To mark International Women’s Day, Pinstripe Solutions founder Kirsty Ferguson reflects on the role of women in aviation both in the past and in the future.
The strengths women bring to our industry have not always been visible, but those invisible or underrated strengths are about to change this industry forever and how women manage discrimination or inequality in every field.
It is on the lips of industry influencers and advocates who refuse to be silenced and has given birth to a new generation of female aviators taking up the mantle started by Debra Lawrie in 1976. Debra took Ansett Airlines to court for discrimination and won.
Ansett had cited, among other reasons, that women’s menstrual cycles made them unsuitable to be commercial pilots. Unbelievable in 2019, I know. While the issues have changed, there remains a multitude of hurdles still to jump.
If ever there was an industry that was more of a microcosm that reflects society and business I am not sure. But there are definitely lessons to be learned from these female aviators who are changing this dinosaur of male domination. Lessons about grit, tenacity, work ethic and about the value of a women’s innate “EQ”.
Today on International Women’s Day, I am musing on the 2019 theme of “balance”, gender balance and how we achieve that. In my world of aviation, that balance remains heavily weighted in the direction of men with only 3-12 per cent of airline pilots being women worldwide. But those long-awaited changes are afoot as we see airlines placing more value on “soft skills” or “EQ” and how we all develop and maintain relationships.
After all, everything in life is about relationships in one way or another.
So how are our female aviators achieving this breakthrough in one of the most segregated industries in the world?
They are changing minds and that is where real change has to occur.
I will attempt to articulate what I have observed in my day-to-day work with women in aviation. I can say with extreme pride that these women have taught me much and that I have applied these truths to both my business and my personal life.
- Be unafraid to ask for help – nobody succeeds alone.
- Don’t take no for an answer, find a different way, go around it, but keep going.
- You will experience bullies, they don’t like change. Stand your ground, do it with grace and don’t give them power.
- Get organised around study or projects and use good time management.
- Be so good that nobody can fail you.
- Prepare in advance for any occurrence, on the flight deck and in all aspects of your career.
- Don’t be afraid to fail, it means you are learning. Get up and do it again.
- Never let anyone tell you – “you can’t”.
- You can have a family and a career. See #4, get organized and #6 plan and prepare for it.
- You don’t need to be ‘one of the guys’ you need to be you and be confident in who you are.
- Don’t underestimate your innate attributes; empathy, self-knowledge, self-management, a mature ego, and inclusive leadership are all attributes that are valuable to employers and women have in spades.
- Crisis management; women’s ability to multitask kicks in during a crisis.
- Having emotions is not a weakness.
- My height, age, and physical strength are irrelevant to how well I do my job.
- Support each other by sharing information, sharing advice and mentoring. This will help develop the next generation.
Over hundreds of years women have been called the weaker sex, told to know their place, not permitted a voice or to vote, barred from further education or suffered from promotion prejudice. And nowhere more so than in the skies or on the flight deck.
There has been some catching up to do my friends but catching up we are. We are not there yet, the struggle goes on, for equal pay and opportunity, for government representation, for respect and regard as human beings, as partners, as wives, as classmates, and as professionals.
As women, we are champions for our gender, our families, our colleagues, and our industries. As women, we are uniquely positioned with innate ability to cultivate cultural change and continue to strive for balance and equality for all women and men.
Happy International Women’s Day!
Kirsty Ferguson, founder of Pinstripe Solutions.