Picture a pilot. Is that pilot a man? If so, you’re probably right. Men make up 95% of all the pilots in America. Five decades of recruiting efforts have raised the percentage of female pilots from 3.5% in the 1960s to 5% today.
I’m one of them. Organizations have been formed to recruit, train and mentor women in this field, but despite these efforts the numbers remain dismal. The past five decades shows us that the industry trajectory for gender parity is centuries away. If moralistic reasons weren’t enough to jump aboard the gender-parity train, perhaps fiscal motivations can compel you.
Despite the future-is-female campaigns and Rosie the Riveter posters, women have not gravitated toward piloting at any substantial rate. As an industry, women make up nearly 30% of non-pilot jobs. But, a woman in aviation is twice as likely to be an aerospace engineer than a pilot and five times as likely to be an air traffic controller.
Female pilots make up 12% of the student-pilot population. As they progress in their career, that percentage dips to 6% at an intermediate level (commercial-pilot license) and dwindles to just 4% at the highest rung of the career ladder. Even when the recruitment does attract women through the flight-deck door, something within the industry turns them away.
As a Seattle-based female captain with almost two decades of flying experience, I have watched women leave the industry at varying stages of their career, but almost always for the same reasons: the industry has poor quality-of-life policies and is not family-friendly. While family care should not be a gendered-role, women, worldwide, are responsible for 75 % of the unpaid labour (care and domestic work), which helps explains why women are missing from the flight deck.
The aviation-industry structure disproportionately favours men, not maliciously, but because it was built by men for men years ago. That status quo worked for decades, but it is failing us now. The pilot shortage is real. Airlines are parking planes and cancelling flights due to a lack of crew. Boeing’s CEO estimates that the pilot shortage is one of the industry’s biggest challenges and predicts a need of 800,000 new pilots within the next two decades. Aside from the moral obligations to advocate for gender parity, we now have financial reasons to recruit more women.
But recruiting alone is not enough. It is time for the aviation industry to restructure through an inclusive lens. Paid family leave, child-care allowances, tuition reimbursement and schedule-predictability policies should become the industry norm. Such initiatives will retain both women and men while also recruiting more aviators into the pilot pipeline.
The industry already has a lot to offer, such as unique schedules, salaries above $100,000 after a few years, and, of course, the opportunity to see the world with a pretty amazing office view. If the industry would adopt more quality-of-life initiatives as standard practice, it would not have to hard-sell new recruits. Simple solutions and revolutionary restructuring are obtainable, but it will take all of us to challenge the status quo.
Modernity has transformed not only the airplanes themselves, but the meaning of what defines a “good” pilot and the skills necessary for the job. Technological advancements have yielded nearly self-sufficient flying computers, yet they lack the human social skills necessary to function in a collaborative, crew environment. The ability to rationalize, empathize and evaluate qualitatively are the “soft skills” necessary to work in a fast-paced, multi-crew environment.
Airlines know the importance of these soft skills, which is why they include them in their hiring criteria along with piloting experience and education. One’s emotional intelligence is no longer a trait only for managers, but a metric used to determine if a potential new-hire is a good fit with the company’s culture. The skills needed to aviate have been weighted by a modern scale.
So, what does this mean for women?
It means that women are missing from the flight deck because of socially constructed barriers. The good news: We can fix this. We’ve seen technological advancements transform aircraft and improve the very definition of what makes for a “good” pilot. Now, it is the industry’s responsibility to transform policy so we can recruit and retain more pilots and reverse the pilot shortage. The overhaul of the industry must include re-evaluating the structure through a more inclusive lens with family-friendly and quality-of-life initiatives.
The best of the industry is still ahead of us, but we can’t get there without all becoming advocates for gender parity.
Kimberly Perkins: https://www.kimberly-perkins.com/
Kimberly’s EDI Think Tank space: https://www.kimberly-perkins.com/editt.html
Third Wave Aviation email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aviation for Humanity: https://www.aviationforhumanity.org/
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Kimberly Perkins is among the 2% of pilots in the United States – a female captain. She’s a Captain on a Gulfstream 650 based in Seattle, WA and has piloted jets on six continents. After living in Nigeria for two years, she started a non-profit called Aviation for Humanity. They use the traveling public to bring school supplies to children in underfunded schools, shelters and orphanages around the world. Hear more about Kimberly’s nonprofit as well as her thoughts on gender parity and equity initiatives in aviation.
Michelle King, Director of Inclusion at Netflix, interviews Kimberly Perkins on the invisible barriers that are keeping women from the flight deck. Listen HERE.
From The Fix Podcast: "In the United States, women make up 47% of the total workforce. But professional female pilots constitute five percent of the piloting workforce, a statistic that has remained unmoved in four decades. Compared to other STEM fields and “traditionally” male-dominated industries, aviation has one of the lowest percentages of women.
There are mentors, scholarships, conferences, magazines and organizations that all have a goal to increase the abysmal five percent statistic. When experts are questioned on this topic, often the same old explanation is given: “It’s a pipeline problem.”
On today's episode, Kimberly Perkins, an International Captain and Safety Officer on Gulfstream 650 aircraft based in Seattle, Washington and humanitarian activist through Aviation for Humanity will reveal what the systemic barriers are to women’s advancement in aviation and why the industry has to change."
Airlines offer workload variations that crewmembers can bid on. If someone wanted to work more, there are options to bid a schedule with a high utilization. The same applies if someone wanted a reduced number of days away. Business aviation could adopt a similar structure and pay could reflect utilization so its equitable. I know plenty of working caregivers that would value such an option."
March 9th, 2020
"Anecdotal evidence suggests many women who leave aviation believe that the industry is not family-friendly, explained Kimberly Perkins, an international captain and safety officer, founder of Aviation for Humanity and a gender equality activist.
“Much like soft skills and emotional intelligence are the welcome wave of the future for measuring talent, the industry must adopt another cultural shift, this time with a focus on family-friendly initiatives,” asserts Perkins. “Having a work/life balance isn’t a women’s issue – it’s everyone’s issue.”
“We need to stop rewarding the 70-hour work week and instead get more creative on how to work just as effectively but more efficiently,” continued Perkins, who sees teleworking, flex hours and variations in utilization as quality-of-life initiatives."
Read the full article ONLINE HERE
Kimberly Perkins on why diversity and inclusivity matters to business aviation.
Recorded in Las Vegas, NV at NBAA's Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition October, 2019.
by Rolland Vincent
Excerpt: "I recently attended the International Aviation Women's Association GA conference in Napa, California and was fascinated to hear about one person’s aviation career journey. Kimberly Perkins is an ATP-rated pilot who commands a large, ultra-long-range business jet on behalf of one of the world’s largest publicly traded companies. With an impressive resume of aviation and educational credentials, she is an inspiration to many who meet her, especially when they learn that, beyond her busy professional and personal life, she has created a nonprofit (www.aviationforhumanity.org) to deliver school supplies and other donations to young school children in need across the world. Aviation is an industry that helps open our eyes to the truth that is out there; Captain Perkins helps those who are paying attention to realize that we can be the change we want to see in the world. (Editor's note: Kimberly Perkins writes about diversity issues in aviation, including these articles published byAIN: “How industry could attract more women to the flight deck,” and “It's time we all support gender parity.”
Although aviation—general and business aviation in particular—remains a “good ol’ boys club,” the times are changing. Fresh perspectives and ideas, like flowers in Spring, are everywhere, helping us navigate toward a better and more inclusive future, one where we break down stereotypes and open up the skies above us to a world of possibilities."
Forbes: September 3, 2018