Hey, Women — Where Are You?

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Here's an amazing statistic -- it's well known that today, women make up only about 6 percent of the total U.S. pilot population, but the amazing part is that back in 1935, there were about 800 women flying, and that was also about 6 percent of all pilots. At least that is what I've heard -- I couldn't find sources to verify that percentage, but it seems likely in the ball park. (For those who are interested, click here for the FAA's data, which goes back to 1999.)

So my question is, why, after all these years, when women have been involved in aviation since the get-go, why are they still so scarce? In my lifetime I've seen women make substantial inroads in other careers that were once considered male dominions -- law and medicine, for example. So what is it about aviation that is failing to appeal to women?

I put this question to a random assortment of people a few weeks ago at the AOPA Aviation Summit in Tampa, and I was surprised at some of the responses.

One woman I spoke with told me that young women aren't interested in careers that keep them away from home because they have "domestic nesting instincts." She said this in kind of a joking way but I still found it kind of disturbing. My own theory is that women who look at the airline track feel they have to make a choice between having a family and committing to such a demanding career -- while men don't feel they have to make that choice.

Then again, airline careers are becoming less attractive anyway, given all the financial problems at the majors and the years of sub-poverty-level pay to build time. I'm not sure that explains the low numbers of women pilots overall, since most pilots are not airline pilots, anyhow.

One person suggested that if more women aren't pilots, it must be only because they don't want to be. "I can't imagine that you would need to go out and tell a 10-year-old girl that she can be a pilot if she wants," he said. "I would think they already know that." How could they not know that? I'm not sure how, but it seems that they don't.

A few organizations have a long history of working to make sure that girls know that, but two people told me they don't like the idea of pilot organizations strictly for women. One said that since women have equal rights in our society there is no need for it, any more than there is a need for an organization of Italian-American pilots or any other subgroup of pilot.

My response to that was that there have always been social networks among newcomers in a society to provide mutual support, even if they weren't so formally organized as they are today. The fact that there are so still so few women in aviation seems to me to be reason enough to maintain this kind of support structure for now.

Another person said that such groups actually hold women back. "When women get together, there's just a lot of whining," she said. "If you want to get ahead in a man's world, the way to do that is to just get out there and do it."

Well, I'm not sure how to respond to that. I agree that whining is counter-productive. Then again, if these groups are providing mentors and scholarships and encouragement, maybe that's not so bad.

I suspect that there may be mutliple factors at work in keeping women out of the aviation world, but here are a few that make sense to me. One is that somewhere around middle school, girls seem to get the message that math, science, and technology is for boys and not for them, even though they have the ability. There is a lot of effort in schools now to try to overcome this, and maybe in a few more generations this barrier will simply go extinct, just a little slower than some of the other old ideas about the limits of women's capabilities.

Another factor is that most kids get their first experience with aviation outside of school anyway, and my guess is that since most pilots today are men, they are more likely to take a boy along to the airport than a girl. Yet another factor is that women in general still have less money than men, so even if they long to fly, they may not have the means.

Since there's a lot of angst over the diminishing numbers of private pilots, it seems we should be doing all we can to attract more people to flying. So here's what I would suggest. If you know a woman, or a girl, take her to the airport, show her how an airplane works, and tell her she can be a pilot if she wants to be, and if she is willing to work hard at it. She might already know that. But just in case she didn't, thanks to you, she knows now.

Comments (98)

Aviation, as we all know, is a very demanding career. In order to ever "make it", i.e. to a major airline, takes years of dedication and poverty. Believe me I know. As I've seen with several women pilots, the time needed to invest inherently crashes with most (notice I said most) women's desire to bear children. The two just don't mix and I'm sorry but the statistic will likely never change for this very reason.

Posted by: Clint Tolbert | November 25, 2009 10:44 AM    Report this comment

Demanding, yes, but there are plenty of airline pilots who happen to be female and happen to have children. It turns out that working for a company with a union means you are more likely to get non-discriminatory treatment during maternity leave, short-term disability, and issues surrounding parenting. So, parenting is not a true barrier to having a career in aviation for women.

