posted by Sheryl Barden on March 17, 2023

Dr. Sian Proctor was a keynote speaker at 2021 NBAA-BACE as well as last week’s NBAA Leadership Conference where she discussed the pressure she feels as a woman in the industry. (Photo: NBAA)

Sheryl Barden’s AINsight column regarding “female takedowns” originally appeared in Aviation International News on March 17, 2023.

On March 8—International Women’s Day—I was once again stopped in my tracks as I read this Fast Company headline: “All I want for International Women’s Day: No more female founder takedowns.”

In a nutshell, the article explains how females in tech often make the same mistakes as their male counterparts, yet they face much harsher repercussions. Unfortunately, these female takedowns aren’t just happening in the tech industry.

In fact, that headline made me think about gossip I heard last week at the NBAA Leadership Conference about yet another female pilot who’s struggling at training. A person in the aviation industry was telling me that a flight department had pressure from HR to hire a woman and how “she’s having a hard time training on a new aircraft.”

As if male pilots don’t struggle at training! Yet never once, in my 20-plus years working in business aviation, have I ever heard anyone gossiping about a male pilot struggling at training.

I would venture to say that men also struggle with new technology and bigger aircraft, but no one makes a big deal over it because we take for granted they will come up to speed. And women will as well.

A Team Investment

At the same conference, I was asked by an enlightened aviation leader how they might add diversity to their ranks and how to do that effectively. I shared with him that there are several flight departments that are successfully integrating women, people of color, and other underrepresented pilots and mechanics into their culture.

They are successful because every person on their team has a vested interest in making sure the new hire succeeds. Be it a female, a person of color, or a younger person who doesn’t have the same level of experience. Their mission is to up-level anyone and everyone, despite their differences.

Isn’t that a best practice to emulate? To ensure that everyone helps their peers to become successful and are held accountable in doing so?

Frankly, that accountability should be measured in every team member’s key performance indicators (KPIs). Then we’re not talking about whether Mary might be struggling. Instead, we’re talking about Joe, who isn’t helping Mary succeed.

I also shared with this leader that every female pilot feels she carries the burden of all female pilots on her shoulders. It wasn’t 20 minutes later that I listened to Dr. Sian Proctor, the first African-American geoscientist and artist in space, tell us that she felt the pressure of carrying the weight of all women (not just Black women), on her shoulders as she lifted off in the Crew Dragon. There is a lot of pressure on these women to flourish beyond themselves.

Celebrating Women

Just as we applaud females like Dr. Proctor, I’m thrilled to see that International Women’s Day is becoming celebrated more and more every year. This month, my LinkedIn feed is chock-full of aviation and other industries recognizing female pioneers and women in history.

Let us continue to acknowledge the women who are making an impact in the aviation industry. Let’s celebrate the astronauts, the first to solo the world in a single-engine aircraft, the Thunderbird and Blue Angel pilots, the entrepreneurs, the VPs, the VIPs, and the YoPros—all of whom are making a difference.

Putting women under a magnifying glass and looking for any misstep is unfair. And it certainly doesn’t help to encourage more young women to enter our industry. Especially one that’s facing a long-term pilot shortage, not to mention a shortage of diverse talent.

Instead, let’s stop the gossip altogether and prop up our fellow colleagues to ensure their success, and hold our staff accountable for doing so.

About the Author

Sheryl Barden, CAM, is the president and CEO of Aviation Personnel International, the longest-running recruiting and HR consulting firm exclusively serving business aviation. A thought leader on all things related to business aviation professionals, Barden is a former member of NBAA’s board of directors and NBAA’s advisory council.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily endorsed by AIN Media Group.

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