see themselves represented in the workforce and didn’t have a role model to identify with. That’s why BALPA works hard to give female pilots a voice- to make it clear we are a valuable part of the workforce and to break down those stereotypes.
Today on Ada Lovelace Day, we want to help the next generation of female pilots see their potential and help them see that STEM subjects are an option.
I took the STEM route and love the choice I made! I have spoken to many other female pilots and have included their thoughts on their route to the piloting profession.
“I used to be graded highly at maths contests and would never worry if being a girl was making any difference to my scores. Later on, at secondary school, many of my classmates – girls, have been successful with achieving the best grades. Although we entered different industries, we all have been successful in our careers. Choosing to study at an aviation university was also a natural decision for me.”
“When I was made redundant as a consequence of the pandemic, I chose to enter the IT industry. By chance, I found an all-women course for software testers. In my piloting career I have experienced often being the only girl in the room. But the majority of the course participants in the IT industry were women returning from maternity leave who wished to change their careers. Shortly after the course, all of us managed to obtain job offers in IT testing positions. All that time, I have been wondering why we are struggling with attracting more girls into aviation when there seems to be more traction to other STEM related sectors.”
“Knowledge is genderless”
At BALPA we believe knowledge is genderless. Choosing a field to study or making the choice to become a pilot should be based on your talent and abilities, not on what the typical stereotype predicts. As women, we should not be afraid of taking the STEM route – it is your mind and your abilities that will make you successful, not your gender.
I certainly enjoyed taking then STEM route and found that it is not as difficult as it initially appears. But more needs to be done to ensure budding female pilots, mathematicians, scientists and engineers are nurtured, shown the opportunities available to them and are able to see themselves taking the step onto those career paths.
At BALPA we also know it is not enough for the industry to acknowledge the lack of female pilots without trying to understand the root cause and to implement strategies to tackle those issues. We believe it is important for aviation to make itself attractive to a wider range of aspiring pilots.
BALPA identified that inadequate maternity pay and a lack of family friendly policies could be off-putting to many women considering the career. It is evident that closing the gender gap, along with the retention of women who return to work after maternity leave, has been more successful in other industries – these jobs give more flexibility, allow parents to have more time with their children, are adequately rewarded in salaries, and facilitate for childcare. That’s why BALPA launched the Baby on Board campaign calling for better maternity pay and highlighting the need for the industry to become more family friendly.
Being a pilot for me is a natural fit. I love the job and am glad I was not put off entering a male dominated world. We are the women of the future in aviation and we should unite and internationally celebrate such an empowering day. We are proud of all our women at BALPA and we hope to continue to see more female pilots within the aviation industry, to promote and honour women in STEM and recognise the importance of talent and aptitude within STEM women.