Good try though. That is a classic male response. In fact, "you'll just want to have babies" used to be one way employers avoided hiring women into just about any career track. I heard it myself, about 20 years ago. Got married anyway. Had two kids. And I've enjoyed a terrific career in aviation.

I believe that Mary Grady's research speaks more clearly to the problem. Young girls are still being discouraged from going into non-traditional careers, and any career that requires math and science skills. The signals are subtle, but they are still societal in nature. Groups such as Women in Aviation, International (which is not exclusive to women) and even EAA's Young Eagles and the Boy Scout's Aviation Explorers (again, not exclusive to boys) are making inroads, but we must continue our outreach. If you exclude half the population of the world from the invitation to aviate, you sign the death warrant of general aviation, in my view.

Posted by: Amy Laboda | November 25, 2009 12:08 PM    Report this comment

There's something to all the points Mary makes, and I'm certainly in favor of encouraging women to take up flying. At the same time, Mary seems to totally exclude the effect of any inherent differences between men and women. Couldn't the lower participation rates by women be in part explained by men's greater taste for adventure and even danger? Men are grossly underrepresented in other fields, such as day care. Would Mary attribute that entirely to societal factors as well, or could it in part be explained by a stronger maternal instinct in women?

Posted by: Mark Finkelstein | November 25, 2009 2:36 PM    Report this comment

We have the exact same problem in the computer business among programmers, sysadmins, DBAs, networking, security, free (as in freedom) software enthusiasts, etc. It seems that there used to be more women involved in computing way back in the very early days. Admiral Grace Hopper etc. But now it's very nearly all men.

In the computer business we have regular discussions of the problem. And the discussion always goes just the same way this discussion has gone. Clint Tolbert offered up his earnest opinion above, a woman came along and implied that he is a sexist jerk, and now I'm sure Clint Tolbert will give up on caring whether there are any women in aviation or not and regrets having said anything.

It is a hopeless debate. It is like talking Republican vs Democrat or pro-choice vs pro-life or Muslim vs Jew. It just isn't a conversation that should be had among polite company unless you want a fight and has never been good for anyone's career to remark upon it one way or another. Hopefully my meta-comments won't get me thrown under the sexism bus too.

Posted by: Tracy Reed | November 25, 2009 4:08 PM    Report this comment

A couple of years ago I was proud to tell people that 6 out of 10 of our flight students at that time were women (not 60%, truly 6 out of the current 10). An interesting piece of data is that exactly zero of those women finished their private certificate. I don't really know what to attribute the lack of completion to. It certainly shows that there is a level of interest and I don't know of any local factor that would have gotten in the way (like a sexist instructor, etc). I'd be interested to hear if other flight schools have seen anything similar.

By the way, our current number is 2 women out of 8 students. Another interesting data point....we're a small-town airport in the middle of Kansas.

Posted by: Tom Chandler | November 25, 2009 4:26 PM    Report this comment

I strongly support efforts to provide and strengthen "equal opportunity and access" to aviation for women. But I also agree with the comments quoted in the author's article (mostly from women) that this has largely been achieved.

The clear inference in the article is that if there is not a similar proportion of female pilots to the overall female population then the reason must be due to barriers. And when several women gave valid reasons for not pursuing flying as a career the author discounted them. Clearly the reasons provided did not fit the author's view of the world.

Real freedom and opportunity means that women (and men!) get to make choices regarding their lives, careers, families, etc. And I believe that this is precisely what women are now able to do. And the fact that the author is "disturbed" by the legitimate desire for an individual woman (or women in general) to "nest" (focus on home and family) is quite revealing, don't you think?

Lastly, men are clearly drawn in much greater numbers to activities involving physical risk and danger - even when women have equal access. There are obviously women that also seek high-risk activities, and who are highly skilled and accomplished. But that does not obscure the fact that men continue to seek these activities in much greater proportions. Of course, we are now venturing into politically incorrect territory, but as John Adams said "facts are stubborn things"...

