Thursday, May 16, 2013

Leaning In in Aviation - Part 1

When I was very young, I used to tell my friends that I did not like the color pink. That was a lie. I love pink and I look really good in it, if you don't mind my saying so. I told this lie because girls were "supposed" to like pink and I didn't want to be just any ordinary girl. I guess that's why I ended up working in an industry where only 6% are women. Girls liking pink is just one of the many stereotypes we grow up with. Others stereotypes, I've learned throughout the past few years are that women are not interested in working or participating in aviation.  I am the US Team Leader, and event organizer, and director for Women Of Aviation Worldwide. Through this volunteer work, I have witnessed these stereotypes first hand and know that they can be combated.

When Women Of Aviation Week, an week long celebration introducing girls and women to aviation, was approaching my inbox was flooded with emails and conversations about that topic. That's when my loyal blog reader, Colin, contacted me. His email came through when hundreds of others were, all about the topic of women getting involved in aviation. His, however, was recommending that I submit my aviation story to a website called

"No more writing!" I shouted in my head.

A quick thank you to Colin, requesting him to send me a reminder after Women Of Aviation Week is how I actually replied. True to his promise, Colin wrote a week after. I happened to be on vacation and unfortunately his email sat there, awaiting me to discover a great site for a week longer.

Finally, one day while on break at work I decided to explore it and completely understood why Colin had reached out to me. Regretting not looking into this earlier, I loved what I saw, I wanted to contribute and I was soon awaiting the Lean In book to arrive in the mailbox.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, did a TEDTalk in 2010 about how women are held back in the workforce and how we tend to hold ourselves back as well. The reaction from this talk moved her to write the book Lean In: "Women, Work and the Will to Lead".

My Leaning Experience

When I first hosted Women Fly it Forward an event introducing girls and women to aviation in Frederick, MD people saw me as a feminist, and I did not like that. In Lean In, Sheryl explains that she hated that word, too. But now, we both are happy to be identified as feminists. I did not set out to be feminist and I wasn't aware of how behind women were in the world compared to our male counterparts until I started this journey. When I decided to participate in Women Of Aviation Week by hosting Women Fly it Forward it was just for fun because I enjoy organizing events. But now, it is a lot closer to my heart. Many women didn't know that an aviation career was a possibility for them, many did not know they were welcome. Through reading Lean In, it further substantiated the need for the efforts of organizations such as Women Of Aviation Worldwide and how it will take every one of us to make a real change.

The title of Lean In comes from the encouragement for more women to lean in, volunteer, and speak up in the workplace when sometimes we may feel (due to society standards) that we should lean back and let the opportunity pass us by. Several moments when I have leaned in and leaned back in my aviation career come to mind:

Lean Back:

1. Giving in to old fashioned gender roles: Men more inclined to mechanical things. An airplane is a mechanical thing. I cannot tell you how many times I've sat around male pilots and did not speak up during a technical discussion. I was not only afraid I may say something stupid, but that I may be wrong and mocked. But I went through the same training that they have, maybe more. So if I do speak up and I am wrong, it is an opportunity to learn.

2. In Lean In, Sheryl discusses a study that shows how men credit their success to themselves and boast of their greatness. Whereas women often contribute to outside forces, for example help from friends. Or they believe that they just worked hard and got lucky. I have found that over the years when people exclaim at how amazing it is that I am a pilot, I tend to brush it off. My husband, I know, loves to share this fact, both about him and myself. I don't have to be so modest about this accomplishment, especially when trying to sell myself for a employment position. I did not become a pilot because of luck. I came because I have ambition (which is not a bad thing) and I worked towards my goal, ignoring the obstacles.

Lean In:

1. When I moved to Maryland, I decided not to say no to any aviation opportunitiy. Well, now that has gotten me into trouble with so many yeses. But - it got me involved and opened opportunities to show others in my industry that I am capable. I did not know if selling aviation insurance would be right for me. My insurance background included just eight months on the adjusting side of things. But with persistence and honesty with my coworkers, I am on the road to a great career path. I also have had several job offers since.

2.  Sheryl encourages readers of Lean In to "sit at the table" versus sitting alone, away from executives thinking you do not have anything to contribute or that they don't care. Working for an aviation insurance broker, we have many underwriters come to visit. Early on, I did not think I would have any way to participate. However, my employer always invited and encouraged me to join in on these meetings. In doing so, I expanded my knowledge and grew in my new career. I showed my employer and these underwriters the working relationships I was able to build. A majority of women are employed by men, I hope that these men invite their women employees to the table and that they in turn say yes. I have seen the benefits.

When are some moments you regret leaning back? What would you have liked to do differently?

When was a time that you were glad you leaned in?

I invite you to think over and discuss these questions with others today. Tomorrow, I invite you to read part 2 of Leaning In in Aviation.

1 comment:

  1. Victoria, my entire life I've been leaning in. Occasionally while I was leaning in, I've had a man or two try to throw me off balance. I had to wobble a bit. Gain my balance. Refocus... and I'm write back in there.

    Seriously, the one time I leaned back, and reacted to someone telling me I couldn't do something... and didn't do it... was when I was 7 or 8 years old. I would dance around the house and spin like a ballerina and one of my sisters said I was a clutz, and could never be a dancer and looked like a fool. I stopped dancing.

    But you know what... maybe that's why I love flying. I can dance in the sky.

    Yes... we must always lean in. There is nothing we can't do.


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