There have been times in my career where I have felt I needed to be less “me”. In most cases I would try to be one of the guys (somewhat easy since I grew up a tomboy), in others I would try to act more aloof, and in all cases I would try to hide that I was an introvert. What I took too long to realize, was all of those traits made me the aviator and officer I needed to be. Why did it take me so long? Sadly, sometimes it was some of the other women around me that encouraged me to behave in a way contrary to my natural self. Whether it was the Group commander during my C-21A flying days who told me “cut your hair, if you leave your hair long you’re giving the impression you don’t take this job seriously,” or one of my instructor pilots in T-37’s telling me “if you don’t do the shots of tequila like the rest of the guys, they won’t accept you into the group.” Back then, I believed them. So I cut my hair, I did the shots, I tried to act like one of the guys. Now, I look back and realize it was given bad information…and they had also been given that same info, as they fought for footing (paving the way for the rest of us) in the military aviation community.
One of the reasons my friend @milieux01 wanted to start this project was to reach out to other female aviators and share some of the lessons we have learned and link them up with more role models and better information than we had.
So, what would I say to myself now and to others that follow? Be a bit more like Jacqueline Cochran: be yourself.
I am not saying you should be Jackie Cochran, but rather you should be comfortable in your own skin. She definitely did not believe there was any such thing as “too female.”
Jackie Cochran, beautician, air racer, record setter, and W.A.S.P., was unapologetically herself. She thrived in the masculine environment of aviation, accomplished more for aviation than most remember, and did so without sacrificing her femininity. The following is from her biography provided by The National Aviation Hall of Fame:
“Indeed, Jackie’s balance between feminine charm and hard-driving masculine ambition was such that she would push her aircraft relentlessly through air races and competitions…but refused to emerge victorious from the cockpit until she had carefully checked and reapplied her makeup!”
“As would be the case again and again in her life, by sheer force of will, Jackie prevailed”.
Being a successful pilot has nothing to do with gender…it is all training and hard work. Embrace the qualities that make you the person you are — add to your strengths, work on your weaknesses, but never think you need to hide who you are. Work hard, be professional, be good at your job. Soon your achievements will speak for themselves.