Flight Plan

Women who fly

Capt. Sanna Pradhan | Updated on: Mar 06, 2022

Below par India lacks the required resources for pilot training CraigRJD | Photo Credit: CraigRJD

The Indian aviation industry must present equal opportunities to both genders

Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow; the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day delineates the growing need to create and champion an equitable future for women across their diverse roles. 

Understanding the essence of this theme is critical to ensure and perpetuate the growth of women across fields and to harness their untapped potential.

The aviation industry in India has grown at a steady pace of 16 per cent over the last decade. At this pace, Goldman Sachs forecasts that India is slated to be the third-largest in the world. To continue on its growth trajectory, the industry needs to adapt quickly to growing demands of the workforce and continue harnessing the potential of and presenting opportunities to women in aviation. Women have been deeply involved in various departments in the field, be it steering the airline as senior management, from the cockpit, from the engineering and maintenance hangars or from behind the scenes at various airports and offices; making operations efficient and seamless.

Pioneering women paved the way for us as early as the 1960s, and India currently has the highest percentage of female pilots at 12.2 per cent as compared to the global average of 7 per cent. As far as providing equal opportunity goes, the policies are well in place to provide the same growth for individuals in the field. However, the percentage of women in senior leadership roles in aviation is yet to cross single digits. Globally too, there are only a handful of aviation organisations that have women in prominent leadership roles.

From the hearth

The reason for this unequal representation perhaps lies in the dynamic pace of work and the unique challenges that aviation poses, including non-standard work schedules that do not include weekends and national holidays. A typical workday in the field is not necessarily a day job. It is also important that there is a robust family support system in place. If the couple is from the same industry, the understanding and appreciation of the work are even better. Discipline is a way of life for pilots, and we use that to our advantage in managing the house and family as a team. As both my husband and I are pilots, our home is almost run like an airline, with documented processes, colour coded charts and monthly calendars! We are very cautious about safety and have contingency plans in place for any emergency. It might sound like a completely different way of functioning, but having a clear plan allows us to have quality time together as a family and concentrate on the job when we are away. In turn, the children get to observe a good work-life dynamic between the parents too. Gender bias as a concept does not exist for children when one observes equality at home.

Unfortunately in most cases, when familial responsibility increases, it is usually the lady of the house who has to slow down her pace at work. The pressures of maintaining an optimum work-life balance often deter women from venturing into more intensive roles within the organisation. There is an implicit bias that women are meant to give up their work to take care of the children and home. These biases are harmful to gender equality because they are insidious, more prevalent and seemingly socially acceptable. They perpetuate age-old stigmas and stereotypes that women have been fighting for years.

Airlines in India often offer contracts that are less demanding on time, thus enabling women to continue working. However, extending these opportunities to men as well will go a long way in establishing gender equality. Over the past few years, we have witnessed how men have chosen to be the primary caregiver of a loved one if given the choice. This could possibly go a long way in preventing the slow-down in careers faced by women, often in their prime. When it becomes a common practice across various fields to accept that both men and women are equally capable of managing their personal commitments and responsibilities, we will have a more evolved concept of gender equality, thus ensuring sustained growth of women in the professional sphere.

Aviation is only going to get more competitive with each passing year. With increasing connectivity to our tier 2 and tier 3 cities and increasing domestic cargo operations, there will be a huge demand for a workforce. As an industry, the only way to sustain this growth is to enable our workforce to continue working and excelling at it. The way women have spiritedly fought biases and societal challenges all this while — having an intelligent and sensitive approach to gender equality — will certainly enable women to continue shattering the glass ceiling and soar even higher than before! 

(March 08 is International Women’s Day).

(The writer is a Pilot, Flight Operations, AirAsia India)

Published on March 06, 2022
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