Posted by: William McClain | November 25, 2009 5:28 PM    Report this comment

Very interesting answers in all the posts. Since I am a man my views are slanted to the male point of view. The number of motorcycle riders is much higher among males. There are more male bull riders at the rodeo than female. For some reason males seem more drawn to risk and danger than females. This is not to say that females do not also seek danger and risk. It's just that they seek it to a lesser degree then men. In my forty plus years of flying I've met both men and women that were fearful of flying, but the percentage of women has been higher. This is my personal observation of the people that have flown with me. No I did not try to scare them. As someone else pointed out "facts are stubborn things". Men and Women are capable of succeeding at the same tasks but first the desire must be there. What I'm saying is more men than women seem to seek out danger by nature. That is part of what makes us male.

Posted by: Peter Creary | November 25, 2009 6:41 PM    Report this comment

From my field of psychotherapy I offer that it is not so much that men seek danger or risk as much as it is women by nature seek protection and security. These are wonderful, necessary, and inherent differences in our male to female behavior to be celebrated and cherished, not fought over in our considered relationships with each other. Only our egos and our desires to 'want' more women in aviation, or 'want' more men in day care work prevent us from the peace of acceptance of our distinctions.

This isn't a debate, it isn't 'sexist' to discuss or a contest on a show of assertive accomplishment. We have yet to be comfortable and assured in ourselves with our deep and layered differences as women and men in society - we're really still in developmental kindergarten on this subject in my opinion - and until we get beyond this illusion that 'things shouldn't be what they are', there will always be those who think, for varied reasons, that exceptions should prove the rule.

Make the effort to introduce the ladies to flying, but we should always be generous and allow ourselves the freedom to embrace our marvelous differences as humans, ensuring a greater level of acceptance and understanding of these 'facts' and 'numbers' of women pilots, that nothing is really out of place.

Posted by: David Miller | November 25, 2009 11:10 PM    Report this comment

Dave,I agree with you that women seek protection and security. I also agree that gender-based differences in perceptions and behavior are to be appreciated and celebrated. However, I disagree with the premise that men do not seek risk and danger. The desire for adventure is deeply ingrained in men, and is evidenced from childhood in their pursuits, activities and inclinations.

You said that we (as a culture) have yet to be comfortable and assured in our gender-based differences. I would submit that we have in fact historically been quite accepting of these differences, but only recently (beginning in the 1960's) has the serious denial on this issue emerged. The noisy friction that persists today comes from certain politically correct quarters that refuse to acknowledge virtually any gender based differences.

In 2005 Larry Summers (then president of Harvard University) was forced to resign because he acknowledged that the evidence points to "innate differences" in men and women to explain the persistent spread in test scores in the fields of engineering and science. Sadly, for this egalitarian crowd "denial" still reigns supreme and those that attempt to point out fact and truth will be aggressively attacked and marginalized.

Posted by: William McClain | November 26, 2009 12:36 AM    Report this comment

I think risk aversion is certainly one factor. I even notice this in women's attitude to their husband's flying. How many men do you know who quit flying or don't get involved because their wives are opposed. I suspect that the risk aversion is somewhat related to the child nurturing instincts.

I also think that it still runs counter to society's messages about what is appropriate for a woman to be involved in, and what is a "guy thing." I don't buy that it is a math and science divide. That does not explain the number of women who go to medical school.

Posted by: KRISTIN WINTER | November 26, 2009 2:12 AM    Report this comment

History, wrong or right (you'll choose), shows that the WASP's faced flying unproven military aircraft with outstanding daring-do! So much for psychotherapy. Following the war's end, many would have continued in a civil capacity if the returning men had not flooded the market. Note that most of male pilots never flew again either. You guys should listen better. Ms. Grady points to the "social" aspect of the female experience. THIS is key to holding any loose group of women. If you missed it, quit hangar flying and see how YOU feel about your experience. By the way, good piloting isn't thrilling.

Posted by: Larry Fries | November 26, 2009 2:23 AM    Report this comment

From over the Pond, Czech Republic -

I would say that the barrier to get flying is very high here, financially, cost of PPL licence is about 7 times average month salary. So only people who
a) really want to fly and could sacrifice something
b) have a lot of money available
could get their licence.

I have a lot of friends of opposite sex who really love to fly, but they do not want to get into the hassle and spending to get the licence. Why? They just give the pilot ~100 EUR and can go flying instantly while having some stick time?

