Throughout my time in aviation, I’ve seen a lot of change. Without a doubt, being a part of this industry’s rise to become one of the most open and supportive career options for women has made me tremendously proud.
For many years though, especially early in my career, I regularly walked into meetings where I was the only female present. In previous jobs, people made comments about women’s roles in aviation that were, at best, insensitive. I’m glad to report much of that has now changed.
Since the early days of my career, I have recognized the value of being a woman in a male-heavy industry and have seen it as a source of strength. It has allowed me to offer a different perspective on many decisions from an angle that my male counterparts may not have thought of. This is an advantage not unique to gender — my colleagues from a wide variety of backgrounds regularly contribute their own unique views on matters that affect our global team. In essence, valuing each individual’s unique qualities and unique insights is what makes our airline great, and it will make it even better over time.
American Airlines has an impressive heritage of groundbreaking moments for women in aviation. In 1973, Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo was hired by American as the first female pilot at a major airline. In 1986, Beverley Bass became the first female captain for any major airline and in 1987, under her leadership, American made history again with the first all-female flight crew on Flight 417. Every pilot and every flight attendant onboard that day was a woman.
As a result of these trailblazers, and numerous others like them, there are many more women in leadership roles in this industry today. Universally, I think women now feel that if we are committed, there are no limits to what we can achieve. Yet still, only 42 percent of our total workforce is female. So we know there is more work to do to balance things out.
There are a few specific areas of aviation where we can do much better. Although Bonnie and Beverly paved the way for women to become pilots, they are still vastly underrepresented, comprising only 4 to 5 percent of the industry in North America today.
Research shows that a major driver of the low numbers is the inability to pay for flight school and training. In a 2010 survey of 157 female pilots by Dr. Penny Rafferty Hamilton, “a lack of money for general aviation flight training” was cited as the top barrier for women who want to become pilots. Although financing and student loans are readily available for nearly all other careers, aspiring pilots have historically had very few options. That’s something we’re working to address.