This week marked a new chapter in my life. Following 21 years of service in the U.S. Air Force, I began my first of what I hope are many trips as a Boeing 747 First Officer with UPS. To say I began with a bit of anxiety would be an understatement. Not about my flying (well, maybe crosswind landings), but about my grasp of Part 121 operations, company expectations, and my ability to keep up with the flow of all things. As I approached ops to sign in for the first time, I made a few observations.
First, we are everywhere—yet we are not. In a career where less than 6% of the population is female (including commercial helicopter pilots), I was encouraged by the numbers I saw in person, and later heard on the radio as I hopped across the globe. The numbers were far greater than when I began flying in 1996 as a young cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy. However, I had hoped our population would be growing faster than the less than 1% per year reported by the Centre for Aviation. In truth, I’m not sure how our numbers break out across the globe or even within the U.S. as the reports are far from consistent. A 2018 Women in Aviation, International report identified that of 609,306 total pilots, 42,694 (7.01%) are women. For mechanics the numbers are even lower (2.39%). The variety and inconsistencies in the reports are indicative (at least to us at the Milieux Project) of just how difficult it is to identify, recruit, and promote women in aviation. We need to keep spreading the good word that these careers are open and waiting for all who wish to join us. More importantly, show we are there to support those beginning the adventure…for we still have barriers and biases to topple.
Second, sometimes we need to get out of our own way. It can be easy to assume glances, stares, or looks of suprise are subtle messages that we do not yet belong in the club. When I walked into ops that first day in Louisville, I received a few looks and had many walk right past my eager smile as I looked up to say hello. Was I unwelcome? Perhaps, but chances are not for the reason many assume. I’d like to think it was the apparent “new hire” air about me that made them all think “let her training Captain show her where to go”. Or more likely, they were busy and a bit tired. And most that had a moment were ready to help the fledgling new hire (Thank You!). But think about it…even if some still think girls can’t fly, why not just approach each day as if we do belong…100% (because we do). Don’t get distracted or mad, just keep moving forward and get the job done. Show up. Most importantly, don’t apologize for being awesome. I fear we sometimes look too hard for the angle or the bias that we miss the opportunity to share and educate. We need to exude our awesome and share it with others. One easy way to do that is to just be present. Try to say involved with organizations like Women in Aviation, The Ninety-Nines and many more…even if the events fall on a well earned day off or you’ve grown weary of air shows. Be visible and be present. We owe it to the supportive women and men who came before us.
Third, hearing you all out there made my spirits soar more than I expected. Keep supporting and sharing in each other’s success. Keep lifting each other up. Compete, but to make each other better, not to exclude. And the next time someone says women are too emotional to be successful in aviation, remind them the word they are looking for is passionate.