Women Leading the Way in Aviation

Article By
Emma Distill
Emma Distill
Posted On13th May 2024
Posted On13th May 2024

In the typically male-dominated world of aviation, women have often been left on the sidelines. But as the industry grows, especially in emerging markets, there’s a noticeable increase in female pilots, engineers, and executives who are reshaping the sector.

My blog looks at how these trailblazing women are key to its future.

How did we get here?

The male dominance in aviation is like many other technical and engineering fields. Historically it stems from a mix of societal norms, educational opportunities, and professional barriers that were skewed against women. Here’s a rundown of the main reasons why aviation has traditionally been a boys’ club:

  • Historical Norms and Perceptions: Back in the day, jobs that involved physical labour, machinery, and tech were seen as no-go areas for women. This was thanks to outdated gender stereotypes. Aviation, mixing mechanical engineering with hefty physical demands, especially in the early days, was no exception.
  • Educational Barriers: For a big chunk of the 20th century, women often had limited access to the science and tech education needed for a career in aviation. These educational paths were pretty much designed for and marketed to men, creating a hefty barrier to entry for women.
  • Legal and Institutional Restrictions: In many places, women were legally barred from certain jobs or working conditions. For instance, female pilots were often kept from flying commercial or military aircraft until well into the latter half of the 20th century.
  • Cultural Bias and Discrimination: Even when it was legal for women to join in, cultural biases often discouraged or outright excluded women from getting into or moving up in the field. This discrimination could come from within the industry through hiring practices, within training programmes, or socially through pressure and expectations about what jobs were ‘suitable’ for women.
  • Visibility and Role Models: A lack of female faces also keeps the cycle going where young women have fewer role models in the field. This lack of visibility can turn off interest and keep the gender imbalance going as fewer women enter the field, succeed, and act as role models for the next generation.
  • Work-Life Balance Challenges: Careers in aviation can involve weird hours, lots of travel, and long periods away from home, which can be extra tough for women who often take on bigger caregiving roles in their families.

How do we keep making aviation more inclusive?

To make sure the aviation industry becomes fully inclusive and keeps moving forward in gender diversity, we can take several proactive steps. These strategies focus on systemic change, education, policy implementation, and cultural shifts, and can be grouped into these subsections:

Education and Visibility:

Boost STEM Education for Girls: Encourage and support girls from a young age to explore science, tech, engineering, and maths (STEM) through school programmes, extracurricular activities, and community initiatives.

Scholarships and Financial Aid: Offer targeted scholarships and financial support for women entering aviation training programmes to help overcome financial barriers.

Spotlight on Success: Regularly highlight the achievements of women in aviation through media, seminars, and industry events to boost visibility and inspire the next generation.

Recruitment and Workplace Policies:

Inclusive Job Ads: Make sure job postings use welcoming language and clearly state that the organisation values diversity.

Diverse Hiring Panels: Use varied recruitment panels to help cut down on unconscious bias in the hiring process.

Flexible Work Options: Roll out flexible working hours and remote working options where possible to help employees manage work-life balance.

Fair Parental Leave: Offer fair parental leave for all parents, encouraging shared responsibilities at home and supporting women’s career continuity.

Professional Growth and Cultural Change:

Equal Opportunities for Advancement: Set clear, merit-based criteria for advancement to ensure women have the same chances to climb to senior roles.

Ongoing Training: Offer continuous training and professional development programmes to all employees, helping women gain the skills and qualifications needed to move up.

Anti-Discrimination Policies: Enforce strong policies against discrimination and harassment, with clear reporting mechanisms and consequences for misconduct.

Inclusive Culture Initiatives: Build an inclusive culture through workshops, training on unconscious bias, and regular chats on diversity and inclusion.

Industry-Wide and Community Initiatives:

Collaboration and Partnerships: Work with other companies, governments, and non-profit organisations to promote gender diversity across the industry.

Standards and Benchmarks: Set up and stick to industry-wide benchmarks for diversity and inclusion, with regular reporting and accountability.

Support Advocacy Groups: Partner with organisations that promote women in aviation, offering support through funding, resources, and joint initiatives.

Community Engagement: Get involved with local communities to educate and raise awareness about careers in aviation for women.

Breaking New Ground:

For years, the image of aviation professionals was pretty uniform—typically male. But this image is changing, especially in emerging markets like India, China, and parts of Africa, where more women are getting into aviation careers. Educational institutions and training programmes are pulling in more female talent, showing that the sector is ready to embrace diversity.

Empowering Change:

Several governments and aviation bodies in these markets are actively pushing for gender diversity. Initiatives like scholarships for female students, mentoring programmes tailored for women, and networking events are making a real difference. These efforts don’t just support individual women—they enrich the entire industry by bringing in new ideas and approaches.

Trailblazing Pilots:

The rise in the number of female pilots is one of the most visible signs of change. Women are now flying for both commercial giants and boutique carriers, and they’re doing so with exceptional skill and resilience. Their growing presence is not only inspiring but also crucial in breaking down outdated stereotypes.

Engineering the Future:

Beyond the cockpit, women are also leading innovations in aviation engineering and technology. From aerodynamic design to sustainability solutions, they are at the forefront of modern aviation challenges. Their contributions are vital in driving technological advancements and enhancing safety protocols across the industry.

Overcoming Challenges:

Despite these advances, women in aviation still face significant hurdles. Issues like gender bias, fewer opportunities for advancement compared to male counterparts, and the struggle to maintain work-life balance are still widespread. Addressing these challenges is essential for building a truly inclusive industry.

New Horizons:

An emerging topic of interest is the role of women in the development of sustainable aviation technologies. Now the industry focuses on reducing its environmental footprint. And female engineers and leaders are playing critical roles in crafting eco-friendly innovations.

Looking Ahead:

The future of aviation in emerging markets looks increasingly female. Encouraging inclusivity, diversity, and equality will unlock vast potential and drive significant growth within the industry. By supporting and promoting women in aviation, we can ensure a robust, dynamic, and equitable future.

The landscape of aviation across emerging markets is undergoing a profound transformation. Thanks to the relentless efforts of pioneering women, the industry is not only meeting the challenges of the 21st century but is poised to redefine what is possible. Their achievements pave the way for future generations, ensuring that the sky is no limit.


At re:find we have been in Executive Search for over 20 years. We believe that recruitment is not a one-off transaction but rather a long-term partnership. We aim to build long-term relationships with our clients, providing ongoing support and advice to help them find and retain the best talent for their organisation.

In addition, as a business, we understand that every organisation is unique and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to recruitment. That’s why we offer bespoke recruitment solutions that are tailored to meet the specific needs of each client. Whether you need help with a single hire or a full recruitment campaign, we can help.

We are committed to providing our clients with the highest quality service. As part of this, we ensure that we take the time to understand your organisation’s culture and values, as well as the specific skills and experience needed for each role.

For more information on our executive search practice and our CCS framework
please get in touch with our Managing Director, James Cumming.

Please visit our website to see more of our knowledge hub: https://refind.co.uk/

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