March 8th may have come and gone for this year, but that doesn't mean it isn't always a good time to celebrate the steps being taken towards a more gender-inclusive aviation industry.

Challenging the idea of the airline industry as a 'good old boys club' is no mean task, with only just over 6% of non-student pilots being female - and only 4% of airline CEOs. However, American Airlines says it is trying to encourage young women to explore all the different career paths aviation has to offer.

Bringing Scouts into STEM

One of American Airlines' female Boeing 777 captains, Christine Rupert, is passionate about introducing girls to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) career paths. She does so by giving back to the organization and community that inspired her own choice interest in the topics when she was growing up.

At eight years of age, Christine Rupert, daughter of a pilot father and a flight attendant mother, joined the Girl Scouts of the United States of America. The group had a significant impact on her life and profession. When she first became a 737 captain with American, she knew she wanted to help pave the way for other girls in the Girl Scout community. She says,

“Once I made captain at American, I knew that I had to give back to the community that had helped shape me. I strongly believe that we don’t have enough women in aviation only because girls don’t get enough exposure to the industry from a young age … and this is where the Girl Scouts come in.”

Only just over 6% of pilots are women. Photo: American Airlines

Women in Aviation Day event at MIA

As part of the efforts to introduce girls and young women to the industry, on National Girl Scout Day, she organized a Women in Aviation Day event hosted by both American’s Professional Women in Aviation Employee Business Resource Group and the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida. Over 150 girls participated in the event, which took place at the airline's hangar at Miami International Airport (MIA).

The Girl Scouts got to tour a Boeing 777 and speak to pilots and flight attendants. They also got a chance to learn about career paths in areas such as engineering, maintenance, cargo, customer service, and operations, as well as hear from other industry players such as the TSA, the Customs and Border Protection, and the George T. Baker Aviation Technical College. Captain Rupert added,

“Events like these are so important for the next generation of young ladies as they trigger curiosity and ultimately passion. (...) I believe women in aviation, and in all male-dominated industries, need to step up to mentor and inspire future female leaders in the making.”

The girls got to talk learn more about aircraft maintenance and engineering. Photo: American Airlines

Uphill battle to break the cloud ceiling

Women do need to have each other's backs and support each other along the career path. However, that men currently in leadership positions act as allies is perhaps equally important. Currently, only 4% of airline CEO positions are held by women - if turned around, that means 96% are occupied by men.

Recent additions include Jayne Hrdlicka as the boss of Virgin Australia, Lynne Embleton at the helm of Aer Lingus, and Harpreet A De Singh heading up Air India subsidiary Alliance Air. Meanwhile, Tonje Wikstrøm Frislid is the CEO of Norwegian startup Flyr. They may have something to say about the poor joke made by Qatar Airways' Akbar Al Baker in 2018, who, to the crowd's appalled reaction, said only a man could do his job.

What do you think the aviation industry should do to become more inclusive from a gender perspective? Leave a comment below and be part of the conversation.

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