Girls in Aviation Day | Changing the Future of Aviation
During the last two decades, the number of women involved in the aviation industry has steadily increased. However, the representation between genders in aviation careers is still far from equal.
Closing the Gender Gap in Aviation Careers
At the first International Women in Aviation Conference in 1990, participants recognized the need for more women in the industry and for a group to serve as mentors. Following a number of successful conferences, Women in Aviation International (WAI) was established as a non-profit organization in 1994.
Today, WAI is home to 15,000 members that encompass aviation careers across the entire industry. WAI provides year-round resources to assist women in aviation and encourages young women to consider aviation careers. Annually, WAI provides $600,000 in scholarships. However, they offer much more than financial support and educational programs – they offer an inspiring and inclusive community for females. Their most recent initiative, Girls in Aviation Day, which is open to the public, has proven to be wildly successful.
International Girls in Aviation Day 2019
On Oct. 5, 2019, more than 20,000 girls at 119 sites worldwide celebrated the fifth annual international Girls in Aviation Day. The events were organized by local chapters of WAI. Truly an international event, Girls in Aviation Day was celebrated not just in the United States but in 17 other countries such as Botswana, Cameroon, England, France and Canada. Girls were introduced to the career possibilities in aviation through meeting role models, aviation career panels, exploring airplanes and airports, and hands-on activities.
Molly Martin, Outreach Director at WAI, was thrilled with the progress that the initiative has made over five years. “We began Girls in Aviation Day in 2014 with 3,200 girls attending events at 32 local chapters. To see the initiative grow to where it is now in 2019 is unbelievable,” Martin beamed. In fact, most events at local chapters were so well-attended that many young girls were put on a waiting list. She added, “The event hasn’t grown because we have promoted it more, it’s because communities and businesses want to see more of it.”
Martin explained that Girls in Aviation Day began as a result of a “Bring Your Daughters to Conference Day” at WAI’s annual conference. “About ten years ago at the annual conference, attendees were asked to bring their daughters. Our attendees are so impressive and inspiring that – of course – they all wanted to bring their daughters and have them experience the energy created. After a good turnout over the years, we decided to organize something with all of our local WAI chapters.”
After sustained success, the leadership at WAI knew they had to conduct a Girls in Aviation Day on a broader scale and open it up to the public with the help of their local chapters. “Because it was already being done at the conferences, it wasn’t that difficult to roll out to the local chapters. Our first-ever Girls in Aviation Day took place in 2014, and each year it continues to get more and more popular,” Martin beamed.
The Industry Gets Involved
Participation in Girls in Aviation Day has spread far beyond the original vision of Martin and WAI. Airports, FBOs, museums, universities and corporate members have joined WAI Chapters in recent years.
Corporate Members have played a large role in spreading the word that there are many aviation career choices for young women. Dee Ruleaux, Jet Linx Director of Human Capital Partnerships, has forged a beneficial partnership with WAI that resulted in Jet Linx involvement at Girls in Aviation Day in 2019. “While we were happy with our involvement this year, we hope to host Girls in Aviation Day events at each of our private Base locations in the near future,” Ruleaux commented.
Speaking about the WAI Cleveland Chapter event, Martin added, “I’m in awe of this new generation of aviation career hopefuls. They asked great questions of female professionals on the career panel and whooped with joy when they greased their landing on the flight simulator.” She concluded, “You only have to attend one Girls in Aviation Day event to know that this is making a difference.
Jet Linx and the Future of Aviation
Sheryl Clarke, Jet Linx Director of Safety and Air Force Veteran, is a member of WAI and volunteered with the local chapter in Omaha for Girls in Aviation Day. Clarke and other team members from the National Operations Center – as well as team members from Jet Linx Atlanta at their local event – helped to teach aspiring female aviators.
Clarke has an extensive aviation background and was able to bring those experiences to the Omaha event. She was part of the first mixed-gender class at the U.S. Air Force Academy and went on to become a female pilot. “It’s so important to encourage young ladies in their formative years and to give them these kinds of positive learning experiences. Their faces lit up when they succeeded at our station,” Clarke noted. “However, the push here is not only for girls to become pilots. There are many aviation careers that lack female participation. We need women in flight coordination, maintenance, and leadership. It only takes one positive learning experience to make a huge impact down the road.”
WAI realizes that they are not only helping women secure an aviation career, but also combating the upcoming pilot shortage. “For us, Girls in Aviation Day is a long play to combat that shortage. In the shorter term, we’re handing out scholarships that will allow females to become pilots in six months to two years. But what we’re really doing with Girls in Aviation Day is lighting a spark. That’s a long-term solution.”
“We’re less worried about numbers and more concerned with the quality of the experience that we provide. We want to make it easier for our chapters and corporate partners to hold events. We want kids to be more engaged year-by-year. We see a lot of kids coming back, so our programming has to keep improving and become more engaging,” Martin emphasized.
Jet Linx is excited to help further the mission of WAI, as Ruleaux and Martin have discussed strategies for outreach in 2020. “Beginning next year, we will be starting relationships with local chapters of WAI at each of our national Base locations. Ideally, Jet Linx will be able to support functions for WAI at all of our locations and engage with girls that are looking to pursue an aviation career,” Ruleaux said.