Who can believe it’s been a year since International Women’s Day 2020? The last year has seen many pilots facing significant challenges including job losses and financial hardship. Today, on IWD 2021, we want to celebrate the resilience shown by our female colleagues in particular and embrace new and exciting opportunities to shape the industry. And we want to highlight the ongoing challenges facing women pilots, in particular around career progression.
One of this year’s successes has been founding a brand-new group: BALPA Women Pilots (BWP). It is the first time that such a group has been created amongst airline pilots in the UK and was inspired by other female pilot working groups from across the world. BWP hope to provide support for our community, the one thing that women pilots have told us they would specifically value. We want to offer advice, mentorship and a forum to address the issues which most affect female pilots. BWP believe that being part of a strong network of women who support each other is important.
A survey of women pilots conducted by BALPA’s BWP has highlighted that we have a highly motivated, engaged and skilled workforce representing a diverse cross section of the industry. However, only a few of us seek training or management positions.
Why is this?
Many examples show how diverse teams have a positive impact on corporate success. Diverse teams conduct discussions differently and produce different, often better decisions. In a recent survey of our women members work-life balance was given as the main deterrent to progress. If airlines really want to #ChooseToChallenge this International Women’s Day then collectively we should all make a pledge to actively address this issue by offering genuine family friendly policies and flexible working options for our pilot workforce.
First Officer Andrea Brezonakova, a member of the BALPA National Executive Council, said, “There are two sets of issues here. Firstly, only 6% of Britain’s airline pilots are women and the number has not increased substantially over the past few years despite the hiring efforts of many airlines. Secondly, many women feel there is still a glass ceiling that acts as a barrier to career development – there are far too few women in senior roles, including in training and pilot management.
“The two things are in fact connected. There has never been enough women pilots in the industry to act as a catalyst for change. Too often and for far too long the issues around unsustainable maternity pay packages and a lack of family-friendly policies have not been considered by either unions or airlines. This is an important problem that discourages young women from joining the profession in the first place and draws back women into more family-friendly professions.”
The statutory minimum maternity pay is standard across much of the airline industry. BALPA launched its Baby on Board campaign in 2019 to try and get some concrete improvements to maternity pay for pilots. We have had some successes in some airlines, but there is a huge way still to go. When times improve and the industry picks up again, we are hoping to reinvigorate the campaign and bring this important issue back to the forefront.
However, continuous efforts to attract the interest of more female pilots in training and management position seem to be improving.
First Officer Samantha Walkinshaw, BALPA’s Vice President said, “I am pleased that for the first time ever BALPA has two women pilots on its National Executive Council.
“We are pilots first and foremost, and issues like defending jobs, promoting good terms and conditions and improving flight safety are universal. But there are other issues which are unique to women, and having women pilots involved in our union’s work is important to make sure those issues are heard and action taken.”