It now just striking me - what if this is something similar to Sunday Family Trip? Who's always driving?

Posted by: Jiri Hubka | November 26, 2009 3:07 AM    Report this comment

Family is a shared experience and many spouces share stick time on this side of the pond. Many times there is only one current ticket. Shocking! Career flying, as noted, requires true dedication and a hard lifestyle for a non-pilot family. Now that both must earn the daily bread, the high cost with low reward is not very attractive for a young family.

Posted by: Larry Fries | November 26, 2009 5:41 AM    Report this comment

Wow! I am amazed at the number of times that a highly experienced group of aviation people continue to refer to the "risks" in aviation. I believe that the risk is much more perceived than real. Flying has become one of the safest modes of transportation and yet so many of you attribute risk to its aversion by women.

As a very experienced Gold Seal CFI, I have trained many pilots and only a few women. I have always especially liked taking on the women because, well, I like women! However, I felt it my duty to provide them training and hold them to an even higher standard than the men. Now wait a minute, I know what you are thinking. I would explain to each of them that they are in a male dominated activity, and that no matter how good they were, they will always be seen as "women pilots" and so should always actually be better. I didn't want ANY of my female students to not be able to compare equally or better with any male pilot.

Lastly, we all know that men are merely here to serve women. The women might just have figured out what we are banging our heads against a wall. The pay/reward for flying the line is so greatly depressed right now, that the women got smart long ago and abandoned the notion of that career path. As for this dumb man, I've now been on furlough for 8 years and looking at as many as 8 more to return. I've lost two jobs during my furlough due to the economy. Hardly the lucrative career that I had envisioned.

Posted by: Thomas Hill | November 26, 2009 8:08 AM    Report this comment

In 1971, I competed for a Civil Air Patrol PPL scholarship - I won. A woman on the panel told me, "we hate to give this to females because they always get married and stop flying, but we had to give it to you because you were clearly the best candidate." Well, every time I earned a rating, I sent her a copy of the certificate. My passion began as a child - my dad had an avionics business and the airport was my Girl Scout cookie route. When I joined the Army to be ATC, only 2% of the people in the Army were women. In 1988, I interviewed with United (anyone remember the lawsuit?) While they were required to hire as low as 350, Commercial instrument, Multi, I had 1500 plus CFI, II, and Multi as well as 6 years ATC in the military. Post interview, I got the standard "there were more qualified applicants." letter. Did I mention I was 5 months pregnant and there was a urine sample required at the interview?

Now, I have a great job working with many highly accomplished people in aviation-many of them women. I still love to fly and will accept any chance to fly that comes my way. I did stop flying for many years due to single parenthood and all that entails, but my passion never waned and reading AVFlash was often my connection to sanity. Thanks to all for your comments above, but I have to say, if you have been bitten by the aviation bug, you will never recover and that is a GOOD thing whether you are male or female. If you haven't read Fate is the Hunter, you simply must!

Posted by: Cathy Babis | November 26, 2009 8:41 AM    Report this comment

Kristin - Given the high visibility of female pilots (civil and military) I believe that the barriers of perception; i.e., the belief that flying is a "guy thing" has been greatly diminished. Most women today (especially younger women) percieve far fewer barriers of this type. Also, my comments about Larry Summers and the math/science test scores was not intended to be an example of why women don't choose to fly, but rather an example of how certain groups refuse to acknowledge gender-based differences even in the face of compelling evidence!

Thomas - The perception that flying is less risky than other forms of transportation is actually not supported by the data. If we're talking GA, you are about 7 times more likely to die from this activity on a "per trip" basis than traveling by car (this according to studies done by AOPA and others). For a better understanding of the tendency to under-assess risk look up 'familiarity bias". Intersting stuff...

Posted by: William McClain | November 26, 2009 12:29 PM    Report this comment


I disagree that the perception has changed as much as you seem to think it has. The artificial barriers have been largely removed as they apply to having a career as a pilot, but women have being flying from nearly the dawn of aviation. The women that are more "girly girls" seem to have much less interest. Those who are more "utility girls", like me, are likely to be more interested in things that are generally perceived as more exciting, and hence more risky. How much if this is nurture vs. nature, is another debate. Likely both are involved.

