Progress toward achieving gender equality in the aviation sector

Expert's view

by Anne-Christine Champion, Global Head of Real Assets, and Gareth John, Global Head of Aviation, Natixis

On the occasion of the 53rd edition of the Paris international air show currently taking place at Le Bourget, Anne-Christine Champion, Global Head of the Real Assets business line, and Gareth John, Global Head of the Aviation sector at Natixis, review the progress made, and the initiatives in place, to achieve gender equality in this male dominated sector. The Aviation Team at Natixis is approximately 50% women and is part of the business line led by Anne-Christine.

The historic stereotype of the air hostess and the pilot

In 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) sent out a strong message in favor of gender equality within the aviation sector, by adopting the A39-30 resolution comprising a program of tangible gender equality measures. This specialized United Nations institution grouping together 193 member states underlined the importance of reinforcing gender parity in order to make the sector more effective and efficient, and thereby better cope with the sector’s rapid expansion. “Air transport must address head-on why women are still underrepresented in the majority of the technical and executive positions in aviation.”, declared Dr. Fang Liu, Secretary-General of the ICAO. There is plenty at stake: the ageing of the profession, coupled with estimated world air traffic growth of 4% a year, is creating a shortage of airline pilots. Certain airlines have already been forced to close routes due to a lack of pilots. The International Society of Women Airline Pilots estimates that by 2036, the global network will need 620,000 pilots, of whom at least 80% will be at the start of their careers.

The current situation is hardly flattering. With women accounting for around 5% of professional pilots and 3% of airline CEOs around the world according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISWAP), aviation remains one of the professions where gender equality has the furthest to go. Admittedly, many women work in the air transport industry, where they make up the majority of cabin crew, reception staff and employees. But men continue to dominate in the cockpit and technical and managerial roles. The stereotype of the male pilot and the air hostess needs to change.

The figures are hardly more encouraging when we analyze the whole of the industrial channel: by way of example, GIFAS (the federation of French aerospace industries), which represents French makers of aerospace components, systems and engines, calculated the proportion of women at 23% on December 31, 2018, with women over-represented among employees (62%) and under-represented among engineers and executives (23%) and technicians (14%).

What are the main obstacles?

There are several factors explaining this situation, notably the historic contingent of military pilots, from which women were excluded for several decades, or the reluctance of certain airlines to let women assume the controls in the cockpit. The difficulty of reconciling family life and professional life is fairly hard to sustain as an argument, given that the constraints are pretty much the same for cabin crew as flight crew. We can nevertheless point out that professional training, which comes on top of flying hours, could deter certain women from envisaging a career as a pilot.

In reality, the main obstacle may simply be awareness; many women and girls may not be aware of the career opportunities open to them in the sector. Women candidates are still well in the minority: during a recent “cadet” recruitment campaign, Air France (which has just appointed a new female CEO, Anne Rigail) reported that out of 2,700 registered applicants, only 10% were women, despite the company’s wish to promote diversity. ENAC, France’s national civil aviation school, which dispenses free education and training on behalf of the state, reports that women account for around 10% of students currently enrolled at the school and 20% of total applicants.

Encourage initiatives

Perceptions can be changed, as they have been in the medical professions: the historical stereotype of the male doctor and the female nurse is now outdated and it is fully acceptable to be treated by a female doctor and male nurse. There are numerous initiatives designed to raise women’s awareness of career opportunities in the aviation sector and to open the doors for them. They need to be hailed and encouraged.

Women pilots’ associations like the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISWAP), Women in Aviation International (WAI), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the Aircraft Owner and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide are working to change existing perceptions, through domestic and international campaigns, brochures designed for young girls and subsidies.

Several airlines have set ambitious recruitment targets for female pilots, such as Indian airlines (13-14% of Indigo and Air India’s pilots are women), French airlines (8% of Air France’s pilots are women), Moroccan airlines… Easyjet recently created a buzz with its intention to ensure 20% of its new pilots are women by 2020 with its "Catch me if you can" parody film showing a young girl pilot accompanied by young stewards. Certain airlines also operate “100% female crew” flights to mark International Women’s Day.

These initiatives are steps in the right direction and underpin the ICAO’s plea to governments and industry to take steps to reduce inequality, by encouraging young women to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics, making amendments to the law and working conditions, fostering mentoring programs, etc.

Natixis: tangible commitments

Women account for 50% of Natixis’ Aviation team: client relationship managers, analysts, syndication managers, etc. This parity reflects the recognition of female talent in these professions as well as our belief that diversity of talent generates numerous benefits including innovation, emulation, engagement and performance. A McKinsey study published in 2015, “Why diversity matters”, showed that companies that ensured genuine equality between men and women enjoyed a 15% improvement in performance relative to the sample average. And the extent of this outperformance rose to 35% for those practicing ethnic and cultural diversity. 

Our belief translates into a number of tangible, quantified measures, amongst which:

- Natixis’ role as a signatory of the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles geared to developing female leadership. Within the bank, women represent 49% of the total workforce, 28% of the senior management committee, 24% of its first circle of leaders and 29% of its second circle of leaders (figures for first-half 2018). The bank has pledged to raise the proportion of women in the first circle of leaders to 30% and that in the second circle to 40% by 2020. It also respects parity regarding access to its development programs for high-potential staff.

- Natixis has set up training programs to foster the emergence of women in positions of responsibility, such as the “Women’s career success” program. These programs provide participants with ways and ideas for building motivating career plans, asserting their ambitions and developing their leadership. The bank accompanies them with initiatives - job shadowing, training and dissemination of “portraits of women” – aimed highlighting the achieivements of our female talent across the global organization.

- Natixis is a partner of the Marie Claire “Act for Equality” think tank as a means to devise practical measures to promote real gender equality in the company.

- Particular attention is paid to promoting a work-life balance for all staff. These actions – teleworking, right to disconnect, concierge services, creche places and others - concern women as much as men and hence work in favor of gender equality.

Gender equality will not be achieved without men. There are no female values or male values, just human values. Gender equality requires a strong commitment from governance bodies and tangible measures to encourage women to take up opportunities and pursue careers in the aviation industry.

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