Charlotte Branson
Media & External Relations Officer

A question that is likely to divide. Some may be sitting there nodding in agreement, while others are rolling their eyes. The purpose of asking this question is not to single anyone out or purposely annoy, but simply to explore the thoughts and opinions of our members. We often hear the stat that only “5% of pilots are women worldwide” – a figure reflected in British aviation. But is this a fault of the airlines, misogyny among male pilots, apathy among women to pursue it as a career, a lack of visible role models, or maybe something else entirely? It is not a question that will provide a single, or easy, answer, but in order to explore the possibilities, we spoke to a range of pilots, male and female, to get their thoughts.

 

Jennifer* is a First Officer and has been flying for more than 20 years.

What are the reactions from passengers to a female pilot? Negative? Positive? Neutral?
Passenger reactions vary. Usually they don't even realise, or believe, that I am doing the flying. I did a landing the other day in strong crosswinds with a difficult approach, and one passenger, upon disembarking, thanked the Captain and asked me how many years it would be before I would be able to fly the jet. I had to point out that it was me who had just landed!  

Do you have children? Do you think you face specific challenges based on your career?
Yes, and yes! It is generally women who still do the majority of childcare and household chores, even if they work the same hours as men. Flexible working is still a work in progress in many airlines, and pregnancy and returning from maternity leave is still not well handled, although this might not be industry-specific.

Why do you think there are so few women pilots?
I think some women often have the extra stress of organising everything for their families. Of all the female pilots I have known, I would say that the most successful in their careers have no kids, or have stay-at-home husbands or lots of help at home – those with no help or support generally end up leaving the profession. Also, women generally shy away from engineering type professions, probably partly due to poor career advice and lack of role models.


How do you feel about recent initiatives in BA and easyJet to support more women pilots entering the profession?
It is a great idea because it gives visibility to the fact that women can be pilots. It gets people talking and, hopefully, considering it as a career. There is no reason women cannot compete for an airline job on an equal basis to men.

Should more be done, by the airlines or BALPA, to support women? If so, what?
Yes! Because there are so few of us it is nigh on impossible to get information on things like maternity, flexible working, and career progression. BALPA could help by having this information from each airline, and also by starting a female pilot network; it would be useful to be able to talk to women in other airlines about what the industry is doing.

Finally, do you think it’s a boys’ club?
I think there is still a large element of the old boys’ network but it is gradually changing.


Dale is currently training to be a pilot using the modular route and is one of our nextGen members.

Why do you think there are so few women pilots?
Nowadays, women have exactly the same opportunities as men within the aviation industry and wider job markets. You just have to look at the military to see this. Women are now eligible to apply and take up frontline operational roles. There have always been, and always will be roles that are more attractive to men than women and vice versa. This is not a negative thing, it is just how males and females differ naturally. For example, the vast majority of men have historically been attracted to the more hands on, physical, and technical roles. Generally speaking, women are more maternal and for that reason they choose career paths that allow them to have a stable family life and balance a successful career. The nature of becoming and then actually being a professional pilot does not always make this possible. This does not apply to every woman and it is not a stereotype, it is a scientifically proven theory and simply boils down to the fact that women and men are wired up differently.

Do you think it is a good career for women?
I think it is a fantastic career for anyone, regardless of their gender!

How do you feel about recent initiatives in BA and easyJet to support more women pilots entering the profession?
I feel that these schemes are unnecessary. They are ultimately throwing money at women on the presumption that the apparent ‘problem’ is caused by lack of access to funds, which is my opinion is not the case. It is one of the biggest barriers, however, men face exactly the same financial barriers. These schemes strike me as a knee jerk reaction to solve an apparent problem without doing research into the real reasons behind why a larger percentage of women do not see it as a viable career.

Should more be done, by the airlines or BALPA, to support women? If so, what?
I personally feel that efforts should not be specifically directed at getting more women into the industry. Women do not face any additional barriers to entering the industry than their male counterparts. In fact, at the moment it has swung the opposite way and it seems that females have the upper hand when applying for pilot positions. From speaking to female colleagues, they are actually seeing it as a negative thing, as they feel they are being offered jobs based on their gender rather than ability.

Finally, do you think it’s a boys’ club?
No, I think that historically it was a bit of a boys’ club or at least perceived by those outside the profession as being so, however, it has not been that way for some time now.


