See Her, Be Her: The women showing girls what aerospace careers have to offer
Aerospace has typically been a male-dominated industry. We look at some of the latest initiatives which are trying to drive tangible change, and meet the women leading the way.
The aerospace industry has been talking for some time about becoming more diverse – if it wants to source the best ideas, it needs to tap the widest pool of talent and that means a more gender-balanced workforce.
Progress, though, has been slow. Estimates from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISA) suggest there are only 4,000 women pilots worldwide, representing just three percent of a 130,000 total. Figures from Women in Aviation International show that only 2.4% of aerospace mechanics in the US are women and just 4% are flight engineers.
Signs of progress?
On the plus side, we are seeing more initiatives to move things on. As the industry faces potential skills shortages and competition ramps up, having a more balanced workforce isn't only the right thing to do; it's a business imperative.
At the recent Farnborough Airshow, for example, 50 UK companies signed up to the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter, pledging to work towards gender equality. The Charter commits organisations to supporting the progression of women into senior roles, and to prove it – they must publicly report on progress against internal targets.
The same week, CAE launched its Women in Flight scholarship programme, offering up to five full scholarships every year to aspiring female pilots across the globe.
See Her, Be Her
As part of Futures Day at Farnborough Airshow, the ‘See Her, Be Her’ event brought together some of the leading women in aviation to encourage young girls to consider a career within aviation. We met some of the cause's leading people.
Liz Moscrop, CEO of Gear Up TV and organiser of See Her, Be Her, said: “As a woman in aviation myself, I have experienced walking into a room and not seeing many other women. What we want is for young girls to be able to see more and more people who look like them. We [had] a very diverse panel up there, as you've seen. And we believe that, if you can see her, you can be her.”
The role of employers
Much of the groundwork for attracting a talented and diverse workforce into aerospace – of both boys and girls – lies with employers and schools.
Dr. Shini Somara, Dr of Fluid Dynamics and Mechanical Engineering & science/tech reporter, urged the industy: “Please, aerospace companies, please encourage women to follow their passions. Encourage them, support them. I think women, being a minority still in engineering, they need a lot of encouragement and support and belief in them, because we learn very differently to men. But just because we learn differently, it doesn't mean that we are incapable of learning the subjects.”
Liz Moscrop admits: “We don't know the answer to [businesses attracting more women and future talent] and neither do the companies.”
She added: “We are engaging with industry; we're going to continue this conversation,” saying she believes this “meeting of the minds” between industry and government will bring change.
A job worth doing
All the women noted what a rewarding career aerospace offers.
Sue Partridge is head of the Wing of the Future programme at Airbus, “preparing our future and securing aviation in Airbus and in the UK, looking at developing technologies for the wings for our next Airbus products.”
She said: “I always wanted to be an engineer right from when I was quite a young child. I was inspired by some family members and I enjoyed the science subjects at school. I joined Airbus 28 years ago as an apprentice.”
“One of my best days in the job, I would say, is seeing the first flight of the A380, which I worked on for three years before I left to go on maternity leave and have my daughter. It was a really, really special moment seeing that airplane fly.”
'James Bond' missions
Karin Muller is International Director for Women in Corporate Aviation, a membership organisation made up of aerospace professionals across the job spectrum. It offers mentoring and networking and runs scholarships on behalf of large aerospace organisations.
Muller summed it up as: “Bringing corporate aviation to the masses, because it is traditionally quite an inclusive club, and if you don't know it exists, it's even more difficult to find it.”
She is also Regional Director, Business Development EU, Sterling Global Aviation Logistics. “We do a lot of James Bond missions, basically, to help aircraft getting off the ground as quickly as possible,” she said.
Muller told FINN: “I always wanted to work with people, and I love the networking aspect. I love the fact that I can walk around Farnborough Airshow and know so many people, all the players in the industry. Their stories, their backgrounds, are just amazing.”
She added: “The best experience in the day job is if you get an aircraft off the ground, and an airline saves themselves upwards of half a million pounds on lost revenue – that's an awesome feeling.
“For Women in Corporate Aviation, it's amazing to see when you have young ladies first reaching out, trying to find their path, and when someone comes to you and says, ‘I'm now flying a corporate jet.’”
Make it happen
For young people considering a career in aerospace, Partridge advised: “There are numerous opportunities to get into the industry and so many different exciting products to work on across the industry. You can start through an apprenticeship or through a degree; there are lots and lots of routes in and it really suits all sorts of people.
“Go for it,” she said. “Try and get some work experience and really understand what it's like to work hands on, on products as an engineer. And then just follow your dream and see what you can do."
Muller commented: “Create a network, start early…and scour the internet. Look at organisations like Women in Corporate Aviation, Women in Aviation, the NBAA, all these organisations that are out there, that can provide funding etc.”
Dr. Shini’s advice? “Girls are probably as interested in flight and aviation as boys are, and if they have that interest and passion, they should follow it. I think often what is needed to go into industries like aviation is strong STEM subjects, and often girls can find it difficult, as can boys, but girls tend to drop out because they feel that STEM subjects are not for women, and I'm really passionate about encouraging girls to stick with it because we are as capable as boys are in STEM subjects."
"There is no excuse. As a result of seeing your STEM subjects through, you're able to follow careers that need STEM subjects, and therefore follow your passion, she said."
The last word
We caught up with two young attendees at the See Her, Be Her event – Jessie, 11 and Polly, 13, and their responses suggested that initiatives such as this can really help to bring careers in aerospace to life.