I was surprised by the female in the cockpit

“… and as I was boarding, I looked to the left side to say hi to the cockpit crew and there on the left seat was a lady Captain. What do you think of women in Aviation”

This is one of those questions that I get all the time, in fact, I received a similar email last week.

I blame the media. Yes, such a cliche, I know. But, when have you ever seen a female Captain in a major movie or even on TV? I am not talking about balloon pilots, fighter pilots, or military choppers. I am talking about a female Airline Captain.

In fact, media has sensationalized female Captains doing their jobs properly which further added to the conception that they probably are less capable to do that for some reason. The southwest accident that had the female Captain praised for her “nerves of steel”. This is both patronizing and condescending.

Of course she was gonna do a good job, that’s what her training is supposed to get her to. Still, the coverage focused on her years in the Navy, her extensive experience that helped her to fly like that. That will help, yes, and that is part of who she is, yes. Was why she flew like that? No

Let me say something here, a Captain, regardless of gender, on any reputable airline in the world should be able to do the same. This is not to belittle her experience. This is to say, all Captains, male or female are trained for that and would not take command of an aircraft if it wasn’t for that.

If a female Captain never served in the Navy and didn’t have the same profile as the Captain in southwest, would the outcome have been much different? No!

I would venture say that no career, with as many practitioners around the world, has as rigorous a system as the airline training regulations. The output has to be like that. Again, regardless of gender. For that matter, regardless of creed, race or any superficial factor like that.

Is it safe to fly with a female as the pilot?

All the pilots I know and the majority of pilots that flew with females will tell you yes. Unequivocal. Is there such a thing as “The pilot?”. Well, not in Airlines. The cockpit has to people in it. The Captain and the First Officer, this terminology is borrowed from maritime traditions. The Captain in Airlines sits on the left, the First Officer on the right!

I would fly in the cockpit with a female any day of the week. I flew with female Captains and with some of the pioneering ladies of our industry. At no point did I notice a difference, save for the normal variances that differ between one pilot and the next.

Now lets talk science, a study in 1996 showed that female pilots made mistakes and caused more accidents. However, when the study authors controlled for things like experience, the airline (major/non-major), amount of flying, these differences all but disappeared. The result of the study is below

These findings suggest that neither males nor females are a safer pilot group. Airlines should make every effort to recruit and retain experienced females.

Professor Kathleen L McFadden

Why are female pilots less experienced?

Well, the industry just doesn’t have enough pilots who are female. Simply put, there is not enough female pilots there.

Its that simple!

The Major airlines in the world are struggling to find masses of female pilots. I would go on a limb here, they would hire them if they can find them, it’s just that they don’t exist. International Society of Women Airline Pilots finds most major airlines have less than 8 % female pilots, they estimate that 7,500 female pilots are around 5.2% of the global Airline pilot workforce.

ISWAP estimates that 5.2% of Airline Pilots are females

The country that has the most female Airline pilots seems to be India. With around 12-13 % that is still way short of the needed. I will talk here next week about the reason, however, we need to understand something. Most psychologists and social scientists agree that there are minute or no differences between men and women. Period!

An important point to mention, women have a small, minute or non-existent difference in their cognitive abilities, towards the end of the link above we read this:

 They found that merely telling women that a math test had previously shown gender differences hurt their performance.

Spencer, S.J., Steele, C.M., & Quinn, D.M. (1999) Stereotype threat and women’s math performance.   Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35 , 4-28.

I would go out on a limb here, but I think that is the issue here. The society in general are assuming things about gender differences that are antiquated or based on ill-understood research.

Turning the tide requires a lot of positive role models. We need to create them, be politically correct -despite my loathing of the words- about female pilots and set the correct positive tone to allow this industry to break from the remnants of misogyny, chauvinism and sexism and allow this industry to move forward to the 21st century in terms of Gender equality

More Reading:

Why India beat the world in female airline pilots percentages?

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