Flying towards true equality: how business aviation embraces gender parity

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Flying towards true equality: how business aviation has embraced gender parity

The United Nation’s 5th Sustainable Development Goal is Gender Equality, an issue that has come under intense scrutiny in recent years. A basic human right, the UN emphasises the need for gender parity on all fronts, including education and the workplace. Despite increasing efforts, discrimination and low female representation remain prevalent, inciting many countries and companies to commit themselves to full inclusivity and equal opportunity by 2030; a pledge the business aviation sector takes seriously.

Although business aviation has made strides towards achieving gender balance within the sector, the industry is well aware that there’s still work left to secure equality in technical areas such as engineering, piloting, and maintenance, as well as on an executive level. Outreach to young girls to inspire them to pursue careers in STEM and setting objectives for true gender parity in the sector are crucial to develop a more diverse workforce, which studies have shown, leads to better financial performance and enhanced innovation.
 
We ask three women who are thriving within the industry to share their perspectives on the progress made to date and the work that still needs to be done.

GlobeAir: a step closer to gender equality in the industry

GlobeAir’s Head of Crew, Sanja Rogovic, puts it plainly: “At GlobeAir, I feel respected for my skills and not my gender, and this is meaningful to me.”
 

Sanja is one of the few women in aviation occupying an executive position. She believes that there are far more opportunities available today in both commercial and business aviation but feels that women could still be better represented. GlobeAir is actively committed to this goal. Though female pilots currently only account for 7% of GlobeAir’s staff, female management comprises 27%, while female office employees are at 43%, and these numbers are still growing.

Having had no background in aviation, Sanja started out as a flight attendant for Qatar Airways, eager to explore the world. She soon caught the aviation bug which inspired her to transition into business aviation. Today, she heads her own department, an achievement she is proud of:
 

“I am happy to be contributing to increasing the percentage of women in the aviation industry, particularly in technical operations and leadership positions.”
 

But what is the current percentage of women in the aviation industry? Dr. Lutte’s Women in Aviation: A Workforce Report (2019) shows that, while female representation in technical, executive, and piloting roles has increased slightly over the last five years, the numbers remain low and there’s a need for improvement.

Investing in the future: STEM education

While women make up approximately 41% of Europe’s aviation employees, there’s a very low percentage of female presence in technical roles, a stark contrast with the almost 80% of women serving as flight attendants. Enesco finds that education is key for women to occupy these male-dominated positions, but biases, social norms, and expectations often form barriers. Only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women.
 

Koko Davi is an aircraft engineer at DC Aviation in Stuttgart, overseeing the technical maintenance of business aircraft. She’s no stranger to social barriers: “As a child, I wanted to become a pilot. Back then, though, it was not so easy and was not possible for me, so I decided to become an engineer,” she explains.
 

Despite storing away her pilot aspirations, Koko found that her passion for aviation was too big to ignore and eventually made the switch in 2012, working in aeronautics ever since. She finds that battling prejudice is a recurrent issue in her field:
 

“When I tell people, I am an aviation engineer, some don’t believe me. They assume, ‘oh you must be a flight attendant’. It’s not always easy working in the engineering field as a woman.”
 

Encouraging women to pursue a STEM-based career has become a priority in aviation. In February 2019, Stansted Airport College introduced their Go on Girl initiative, a Pre-Apprenticeship in Engineering Operations which supports young women in developing essential engineering skills, so they can progress confidently into Aeronautical Engineering.

There’s still a lot to be done in terms of gender equality. We need to encourage girls and women more in those fields that are traditionally reserved for men.

Women in Aviation organise the annual international Girls in Aviation Day, hoping to inspire girls aged 8-17 to consider a career in aviation. Last year, 119 individual events held worldwide reached approximately 20,000 attendees in 18 nations, including the US and several countries in Europe, Asia and Africa.
 

Koko believes things are headed in the right direction, but we’re not there yet: “A woman has to give 200% compared to a male colleague. You have to work even harder in order to show them that, yes, you can do this job as well.” She adds that there’s still a lot to be done in terms of gender equality: “We need to encourage girls and women more in those fields that are traditionally reserved for men.”
 

Dr. Lutte’s Increasing the Number of Women in Aviation report (2020) finds that early exposure to the industry as a child influenced 54% of women in aviation to pursue a career – a clear indication that encouraging girls to get involved from a young age can positively influence the female quota in aviation.

Retaining and nurturing talent

Increasing attraction isn’t enough, though, improving the retention rate of female employees also plays a vital role. Keeping women in aviation can be a challenge, as 38% of the female workforce has considered leaving due to barriers such as a male-dominated culture, lack of support, and family/life/work balance.
 

Ciara McGurk is a captain on the Bombardier Global business jet for FlyingGroup, flying professionally for 20 years now. She chose a career in business aviation because she felt that her soft skills were a great asset in the field. Unlike commercial airliner pilots, she is required to manage a much more intimate rapport with passengers and adapt a very hands-on approach to the job. “There aren’t any ground teams to do the work for us,” she explains.
 

“It’s such a shame that there are so few women in the cockpit in business aviation, because we are so well-suited for it. We have the right, cool-headed mind-set and are capable of juggling many tasks,” Ciara states.

 
But how exactly does gender equality affect businesses? McKinsey&Company’s Diversity Matters report shows that more diverse companies are better able to attract top talent, and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, which results in increasing returns. McKinsey believes that the global annual GDP could increase with 26% by 2025 if men and women participated at identical levels.

So how is the business aviation industry encouraging gender equality and female retention? Organisations such as the International Aviation Women’s Association (IAWA), Women in Aviation (WAI), and Women in Corporate Aviation (WCA) exist specifically to promote air transport as a career for women, and support their advancement in the industry.
 

Many companies have also kicked off special programmes, such as GE Aviation’s Cultivate which is devoted to develop and retain women engineers. Already, a 50 : 50 gender parity has been reached in the engineering development programme.
 

Attracting and nurturing female talent is key to gender equality in aviation. Ciara fell in love with the idea of working in the sky aged 6, when she wanted to become an astronaut. At 11, she ‘downgraded’ this to becoming a pilot and knew it was achievable for her. Now, 20 years into her career, she still loves what she does. In her own words: “I just keep discovering the planet. I feel so lucky. It’s wonderful.”
 

Do you know any examples of companies who are actively working towards reducing the gender inequality gap in the business aviation industry? Let us know!