Friday, May 17, 2013

Leaning In in Aviation - Part 2

My previous post Leaning In in Aviation Part 1, introduced readers to a book I recently devoured, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Through my work with Women Of Aviation Worldwide and the thoughts compiled throughout Lean In, I felt compelled to share my thoughts here.

Becoming More Female Friendly

I don't have any answers. Lean In doesn't claim to either, just suggestions and observances.  It will take the work and cooperation of both males and females to make a drastic change. It's funny how often I now notice in certain professions how few women there are. My husband sent me a photo of a conference he was doing a live feed for. Everyone was looking goofy wearing 3D glasses, but that wasn't the first thing that caught my attention-I didn't see any women. It was a room full of surgeons. My husband explained that there were maybe three women out of almost 200 in attendance. I wonder if those women felt welcome? I wonder if the low presence of females made those few women feel anxious or afraid?

The Solution to More Women...is More Women!


We need more women in leadership roles to provide an example, encouragement and mentorship to women entering the workforce. Unfortunately, many of those roles today are filled by men. We cannot do it alone, we need help and support from our male counterparts. Over 20 men volunteer at my Women Fly it Forward event each year and my male boss has become one of my biggest allies in the cause. The Board of Directors for Women Of Aviation is 50% male and the India Women Of Aviation Week team leader is a man as well. We should applaud these men for providing an example to others in the work force. They are not weak for doing this, they are strong. They are showing that it is OK to reach out to women and in turn it shows the women that yes, we do belong. Hopefully more men in leadership roles will start following in their example.

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Sheryl Sandberg posed this question at a graduation commencement. There are many things people would do if they were not fearful, such as skydiving or swimming with sharks or spending the night in a graveyard. This isn't the type of fear she was alluding to. She's talking about the fear that holds us back from achieving great potential. This fear can be extremely crippling and cause women to hold themselves back in the industry.

As women, we generally look to be liked and keep the peace. Out in the working world, that may not always happen. Attempting to blend in with coworkers and not taking risks or promotions is a common occurrence all to keep that "like" in balance.

Another common fear is the word "no". Something that has always helped me get through the "no's" in life was to understand that "no" is not to you as a person, it is just to the opportunity at that specific time. In her book, The World at My Feet, Meryl Getline was headed for the airlines and wanted to take advantage of a great flying opportunity that required a specific visa.  She, along with many male pilots were denied this visa.  But she decided to call the issuing office one more time and asked again.  They gave her the visa. She later asked why they changed their mind just for her. The answer? She was the only person who had called back again. She wasn't afraid to hear another no.

Erasing Stereotypes

In fact, there is no need to be afraid if we just change the way we think and act as a society: erasing the stereotypes of the female role. It starts with understanding. Understanding that we no longer live in an era where women stay home and care for the house and the kids. We have a choice now as to if that's the life we want to lead.

I got a phone call once at work, a very easy policy to handle for a pilot that I out-ranked. He did not want to talk to me because I was a woman. He asked to speak to man. I have also been told that women "don't want to waste their hottest years at FBOs". Understand that these comments come from men that believe in stereotypes and understand that they are not the mentors and support you are looking for. Shake your head and move on.

It takes active decision to help erase these stereotypes. I've actually kicked myself on several occasions at work. When a pilot wants to add another to their aircraft policy, we need that other pilot's flight times and ratings. I've often caught myself asking what "his" total time is. This is not because I think all pilots are male, it's because most are and I have given in to that. Now, I always try to ask what "their" total time is. A simple way of adjusting the way you speak is a small step towards that change. Eventually, that spoken word will change your thoughts and in turn, the words and thoughts of those around you.

What now?

All we can do is continue on our journey, as change will not happen over night. Inspire to be the best woman or man you can be, tearing down barriers and opening doors for all people to be treated as equals.

To learn more about the Lean In community or to purchase the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, please visit www.LeanIn.org. For more on my work with Women Of Aviation Worldwide, please visit www.WomenOfAviationWeek.org and www.iWOAW.org.

2 comments:

  1. Well done. Please keep leaning.

    I finished my PPL training this winter (after several false starts) at a flight school in Greenville, SC called AirWolf (www.flyairwolf.com). It is owned and run by two wonderful women: Cyndy Holman and Michele Rash. If you aren't connected, I suggest you look them up.

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  2. Thanks for your kind words, Dan! Congrats on finishing your PPL! It's a great feeling, isn't it? I don't know Cyndy and Michele but will have to look them up!

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