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31 Jul

‘Is aviation really just a men’s world?’

Whilst the issue of gender equality may have disappeared off the radar for most aviation related businesses as seemingly it is no longer an issue, the reality is somewhat different. Statistics show that only 5 % of pilots are women. Officially, there are no restrictions for women to study and seek a career in aviation, however, the low number of female pilots might make one wonder – is aviation a men’s world only?

The challenge of gender equality in aviation is a worldwide issue. One of the organisations, trying to raise the profile of gender inequality in aviation as well as encourage and empower women to challenge the situation is ‘Women in Aviation’. Currently, the organization’s representatives are travelling around the world with the ‘Women in Aviation’ exhibition highlighting the role women have played and continue playing in aviation.

In addition to showcasing women who made a telling contribution to the development of aviation the exhibition aims to gather information about women currently working in the aviation sector. The data will help to provide solid facts with which to challenge the complacency of the industry and its approach to gender equality as well as help motivate more women to seek higher level jobs in the industry.

Organization that inspires

The ‘Women in Aviation’ organization has been recently sent a letter from a young girl called Hanna Schroff.  In the letter Hanna explained her dream to become a Captain of the Airbus A380. Hanna had previously reached out to one of the German airlines with the inquiry about the actions which should be taken to fulfil this ambitious dream. Surprisingly, the airline replied that Hanna cannot become a pilot because of her low height – 163cm.

‘Aviation has simply enchanted me. I cannot imagine myself in any other position than that of a pilot. I am only 16 years old, but I am already sure what I want to do in my life. Apparently it is hard for society to accept women who aim for such goals. Hopefully, I will become an example for the future generations,’ comments Hanna Schroff.

While the aforementioned exhibition was touring in Lithuania, Baltic Aviation Academy organised a meeting with Hanna to discuss her career and education possibilities. And though there is a number of high medical, psychological and various other requirements for those who want to seek a career of a pilot, height is not one of them. It is much more important to be psychologically ready for such big responsibility for the lives and safety of hundreds of people on board. At the moment Hanna is still studying in high school and considering her study options with the Baltic Aviation Academy.

The true barriers lie in the society?

Researchers have proved that there are no significant physical differences between men and women that would prevent females from becoming successful pilots. However, the low statistics of women in aviation suggests that barriers do exist. According to Mariola Ziolkowski, the main barrier for women is the responsibility for the family.

‘Some said that the challenging working hours and the night shifts prevented them from joining the aviation. However, I must say that this is a kind of a contradiction, because at the same time 80% of the cabin crew are women! So how come the working hours of a cabin crew member are acceptable, but the working hours of a pilot are not? In my opinion we still have the stereotype that a woman’s role is to take care of her family and to support her partner’s career. Of course you cannot say that there are no women in the aviation sector whatsoever – there are, but there are so few of them who hold high managing or captains’ positions. The lack of confidence is another reason why we see very few women in high positions.  A lot of women do not apply even for them because they are afraid that they won’t be accepted.  Women who manage to make it ‘to the top’ have to go through many barriers and face difficult situations. The first Emirati woman to reach the rank of a co-pilot Salma Al Baloushi told about an incredulous foreign colleague on her first commercial flight. ‘He asked me, ‘ can you fly this plane? I said, ‘I fly with my hands, not with my scarf … it covers my head, not my brain,’ comments Mariola Ziolkowski.

There is a significant amount of research which shows that women are not satisfied with the current situation, but many of them do not take any actions to change it. ‘We do not try to teach women about what is right and what is wrong. We only seek that the achievements of other women are acknowledged and set as an example,’ explains Mariola Ziolkowski.