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Flight to equality: charting a course for women in aviation sector


The under-representation of women, especially in leadership roles in India, has been a long-debated issue. While the country has the highest ratio of women airline pilots in the world at 15%, there is not enough female representation in other sectors such as aeronautical engineering, airport management jobs, air traffic control (ATC) and leadership roles, said aviation professionals at a round-table on women in aviation during the recently concluded Wings India-2024, positioned as the largest civil aviation event in Asia. 

With only 15% women air traffic controllers, 11% flight dispatchers, including cabin crew, about 13% in the mid-managerial levels and less than 5% in CXO positions according to experts, India is at a par with the global averages. Women today occupy only 3% of positions in boardrooms of aviation companies, and most concerning is the helicopter industry, where India has a mere 2-3% of women. 

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has only 2-3% of women personnel while the Directorate General of Civil Aviation also has less than 10% of women representation in its staff, Rubina Ali, joint secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, said.

Globally, the greatest gender disparities exist in the fields of aviation maintenance technicians (2.6% female), airline transport pilots (4.6% female) and senior leadership positions (3% female). Still under-represented, but in greater numbers, women make up 11-20% of aerospace engineers, aviation higher education faculty, airport managers, air traffic controllers and dispatchers, the leaders expressed, highlighting that the absence of an equal balance is obvious. 

Employment trends 

According to Neha Bagaria, founder and CEO of HerKey, a career engagement platform for women, less than 5% are looking for roles in aerospace and avionics. The job roles that aerospace companies are hiring for at HerKey include Electrical Engineering Manager,  Engineering Manager – Mechanical & Structure-Aircraft Mods and Conversion, Product Design and Analysis (Mechanical)- Aircraft Modifications and Payloads, Interiors and Structure and Senior Manager- Airplane Systems Engineering, the company told The Hindu

“Equipping women with the requisite technical skills is the starting point,” said Anju Madeka, CEO of Durgapur Airport.  

Challenges exist 

According to experts, there is a need to improve inclusivity in workplaces. “Everything is not set up for gender parity in what has been a traditionally male-dominated industry,” said Sekhar Garisa, CEO of foundit, a job search platform. Workplace policies need to be reconsidered to ensure workplace readiness for improved women participation, he added. 

Customer-facing roles, including cockpit and cabin crew, see the most interest as compared to back-end and/or operational roles. “There is both a lack of perceived opportunity due to lack of communication and education, and a paucity of career role models,” said Mr. Garisa. 

“More such examples need to be presented to the young aspiring aviation enthusiasts for them to see and believe they can do it too,” said Captain Zoya Agarwal, flight commander with Air India, who is also the founder of a non-government organisation Udaan Pari, to empower underprivileged backgrounds in STEM Aviation. 

Hardly 10-12% of women end up entering the industry at a lower level, and with many of them leaving the industry at a mid-management position owing to societal or personal factors, a minuscule percentage is seen at the top management level. 

”Companies need to look at their leadership talent pipeline – ensuring women do not drop out and hire women returnees, create women-centric workplace policies while also creating a structured networking opportunity for women to excel in their job roles, she said. 

“Companies are struggling to fulfil the mandates because there are not many trained women to take up technical job roles,” said Khushboo Vaish, senior director at consultancy firm, Alvarez & Marsal. 

Opportunity too big to miss 

The global aviation industry’s demand for personnel is expected to reach 2.3 million by 2042 which includes 64,900 pilots, 69,000 technicians and 93,800 cabin crew members, according to Boeing’s 2023 Pilot and Technician Outlook.

“A good way to meet the demand for the personnel would be a program or campaign by DGCA, like the 25by2025 by International Air Transport Association to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in the aviation industry, with which airlines can associate and empower women’s participation by the way of training and improved recruitment rather than a policy mandate,” said Vaish. 

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