My son wants to be an astronaut. When we ask my daughter the same question, she sometimes answers, “A princess”. I want her to know she is destined to be anything she desires.
Close your eyes, when you hear the word “pilot” or “aviation worker,” who do you picture? Is it a male, a female? We need to do a better job of terminating the gender biases of one gender dominated careers.
For many young girls, female gender stereotypes and clothing choices may not reflect their personality or interests. My personal favorite color is pink, and now I see my daughter gravitate to that color as well. I’m okay with that. She loves to play with dolls and dress up with her princess dresses. I’m okay with that.
What I am not okay with is if she believes she can’t, or will not, be allowed to pursue a male-dominated career. It got me thinking about how we went to the park as a family and flew styrofoam airplanes. My daughter loved it!
We recently learned that Lieutenant j.g. Madeline Swegle is Navy’s First African American female tactical fighter pilot. How fantastic to see more women being celebrated for aviation career achievement!
Below is a brief list of female firsts in aviation.
Bessie Coleman was the first woman pilot of African American and Native American descent.
Amelia Earhart was the first American pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She set many other records and wrote books about her flying experiences.
Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983.
Mary VanScyoc is considered to be the first civilian woman to work as an air traffic controller in the US.
Gender biases and gender domination in the workforce are real. These women have paved a way for other women to excel in their careers.
I’ve seen gender biases in many of my previous places of work. As a woman with sons and a daughter, I know it is up to me to expose them to experiences and encourage their interests. Since my children are interested in aviation, it is a blessing that their Aunt, Alicia Whitman, happens to work as an air traffic controller. Air Traffic Control is an advancing career in aviation.
Alicia Whitman is currently working as an air traffic controller in North Carolina at an Air Traffic Control Tower/ TRACON. She is a certified professional controller.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mrs. Whitman to provide insight into a career in aviation in the hopes of inspiring women and girls of all ages that they too can achieve success in a male-dominated career. Our interview is as follows.
What is air traffic control?
“I am an air traffic controller and it is my job to ensure the safety of your flights. My peers and I guide your plane safely from gate to gate by remaining in constant contact with your pilots.”
What does this look like?
“There are three types of facilities: Tower, TRACON, and EnRoute.
When you begin your taxi and are cleared for takeoff, your pilot is speaking to Tower controllers. Soon after departure, your pilot is switched to the approach controllers in a TRACON. At cruising altitudes, your plane is being guided by EnRoute controllers. As you begin your descent you are again in the hands of an approach controller. Finally, a Tower controller clears your plane to land and taxi it to the gate.
The point is to create order so multiple aircraft aren’t at the same place at the same time. Air traffic control is a complex job that requires split-second decision making and critical thinking skills.”
What type of schooling do you need for air traffic control?
“When I went to school, I received degrees in Management and Communications, but that is not the only way to qualify for the job. You can go to school specifically for air traffic, though not a requirement, you can benefit from doing so. You can also qualify by having work experience or having served in the military.
Before you go to your facility, you participate in rigorous training to ensure you have the basic skills to be successful. When you get to your facility you complete a few months of bookwork and a few years of on-the-job training before you can control on your own.”
What should women and young girls know about this career when it comes to gender biases?
”I wish I could say that this job is rainbows and sunshine, but progress can be slower than molasses on a cold day.
It is so important for young women to know that careers in STEM are for them; this is where they belong.
As of 2018 only 16.3% of air traffic controllers in the US are women, and it shows. Imagine being responsible for thousands of lives traveling in steel vessels in the air, traveling well over 300 knots, at various altitudes, every day.
You are working a busy session separating aircraft and getting people to their destinations safely. You get off position and your male counterpart tells you that ‘your voice on frequency sounds how you look, small and petite.’ This came a few weeks after another male counterpart told you that you don’t ‘have a deep, commanding voice’ like his. That’s why pilots don’t listen to you.
In those moments, I am reminded that I am different, that I am a woman.
Though situations like this happen, there is a strong bond between the women in the agency. I have had the honor of having women in high positions mentor me to help me advance.
I credit the women who came before me and honor them by being a role model for younger generations. I strive for a more diverse workforce and want to see more women in the agency before I retire.” – Alicia Whitman
*Interview between Roxanne Barry and Alicia Whitman on July 17, 2020.
We have come a long way in job equality and terminating gender biases, but we have much more work to do.
If my daughter wants to fly planes, direct planes, build planes or ride them to space, I want her to feel like she can do just that and more!
Girls in Aviation Goes Virtual
If you or someone you know is interested in aviation check out Women in Aviation International. There is also a local New Mexico chapter you can find on Facebook, called WAI (Women in Aviation International). It is a non-profit organization supporting the goals of women in all aviation careers.