Posted by: KRISTIN WINTER | November 26, 2009 1:04 PM    Report this comment

For me flying was almost genetic. I was dreaming of flying since I was 4-5 years old. For many years I satisfied my flying urge with Hang Gliding. I met my wife Hang Gliding and women were rare in that sport as well.

After many years of Hang Gliding we both decided to get our pilot certificates. My wife had the same desire to
fly that I did from childhood. Makes me wonder if pilots
are born and not made?

Posted by: Ric Lee | November 26, 2009 1:39 PM    Report this comment

Mrs. Reed,

Anytime you have a politically incorrect opinion nowadays your automatically a jerk, sexist, etc blah blah blah. Notice in my first post I said most (not all) women usually at some point want to have children. Thats not sexist but just the plain truth. Being gone 4 days a week on a trip doesn't bide well with raising children. Females have a natural God-given desire to care and nurture for their children (see the percentage of male daycare workers discussed above). The two paths will crash at some point. If your a teacher you can go to work and pick the little ones up from school after work..no problem there. If your a pilot you don't have that option...most of the female pilots I see in the terminal are either too young for children or have already had them and their old enough to fend for themselves, again just the plain truth.

Posted by: Clint Tolbert | November 26, 2009 2:27 PM    Report this comment

For me, I was not born a pilot. I was in college and met a really neat guy who was a flight instructor. He didn't work out, but I fell in love with the flying. I pursued flying as a vocation for almost two decades before going to grad. school so I could make some money. Now I fly for fun. Definitely not born into it, as I am the first in my family ever to do such a thing. In fact, my parents thought me nuts.

Clint -- I have to hand it to you. When you dig yourself a hole, you don't fool around. :-) You are more or less correct, though it is less clear how much of that is nature (you call god-given) and how must is the expectations that society places on both men and women to act in a certain way and to fulfill certain roles.

Posted by: KRISTIN WINTER | November 26, 2009 2:37 PM    Report this comment

I'm with Mr. Hill - the ladies are usually ahead of us and have us just where they want us -but that's another blog for another day... but citing the exceptions as Mr. Fries angrily thinks to be the rule, answers nothing of the posed question by Mary. She may have concentrated on the social groups of women in aviation, but in the end it is an individual pursuit made by each potential woman/girl whether to learn to fly or not. A lot of good points are being made about money, the hassel, math/science interest, risk aversion, etc. And kudos to all the ladies (or utility girls) for your passion and accomplishments in aviation. That answers the blog's title question for you, but not for it's intent, in my opinion.

The question for me is simply why do we want to change what naturally is? Where does this question come from? Why do there have to be more male nurses, female pilots, women astronauts or at-home-dads? For a social experiment? More fun and comradeship? Power leverage?

Hope everyone enjoys T-giving today - now if we could just get the girls away from the tv and football and help us guys out in the kitchen, now that would be progress!


Posted by: David Miller | November 26, 2009 3:18 PM    Report this comment

This has always been a subject of fascination to me. Last time I looked at the numbers, which was over ten years ago, the number of women was about the same 6% it is now, but there was an interesting anomaly in the data: women were more highly represented at the low end (student certificate) and the high end (comml, ATP) than they were in the overall distribution, and this was offset by the low number of women who held only a PPL.

My tentative conclusion, women are more likely to be attracted to the career than flying-for-the-hell-of-it. Those that drop out of the career path drop all the way out (but then, so do lots of male pilots who are motivated by career interest).

In a 30-year military career (not as a pilot), the women pilots I knew tended to be more people who loved their careers than people who loved the act of flying -- a common attitude among military pilots.

The person who is "born to fly" does exist but is not all that common. "Flying malaria" (because it can come back and reattack you years after you thought you were cured) seems to be a transmissible disease. Let's all make a point of taking someone new up in the next week or so, and passing the infection on -- male, female, whatever. Who's with me?

Posted by: KEVIN O'BRIEN | November 26, 2009 5:11 PM    Report this comment

What a great discussion. I’m eager to echo Cathy's comment about the aviation bug; I was bitten and will never recover, thank goodness. I also tend to agree with the passionate argument of gender roles - no one seems to win and yet it goes on and on...