Sally is a Captain who has been flying for 27 years and is married to a fellow pilot.

What made you want to become a pilot?
I started my career as a stewardess and then learnt to fly and got a private pilot’s licence and BA started recruiting. I thought “why am I a stewardess when I could be a pilot!”, and so I left BA and went to get my licence.

What reactions do you get from passengers and other pilots to having a female pilot? Negative? Positive? Neutral?
Passenger reactions still surprise me. They are generally positive these days but often they are surprised to have a female Captain. Other pilots are no longer surprised and there are now so many female pilots around compared to when I started.

Why do you think there are so few women?
I am not sure why there are so few female pilots. Perhaps girls still don’t think of it as a career; girls seem far more girly these days and so perhaps it doesn’t interest them.


Do you think it is a good career for a woman?
I think it has been a great career for me, and that it would be a good career for a woman.

How do you feel about recent initiatives in BA and easyJet to support more women pilots entering the profession?
I have never been in favour of positive discrimination. I believe it is best to get the right person for the job. Advertising in a place where it may be seen by females is OK, but I would go no further than that.

Finally, do you think it’s a boys’ club?
I think it was a boys’ club but things have changed now.


Dave is a retired British Airways Captain after spending almost 35 years as a pilot. His two daughters followed in his footsteps to become commercial pilots.

How often did you fly with other women?
Not that often overall, as the percentage of female pilots in BA is quite small. However, there were periods when I would fly with them every week. In the late 80s and early 90s, I was based in Glasgow on the ATP and we received a batch of newly trained cadet pilots from the then BA flying school at Prestwick. Because BA were, by this time, actively recruiting female pilots there were several on the course which was sent to the ATP.

What do you think the reactions from passengers and other pilots are to a female pilot? Negative? Positive? Neutral?
All three in varying degrees. Initially male passengers were, stereotypically, mostly negative. That has changed over the last 25 years and I think nowadays they really don’t think about it as an issue anymore.

Your daughters are both pilots, why did they choose this as a career?
Well they obviously thought I was enjoying the job and “if dad can do it so can we!”. They both decided in their early teens they wanted to become pilots and never wavered from that ambition no matter how difficult the path sometimes became. Once I was convinced they were serious, I actively encouraged and helped them to become pilots.

Why do you think there are so few women pilots?
Unfortunately, a lot of schools still think in the old way and do not guide females to the career and therefore there are many females who would make very good pilots who do not even consider it as a career.

How do you feel about recent initiatives in BA and easyJet to support more women pilots entering the profession?
I fully support them. Women are equally as capable as men at becoming pilots. We should be getting that message across. The skillsets required to become a pilot are well known in this day and age and not everybody has them, but there is nothing intrinsic in gender which makes those skillsets more prevalent in one or the other.

Finally, do you think it’s a boys’ club?
It definitely was 30 years ago. It definitely isn’t one now.


Do you have any thoughts on this subject?

We would love to hear from you. Let us know in the comments section below or email communications@balpa.org.


*name has been changed to protect identity
Comments 2
Comments
James
I personally strongly agree with Dale.
I think that its the way we are naturally wired up. Guys tend to like the hands on jobs with large machines and power etc.. whereas women don't.
I was watching a BBC documentary and they tested with monkeys what toys the different gender monkeys would go for, and sure enough all the females went for the toys aimed at females and all the male monkeys went for the male aimed toys.
I don't thinks it's a big issue and i think people should be recruited on the ability to do the job. There are much bigger problems in the aviation industry than the natural imbalance of the genders.
I haven't seen anywhere anything that said females cant be pilots. I think its just the natural way things are. Most the girls i know all want to get married and settle down with a child and put their attention towards the kid. And i don't feel a woman who's payed £60,000-£100,000 and worked so hard to get to their position in their flying career would want to then give that up for the original life they wanted with kids. Because i have learnt, Being a pilots a lifestyle and not a short term job that will pass time till you have a child.
24/08/2016 01:07:14

Mark Southern
I would be disappointed if BALPA squandered our funds on this subject by making a case for positive discrimination, like BA and Easy jet are doing.
There is no reason for women not starting the route to become a pilot. It is entirely down to personal drive and motivation and that cannot be forced on people.
17/08/2016 13:09:50