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Science & Technology Series: Expert Comment

Promoting gender equality in aviation

City's Captain Tilmann Gabriel discusses the issues holding women back from pursuing leadership roles in aviation and the necessary steps to take in order to narrow the gender gap.

by Nahda Abdalla (Senior Communications Officer (Dubai))

It’s no secret that women are massively underrepresented in the aviation sector. While airlines may have women in customer-facing jobs onboard or on the ground, the lack of gender diversity within the industry is particularly apparent in technical roles like engineers, air traffic controllers and pilots.

It appears that this lack of diversity also extends to the boardroom. A recent International Air Transport Association (IATA) report found that only three per cent of women occupy leadership positions in aviation, as compared to 12 per cent in other industries. Furthermore, the Middle East has the lowest representation of women in executive roles, at just four per cent. The highest proportion is at 16 per cent in North America.

Is the lack of diversity a reflection of deep-seated societal attitudes towards women pursuing roles in what is traditionally considered to be a masculine industry? According to Captain Tilmann Gabriel, Director of City, University of London’s MSc Aviation Management Programmes, patriarchal power and cultural norms in the aviation industry may be key factors that hold women back from seeking a career in aviation.

The growing shortage of pilots globally further emphasises the importance of having more women in the cockpit. Only six per cent of all pilots are female today, while India and China are already at 13 per cent.The numbers are worse in aircraft engineering, where we also have a serious demand. This trend is then continued into management jobs. It is interesting though, that over 30 per cent of our City MSc Aviation students are female who are seeking managerial positions.

Captain Gabriel has highlighted the need for more role models in senior aviation positions who can fly the flag for the next crop of female aviation professionals.

It’s important that the future generation of aviation professionals are exposed to pioneering women such as Shaesta Waiz, the Afghan aviator who flew solo around the world, and Captain Tammie Jo Shults, who flawlessly handled the emergency landing of a Southwest Airlines plane in Philadelphia. These role models should be promoted to show young women that a high-flying career in aviation is certainly achievable.

That said, Captain Gabriel believes that change is occurring slowly. The UAE, for example, has already made “great strides in its effort to increase female participation in unconventional roles”.

Thanks to the UAE’s Emiratisation programme, the Emirates Group now has the youngest female Emirati pilot flying an Airbus A380. In addition, women make up 42 per cent of the Group’s workforce. Over at Etihad Airways, more than 50 per cent of the airline’s 13,000 strong workforce are women, according to UAE state news agency WAM.

Captain Gabriel adds: “By offering flexible work opportunities, particularly for young mothers who are balancing careers with raising a family, and supporting the development and training of female aviation professionals, the industry will attract broader interest and gain a diverse candidate base, thus allowing the industry to thrive.”

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