I have one anecdote - a friend who has her ATP and is yearning to fly corporate has yet to go that route and remains an excellent CFII today. Her husband travels a lot and she won't leave her teenage children. As we have concluded during our discussions, one parent is always the fall-back person and in her situation, she's it. We each need to make those decisions and even though she occasionally feels deprived, she knows it’s the right one for her.

After several Young Eagle flights, I know a few moms who signed up to fly soon after they went up in the back seat with their Young Eagles. It was the 15-minute ground school prior to flight that did it – they really got how an airplane flies and were eager to try.

I love taking a child and his/her parent flying with me – children the future of aviation, the parent is the coach, underwriter and cheerleader and I am compelled to introduce them to the joy of it, one and all.

And finally, people in aviation are the best.

Posted by: LOUISE ANDERSON | November 26, 2009 6:29 PM    Report this comment

I think one reason that some women avoid aviation is the rather unglamorous aspects... pulling the plane out of the hangar, performing a preflight inspection in the cold (or hot, or rain), and dripping gas all over your hands. Check the oil before every flight? My wife doesn't check it in the car once a year!

I wish my daughter had an interest in flying, but she doesn't.

However, I am teaching a young woman how to fly now. She is not afraid, is interested, and is doing well. I hope that she completes the rating! Perhaps she will bring the percentage up to 6.000001%

Posted by: Dan MacDonald | November 26, 2009 8:55 PM    Report this comment

Don't buy the risk aversion theory - it seems environmental. If equality and adventure reign in your upbringing, your sex won't make a difference. But being around aviation all your life won't necessarily make you a pilot. My father's been a private pilot since I was born, but it wasn't until I was 14 that he asked me if I was interested in learning to fly. I actually said "Women can fly?" Sixteen years later I have my wings (CFII) but now am an inactive pilot. The start of my career coincided with 9/11 which prompted me to pursue personal life objectives (Oh l'amour!). Now with a young family, financial security is a priority. Building up time, although professionally rewarding, just won't pay the bills at the end of the month. Becoming an engineer seems to offer a more decent salary and work-life balance. Overall, I believe the lack of female participation is a temporary situation that will improve over the next two or three generations. The gender-wage gap is decreasing (still 15-25% difference in U.S. and around the world - see Dr. Malcom Getz's & Dr. Joni Hersch's studies at www.vanderbilt.edu), more women are getting higher educations (enrollment 57% women in colleges - see studies), and more women are entering male-dominated industries where pay disparity is less. Mentoring programs are needed for both men and women. Private pilot numbers are decreasing according to FAA forecasts. We need to get people interested in flying from either sex and from all walks of life!

Posted by: Marcellette Cloche | November 26, 2009 10:51 PM    Report this comment

Well, a lot of interesting discussion on this topic! Thanks for all the input.

A few points:

It's true I don't believe there are significant "innate" gender differences between men and women. The facts just don't support it.

Also I am not "disturbed" at all if an individual woman -- or man -- chooses to be a "nester," that is none of my business. But to imply that all women by nature prefer domestic lives, I do disagree with. Also I would disagree that "women by nature seek protection and security." This may have seemed true when women had few options other than to find a man to take care of them. We live in a new century now.

I also find it hard to believe it's only women who have a "natural desire" to care for their children. Don't men care what happens to the kids? I guess it would be nice to think that women have an innate desire to do all the work that men don't want to do -- changing diapers and washing dishes and working menial jobs at low pay, and all that -- but that seems awfully convenient.

I think Ms. Winter has hit it on the head ... a major factor is "the expectations that society places on both men and women to act in a certain way and to fulfill certain roles." These are very powerful forces and take time to change.

Bottom line though, I think Ms. Cloche has it right -- let's revisit this topic after a couple more generations have gone by and see if we've left behind all this gender-is-destiny stuff. And let's take Mr. O'Brien's advice, and go flying!

