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Women in Aviation: Michelle Brierley’s Story

As part of International Women’s Day we’re highlighting the stories of women in aviation and looking at the challenges they face as the industry strives for greater diversity. Read on for their stories in their words:


BALPA National officer


Her story in her own words: 

I joined BALPA in Summer 2022 after 11 years in education union NAHT which represents senior leaders in education.  The vast majority of NAHT members were women so I found BALPA was a big contrast in that respect.

The other big difference for me is working with private sector employers as opposed to education where most were public sector.

“…the needs of women pilots are too often an afterthought…”

Aviation is a much more male environment and there are definitely some old-fashioned views still being harboured that perhaps wouldn’t be as accepted in the public sector.  I don’t think the impact of sexism in the aviation workplace is as fully understood as we might hope and I would say that I encounter microaggressions on a regular basis. Even on relatively straightforward issues like uniforms, the needs of women pilots are too often an afterthought.  Attitudes are changing for the better, but the pace of change is far too slow.

“poor maternity provision is an unnecessary barrier”

The biggest surprise to me has been how far behind the aviation industry is in terms of maternity provision and that’s why BALPA’s campaigning on this issue is so important.  I’ve seen quite a few maternity leave policies that are still worded for cabin crew rather than pilots. There’s a global pilot shortage and aviation needs to widen the pool of potential candidates to address that, yet poor maternity provision is an unnecessary barrier.

Many of the women pilots I have spoken to find the rostering patterns and instability makes arranging childcare fiendishly difficult and very expensive.  I’ve heard tales of couples where both are pilots handing their children over to the other parent in the airport carpark which adds a layer of stress and anxiety that is so unnecessary. This lack of support can also act as a deterrent for women entering management as these roles often require even more nights away from home.

As a National Officer at BALPA I am pleased to be able to help tackle these challenges with employers across aviation. We are working hard to ensure we are the voice of all pilots… and that includes women!


This is the third in a series of articles we’re publishing as part of International Women’s Day, March 8th 2024. You can view the other stories from women in aviation via the links below.

Kate’s Story

Amy’s Story

Sophia’s Story