Written by: Wilson, Sabina
Over the past years, women have proven their worth and abilities to take on non-traditional occupations, particularly in aviation industry, achieving the career of becoming pilots. However, these is still a strong and negative perception of women pursing flying in the aviation industry as a career option and encounter prejudice comments, regarding their suitability. For example, ‘If God, wanted women to fly, he would have painted the sky pink’ and ‘a women in the cockpit is one less in the kitchen’ (Vermeulen, 2009:128). Female pilots have faced many challenges and have encountered remarks based on their sex, some cases have experienced harassment, high visibility and isolation. Although, to certain extent, these issues have been declining, however women continue to experiences gender-related issues in the aviation industry. In particular, these negative attitudes and perceptions are often displayed by men towards women wanting a career in flying. The airplane may not be able to distinguish the sex of a pilot (or engineer, air traffic controller, flight attendant or assembler)… human beings can and do’, and it is this issue which has arguably contributed to the current gender imbalance in the flight deck (Douglas, 2004:256). Therefore leaves an image that portrays a negative and misleading impression of women and their acceptance in the aviation world being qualified pilots commercially (Davey and Davidson, 2000:195).
The current study investigated the perceptions in regarding gender-related behaviours of pilots. The aims of this paper is to identify the certain barriers to greater female participations and considerations for airlines, not only on the focus concerning gender differences in terms of education, leadership and communication, but to be committed to managing the diversity of the workforce and to constantly encourage positive representations of female pilots within and beyond the organisation.
In order to explore the perceptions of female pilots, this research conducted qualitative research methods which consisted of an in-depth semi-structured interview electronically over the computer via Skype, and using an electronic recording device to record the interview process. The purpose of the interview was to gain the current perspective of the aviation industry and the issues women face. Thereby, the interviewed was conducted with a female pilot from British Airways based in the UK. The questions asked address early life, motivation to pursue a career in aviation and alternative career options.
The first theme that was adopted was Motivations to fly: ‘flying is my passion’. The interviewee had some personal passion for flying from previous experiences from their childhood, using expressions such as ‘I was hooked’ or ‘flying is my passion’. The interviewee, reflects the father for being a key influence, whom had an interest and hobby in flying, therefore triggered the daughter’s childhood orientation towards aviation. Prior to the literature review the researcher has not added the parental influences for daughters to pursue a career in aviation, unexpected findings for the researcher, the encouragement from father figures for further research (Gibbon, 2014).
The next theme that was employed was Flying as a possible career: Not a job for girls due to belief or expectation to tackle barriers to succeed in the chosen profession. The lack of exposure of female pilots can be seen as problematic and requires male qualities. The berries impacting female pilots may indicate the qualities and determination needed to on the highly masculine world of aviation (Davey and Davidson, 2000).
Respondent: That women can fly as well as men. I also think girls don’t consider a career in becoming a pilot because in the media, pilots are generally portrayed by men. Though when I was younger, I have been told that a pilot was more for boys.
The perceptions of gender-related issues have a persuasive influence on behaviour and it is therefore, important to manage diversity within the workforce effectively in the fields of aviation (Vermeulen, 2009) Interestingly, the respondents expresses the occupations of younger pilot, contributing encouragement over social media, the researcher did not include this in the literature review. However it could raise possible exposure from their piloting experiences and develop the empowerment for women and girls to pursue a career in aviation, a realistic possibility.
It is evident that female pilots have to overcome barriers and other considerations to be accepted in a male-dominating profession. Organisations therefore, need to reposition flying as a career that is accessible, achievable and suitable for women to seek diversity and increase the number of female flying careers. Also ensuring that the exposure of pilots as a career path to young women and the appropriate education is given. Therefore, optimal performances and the members of the crew to be supported and be shown direction to adjust the stereotypes, the attitudes and behaviours to meet the demands of a two-gender workplace (Vermeulen, 2009:129).
Davey, C. L. and Davidson, M.J., (2000) The right passage? The experiences of female pilots in commercial aviation. Feminism amd Psychology, 10(2), pp. 195-225.
Douglas, D., (2004). American Women and Flight since 1940. University of Kentucky Press, Lexington.
Gibbon, D. (2014). Difficult, dangerous, not a job for girls: Factors impacting women and girls' orientation towards pilot careers. In: D. Bridges and J. Neal-Smith, ed., Absent Aviators: Gender Issues in Aviation, 1st ed. New York: Routledge.
Vermeulen, L., 2009. Flight Instructors’ perceptions of pilot behaviour related to gender. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 35(1), pp. 819-27.