Posted by: Mary Grady | November 27, 2009 8:18 AM    Report this comment

This has been a great conversation with lots of good points made. Careful, though, to make a distinction between women choosing the corporate career and women pilots in general. As was noted, only a fraction of all licensed pilots are commercial pilots. Many, like me, fly for the fun of it. We should work to boost the number of women pilots as a whole, regardless of whether they choose it as a career or not, or as someone noted, we could be sounding the death knell of general aviation by excluding half our potential audience.

I believe programs like Young Eagles are incredibly important for introducing young folks, especially girls, to the flying experience. Despite all our societal advances in the past decades, there is still a perception (among men & women alike) that "Women don't fly." And the *perceived* risk probably does deter more women than men. I also think that we in aviation need to continue working to provide a welcoming environment.

Flying is tough to learn, no doubt about it. Perhaps women need a bit more encouragement to stick it out. Anecdote time: my first instructor was in it to build time, and his lack of interest came through loud and clear. Combined with bouts of airsickness, there were times that I questioned why I was doing this - why try to fly? Fortunately strong support from family, plus stubbornness, got me through. The more "moral support" we offer women, the better.

Posted by: Christine Pulliam | November 27, 2009 9:15 AM    Report this comment

(Oops, hit the character limit. Guess you struck a nerve, Mary!)

A final factor I'd like to mention is mentoring. Having a female role model could make a difference for a woman thinking of learning to fly. One reason I like my current EAA chapter so much is the high percentage of women involved (compared to the overall pilot population). Perhaps there is a tipping point, and if we can boost the numbers a bit, that will make the aviation field more welcoming to women still sitting on the fence.

I second the recommendation to continue making a special effort to offer flight experiences to girls and women, through Young Eagles or one on one. I also think much more could be done in targeted outreach & advertising to women. The alphabet groups should put "learn to fly" ads in magazines with an audience of higher income women (e.g. Food & Wine). Set up a booth at a local county fair or other events attracting women & families. (Boat shows & NASCAR are a good start - let's expand.)

Expose women to the idea of being pilots, show them other women have already done it, encourage them (especially when the going gets tough), and I believe we can boost the numbers substantially.

Posted by: Christine Pulliam | November 27, 2009 9:15 AM    Report this comment

When I was in high school 45 years ago, I was not allowed to take "shop" because that was for boys only. Deep within me I still feel the resentment I felt toward the society that dictated such restrictions on me. In college girls had to sign out of the dorm for the evening & sign back in before curfew. Not required of boys. When I told my father I wanted to become a doctor, I can to this day remember his negative response/reaction. I remember getting a demerit from my "dorm mother" because I went out in slacks , not a dress. My list goes on & on. Trust me, the society you grow up in definitely has influence on you. Not everyone, male or female, is hell-bent on fighting the strong forces against them. A male simply didn't have to wage war (to take "shop") like a female did. The female who did was looked upon as a trouble-maker/difficult person/weird/strange/unfeminine.
Times have changed, although I feel women still have battles. At 60 I finally got my pilot's license, have my complex/high performance endorsement, expect my tailwheel endorsement soon. At 62, got my instrument rating. When my husband & I got our new Pilatus, I was the first to do 3 takeoffs/landings.
There are unseen hurdles a woman my age must overcome: the recordings in our brains etched permanently by the society we grew up in. It's quite important that there are women pilot organizations to lend support to women becoming pilots. My earnest prayer is that one day it won't be important.

Posted by: Susan Simmons | November 27, 2009 9:29 AM    Report this comment

Ahhh Ms. Grady,

I respectfully sumbit to you and others who embrace the "no innate differences" view regarding men and women that it is this position which is sorely lacking in facts to support it. :>)

For an interesting time readers of this discussion should try Googling "differences between men and women" to learn about the actual facts. A small sampling of the differences include biological, physiological development, cognitive developmental, basis of values & self esteem, how information is considered and processed, and (yes) socialization. At this point in time there is really no disagreement in the behavioral sciences that profound differences exist between men and women, so I (and perhaps other readers) would be interested in the source of the "facts" that you have to dispute this...

Women have a right to equal opportunity and protection under the law (as should all legal citizens regardless of gender or race). But to believe that there are no innate gender-based differences in human beings is to set a course for bumping one's head a lot as they attempt to reconcile their "beliefs" with the real world. Seems like a tough way to go to me...

