Aviation’s representation in mainstream media and education, or lack thereof, is inhibiting females from realising that becoming a pilot is within their capabilities. One cannot simply catch the “flying bug” if your environment never delivers the inducive conditions.
I am a young student pilot who has recently commenced commercial pilot licence training from an ab-initio level. I also hold a Bachelor of Aviation from Griffith University and am one of the executive leaders underpinning the MATES student development program. Unlike many of my peers, I have come from a completely non-aviation family.
I fell in love with the concept of flying on my first flight to Sydney when I was five years old. However, it was not until a decade later that it became apparent that becoming a pilot was actually possible. The lightbulb did not go on until I went on a flight with a female captain. It was not that I thought females were incapable of being pilots, but it was that I never even knew it was within my means.
The much-discussed and debated lack of females in aviation does not stem from women believing that they are incapable of being a pilot. It stems from failing to realise it as a viable option. I grew up believing that the profession of being a pilot was one that was particularly difficult to get into, which required the highest levels of academic prowess and a substantial monetary footing to support the endeavour.
Realistically, direct exposure to aviation for students of any gender from non-aviation families is more or less restricted to the occasional exotic holiday, or what they see on TV or in movies. A pilot personality sporadically appears in television, predominately as an authority male figure of privilege. There is rarely anything in mainstream media that brings the concept of being a pilot back down to earth, that makes the role appear relatable and paints it as achievable. Children need exposure that highlights the joy of flying. It is, after all, that feeling that caused all of us to catch the bug in the first place.
Becoming a pilot needs to be seen as a realistic consideration for a young student. That starts with receiving early-enough exposure in the education system to begin to identify a career in aviation as one worth considering. Early enough for the student to catch the bug. Wait for a fluke external factor to introduce the idea and it may well be too late.
The career itself has excellent benefits and benefits are important to this generation. Many high-achieving students have exacting expectations when it comes to their prerequisites in an occupation, and many of these marry up nicely with the profession of being a pilot.
Generally, pilots are well paid, with many career paths including the opportunity to travel the world. They work in a challenging environment completing dynamic tasks. Pilots can also progress onto a wide variety of aircraft types with opportunities diverse enough to fit anyone. Aside from a fear of flying, there is little to stop a driven student considering an aviation career as an option once they know about it. It is aviation awareness and industry-specific education that are the limiting factors.
In my experience, aviation awareness was even lower in a female‑only school environment. I have had this discussion with many of my colleagues at university. Those who have come from a similar girls’ school background are in agreement. They reached their decision to become a pilot outside the support and career guidance their school provided.
In recent years, girls’ schools are making an active effort to promote STEM to their students. I was taught about the degree options pertaining to the niche, yet growing, STEM market, the pay scales you could achieve and the career progressions. We had these lectures every year. They were broad conversations and a variety of options from multiple universities were encouraged. However, in my experience becoming a pilot was just not raised.
Aviation is rarely presented as an attractive, realistic and achievable career option in neither mainstream media nor a student’s education. This is undoubtedly the largest barrier inhibiting females from believing that they can strive for and become an airline pilot.
In light of the ever-present pilot shortage, I am thrilled to say that media is finally beginning to back a shift in public perception. One that engages youth to consider and enter the aviation industry. The pilot crisis is now widely advertised. New schemes and opportunities are available, including esteemed airline level cadetships and defence force opportunities being promoted as financially and educationally attractive. But more work must be done in mainstream media to remove the notion that being a pilot is an exclusive career option.
There must be exposure at a grass roots level in a student’s education if the bug is ever going to latch on. If the pilot shortage really is as bad as it is proclaimed, then the entire aviation industry across the globe needs to see this shift.
If we believe being a pilot is the best job in the world, then why doesn’t the whole world know it?
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