Women in Aviation: Diversity Boosts the Bottom Line

Four aviation industry leaders/Embry-Riddle alumnae — Crystal Barrois (’04), Dana Donati (’19), Dr. Rebecca Lutte (’91) and Kate Fraser (’18) — met in a virtual Aviation Outlook webinar event Oct. 7 to discuss how their roles on the FAA’s Women in Aviation Advisory Board are helping to increase the number of minority groups throughout the industry.

Female aviation leaders representing the airline industry, Urban Air Mobility, safety and academia all agreed, in an Aviation Outlook virtual event Oct. 7, that workforce diversity is foundational to any sound business model. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the need to diversify is even more pressing, as organizations struggle to meet unprecedented challenges.

“We have to have all different thoughts at the table, because we have to stay innovative right now,” said Crystal Barrois, alumna (’04) and Delta Air Lines first officer. “Things are changing every single day.”

“Having a gender-balanced workforce … makes the environment better,” added Dana Donati (’19), general manager and director of Academic Programs at the Leadership in Flight Training (LIFT) Academy for Republic Airways. “There’s a different thought process … and different decisions are made.”

Those differences mirror the differences throughout a company’s client base and employee pool, Barrois said — “so that we think like our customer, we think like our employees and we can become the airline of the future.”

Diversity is not just about increasing the number of minority workers in a given industry, the group stressed. It’s about increasing the number of perspectives, backgrounds and, ultimately, ideas.

“Your workforce should represent your customer base,” said Dr. Rebecca Lutte (’91), associate professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Aviation Institute. “Diversity enhances the bottom line for organizations.”

Sponsored by Embry-Riddle’s College of Aviation and Office of Alumni Engagement, the event, which featured members of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Women in Aviation Advisory Board, served as the 10th in the ongoing free and interactive Aviation Outlook webinar series.

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The next free and interactive Aviation Outlook event will feature alumnus Peter Cerdá, regional vice president in the Americas for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), who will discuss his organization, the future of aviation and field audience questions. Register now to reserve a virtual seat at the event.

“When you were young and excited about aviation … it was really frustrating to feel like you didn’t belong,” said Kate Fraser (’18), head of safety at Joby Aviation, adding that one way to increase the number of women in the industry is to rethink the way in which they’re recruited.

Most pilots, Lutte added, are drawn to the field because of the sense of excitement and adventure it offers; yet, outreach often focuses on a student’s involvement in STEM.

In spite of projections from Boeing’s 2018 Pilot & Technician Outlook, which predict a need for 790,000 new civil aviation pilots and 754,000 new maintenance technicians over the next 20 years, currently only 7% of the total pilot population is female. Only 2.4% of all aircraft maintenance technicians are women. There is clear opportunity within the industry, and it remains the primary goal of the Women in Aviation Advisory Board, Fraser said, to “move that needle.”

One way they plan to do so is to meet students where they are, and at as young an age as possible.

“We kind of put unfair expectations on girls and women,” Fraser said, adding that math was never her strongest subject in school. “But I still ended up in aviation, and I’m happy I did. … We just want smart, capable people.”

These changes in outreach translate into working to incorporate aviation into education standards; partnering with groups like the Girl Scouts, AOPA, Junior Achievement and EAA’s Young Eagles program; and offering aviation experiences at events and schools.

“I think we all have a role to play,” Lutte said, citing a 2019 Women in Aviation study that found that 54% of all female aviators were introduced to the industry as a kid. “Outreach is important.”

“We’ve gotten much more intentional,” Barrois added. “I think airlines have a tremendous ability to impact the pipeline, in terms of diversity. It’s just getting those pilots in front of the students, and giving them the message to inspire them.”

For Donati, it’s about identifying the “gaps,” or barriers that keep women from pursuing careers in aviation.

Currently, cost, workplace culture and work-life balance are the three major deterrents to women entering the field. Those are the areas the board are committed to addressing.

“When only 4% of your constituency are female, the issues that are important to them don’t get addressed at the negotiating table — or, at least they haven’t historically,” Barrois said, adding that she couldn’t find a uniform that fit her when she was a pregnant pilot earlier in her career. “If we continue to treat small percentages like small percentages, that will perpetuate itself.”

Affecting change starts with community, the group agreed, and that’s what the Women in Aviation Advisory Board is all about.

“You do belong, even if there are some days where it feels like you don’t,” Fraser said, addressing early-career workers and aspiring aviators. “Just keep pushing, and you’ll find it incredibly rewarding.”

The Oct. 7 webinar featuring Kim Becker is available for playback online. For recaps on prior guests, visit the Aviation Outlook website.


Posted In: Aviation