Do We Need WAI?

Today, on #JustJuliesTakes, I ask the question I heard a couple times last week at the Women in Aviation International conference:

Do We Still Need “Women in Aviation”?

The raw numbers say yes—the percentage of pilots holding ATPs that are women has doubled, but when you start at 3.5% just a few decades ago the meaningful change still leaves much room for growth.

The nature of what it means to be a pilot is changing, as we move away from manual skill towards systems management. The breadth of roles is increasing too, with a variety of piloting jobs available—including those from flight instructor to tourist flights to the super short-haul routes promised by eVTOLs that allow a parent to stay home every night. This reduces a key “barrier to entry” particularly for women who are primary caregivers.

And, though the spectre of forcing people into “traditional roles” keeps popping up even in the U.S., changing attitudes towards women working internationally have reached a tipping point in so many countries that we can consider a future when perhaps this isn’t a “thing”—and we’re serving on an equivalent to the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise, where each person contributes according to their talents and skills. (Thank you “Dragon Lady” Merryl Tengesdal for giving me that analogy.)

Speaking of which, both Dragon Lady (a U-2 pilot) and Caroline Jensen (“Blaze,” a Thunderbird) are moms. In our generation, we went from “no women fighter pilots” to this, normalizing these multifacted roles. Moms are soooo badass!

As for how each woman pilot found our way into the cockpit, all I can say is it’s been through our individual means. Some folks are self-directed and appear to need little encouragement, and some need real prodding before they figure out how to shine on their own. Many of us didn’t “need” WAI or the 99s or ISA+21… but those groups have been here to support us and cheer us on anyway. For others, the “hand up” has been priceless.

I foresee a time—10 years? 20?—when we no longer need the distinction of WAI and the 99s any more than we’ll have the QBs (Quiet Birdmen).

Maybe then, the conference will remain the main event, but simply settle into its role as a careers conference for all genders to attend—kinda like today—one that just so happens to do what it does better than most other venues for networking and recruitment. Maybe because we have made it such a nurturing environment that all young professionals appreciate. And it does so around the core of celebrating women within its sectors.

Hey—it’s kinda there already, a marvelous pathway for a diverse group of people to learn about all the roles possible in aviation. Not just pilots.

And as long as we need the beacon to shine the light for more people to follow and join our ranks, we need to preserve as many pathways into the dream as possible.

Women of Douglas Aircraft

The foundation for the Douglas Aircraft Company started with a woman’s financial support: Charlotte Douglas married Donald in 1916, and cashed in a life insurance certificate she had in savings of $2,000 in 1922 to help launch Douglas Aircraft following his break with Davis.

Charlotte also led the team of women who hand-stitched the fabric covering the wings and fuselages of the Cloudster and Douglas World Cruisers, and performed subsequent detail work within the shop.

Women crafted the fabric covering for the fuselage and wings of the Douglas World Cruisers. [from “Together We Fly: Voices From the DC-3” by Julie Boatman Filucci]

She served as the social director, a counterpoint to Donald’s reserved nature, up until their bitter divorce in 1953.

Douglas, however, was far from finished with having women serve in vital roles for the company.

Peggy Tucker began her time with DAC in the 1930s as a driver, and worked her way up into roles ever closer to “Doug”—to the point where they began an affair leading to their marriage as soon as the ink was dry on his divorce.

As Peggy Douglas, she installed herself literally as the gatekeeper to the executive suite—not as a secretary but as the corporate deputy to Doug.

How did that work out? Read the rest of the tale in “Honest Vision: The Donald Douglas Story.”

Web Summit: 3 Takeaways

I spent several days last week at Web Summit, which took over Lisbon, Portugal, in a way that no amount of summer tourists can approach. 

With more than 70,000 official attendees, and probably another 10% to form the whole entourage, Web Summit doesn’t so much wash over the town like a wave—rather it encapsulates the spirit of entrepreneurship and new thinking already on an unstoppable march through the city’s centuries-old passages.

I needed a shot of that motivation, so I chose to go this year as part of the Women in Tech initiative, attending the WOW Dinner (a networking event prior to the show) and taking advantage of a bargain rate offered in a promotion last spring.

From those four days I found the following 3 Takeaways:

1.Getting women to the party helps move the needle—but it’s not even halfway there in terms of real change. When it comes to changing the demographics of the STEM fields, representation matters. Web Summit reported roughly 45% women in its registered attendees—but there were a number of glaring discrepancies still in evidence, in the speakers, in the awards, and, tellingly, in the representation of start-ups (particularly from Portugal—this is its own issue). The split felt more even amongst the 20-35 year old attendees. And, overall, there still needed to be better representation from people of color.

In aviation we face a subset of this problem, and it has proven even more resistant to change. We can keep inviting women to the party, but we can’t stop there. Mentoring, intelligent promotion, and generations of changing practices will, with persistence, bring our industry into parity—and diversity in other critical ways. In part, it’s one place where our next big ideas will come from…

2.The big names weren’t necessarily the big innovators. The coolest ideas that I saw were down on the floor, in the Alpha, Beta, and Growth areas featuring start-ups in those varying stages of development. One company is working on a way for you to execute your own will after your passing—using blockchain. Another seeks to make real change in the way we talk about politics on social media—wouldn’t that help us all?

While I see the big aviation manufacturers building on success, they tend to be iterative—much like their colleagues in the tech world. Real change still starts in someone’s T-hangar in the sticks. Or the person drawing connections between seemingly disparate industries. And it comes from a diverse community, folks from widely divergent backgrounds, coming up with solutions in new ways.

3.You can put all the info at a person’s fingertips, but delivering information does not equal communication. That person will miss something important. Web Summit uses a well-thought out app to help attendees manage their experience—it’s better by leaps than any event app I’ve used thus far. But I still missed a few big things, and came close on others–like Stephen Attenborough from Virgin Galactic. The scale of the show is impossible for a single person to digest (it’s like trying to master every function on the G1000)—so here’s where AI can step in. And it will still be the case: Communication must be personalized—and to do that, a person has to be willing to share their preferences and desires.

As communicators, we need to poll our audiences in a way that is timely and congenial—we can’t just keep guessing what they want—or assume they want to hear what we think is best to deliver to them. But they must feel confident in sharing those preferences with us–we must trust each other. I only watch cat videos when I’m already bored to tears—give me compelling stories (it helps if there’s an airplane involved) any day. That echoes another theme: Good content wins influence.

What do you think?