AeroTime exclusively from Sydney | IATA addressed the issue of gender equality in the aviation industry at its World Transport Air Summit in Sydney. Although some progress has been made, 118 years after de Laroche became the first woman to receive a pilot licence, statistics show that women are still an exception within the aviation industry.

During the 20 minute interview panel, two prominent women of the industry shared their point of view on the matter: Mandi Samson, acting managing-director of Air Namibia, and Mylene Scholnick, former president and current board member of the International Aviation Women’s Association (IAWA).

Women have an integral part in the history of aviation, with celebrated pilots such as Raymonde de Laroche and Amelia Earhart. Regarding their role in the industry in 2018, some progress has been made: on February 2018, Avani Chaturvedi became the first female pilot to fly a fighter plane in the Indian Air Force. On March 2018, Iran Air announced that it would recruit female as pilots for the first time in its history. However, statistics show that women are still an exception within the aviation industry. For Mylene Scholnick, the airlines are the sector of aerospace where women have the most difficulties being integrated.

And the numbers are alarming: less than 1.5% of women are airline CEOs. Only one woman (Christine Ourmières-Widener from Flybe) sits among the 31 executives at IATA’s board. IATA reminded that the responsibility lied in the hands of the boards electing their CEOs. The association will soon present a chart for airlines to take an engagement in electing more women executives.

As for the flight personnel, rates are also far from brilliant. From 3% to 6% of pilots employed by carriers around the world are women according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, with the number going desperately low for carrier like Norwegian (1%) or Emirates (1.5%). Mandi Samson points at the work culture of aviation. She states there are still “expectations as to what women should or could do”, and because of those prejudices, she thinks women require support to flourish in the industry.

Yet gender equality is a powerful tool for companies. The OCDE reported that 50% reduction in the gender gap in labor force participation would lead to an additional gain in GDP of about 6% by 2030.

As always when it comes to corporate social responsibility, gender equality is one of those topics often discussed but rarely applied. However, in order to kick start change in the market, several companies have launched initiatives to encourage female in embracing a pilot career. In 2015, EasyJet created the Amy Johnson Initiative. Its objective was to double the number of female cadets from 6 to 12% in the span of two years. That goal was achieved within the first year, and encouraged EasyJet to now try and reach a 20% rate, and even more in the future.

“We all know the numbers are low,” said Scholnick during the conference. “We need to accelerate. The change has to come from the top. Attitudes have definitely changed and we are seeing progress.” In 2017, the FAA reported that if women only represented 7% of pilots in the United States, they accounted for more than 12% of student pilots. This encouraging number shows that the change is already on its way with the next generation of pilots.