Lastly, difference means different, not better or worse. Men and women are the way our Creator made us for a reason, and the goal for each of us should be to find opportunities and a path where we can utilize our gifts and talents to their maxium. I say "Viva La Difference"!!

Posted by: William McClain | November 27, 2009 12:55 PM    Report this comment

Ok, Ms. Grady, men and women with a passion for flying are will find a way. If women need interaction there is the 99's etc. Career pilots find little glamor in the path to high pay and fulfillment. Now, let me ask a question. What does the mix look like when compared to other similar endeavors? Boating/(Captain) comes to mind. Driving might qualify, although the path requires less sacrifice, such as racing, heavy equipment, trucking, and buss driving. I suspect it is just interest/desire and no mystery at all. I must say at this point, I KNOW I was born with need for a higher view and freedom of movement. Despite a very active fear of high perches I feel quite secure in aircraft. Weird but true.

Posted by: Larry Fries | November 27, 2009 1:58 PM    Report this comment

Well said Mr. McClain - nature proves the point of difference with purpose constantly - only our egos and self-made concepts of higher/lower, better/worse tell us humans are not blessed with these innate tendencies.

Ms. Grady, I am sorry you cannot see the loving, purposeful handiwork of gender differences not only in nature all around us, but in humans as well. These differences are really just altered directions of energy in either the male or female, yet this seems to bother you unnecessarily. With our free will, either man or woman can do just about whatever in the world they please (ie. flying) - who could deny that? - But not to see the subtlety and intuitive nature of life in all of its manifestations around us, can shortchange our awareness of its glory.

As a full time at-home-dad, I have had to learn more than I thought possible about both sides of our natures, and a fortunate man I am indeed. That's not to deny it wasn't challenging at times, and what I went thru with groups of women - and indivdual ones -could fill a book.

But I'll leave with this, that no matter how much I cared for and loved my kids, and we are very close, whenever they would get sick, lonely or afraid of the night, a call for Mom would ring out, not Dad. Which was a good thing, and quite natural in my book. So I say too, 'Viva la Differance!' and if a person, guy or gal wants to be anything they want to be, including a pilot, no one, including 'society' can stand in their way.

Posted by: David Miller | November 27, 2009 3:31 PM    Report this comment

No one is born wanting to fly airplanes. No one is born wanting to raise children. While hormones certainly play a part, we really don't know how big a part they do play. Our society has a bipolar view of the appropriate gender roles which is constantly bombarded into us from day one. Anyone who has not noticed this needs merely to watch a couple of hours worth of TV commercials.

I also find it interesting that some of the strongest commentators on the supposed innate differences between male and female seem to add almost a religious element to that.

Whatever the differences, it is a sliding scale. As long as society seeks to enforce a rigid, bipolar view of gender on its members, those influences will warp the choices and expectations of its members.

Posted by: KRISTIN WINTER | November 27, 2009 5:53 PM    Report this comment

Ms. Grady,

I see that you have trotted out the Janet Shibley Hyde, PhD study. This groundbreaking work, which is merely an amalgam of prior studies, came to the impressive conclusion that when it comes to men and women...'"Only a few main differences appeared: Compared with women, men could throw farther, were more physically aggressive, masturbated more, and held more positive attitudes about sex in uncommitted relationships". We can let forum readers decide if these superb insights sum up their real-world experiences interacting with the opposite sex!

To better appreciate the acumen of Dr. Hyde's work readers should know that according to her own admissions she incorporates feminist theory into her analysis and thinking (a sociopolitical construct asserting that the lack of "Social Justice" is responsible for the choices and behavior of women and other "oppressed" classes). At least Dr. Hyde is consistent in applying this world view, even though in this case it results in tortured conclusions.

Finally, when you say "men and women should be free to choose their role in life" I completed agree, but who has argured against that here? The question you posed was essentially "why don't women choose to become pilots more often?", and the premise I and others have offered is that gender-based differences are a contributing factor. It appears the very existence of gender-based differences is what you, the good Dr. Hyde and others are disputing.

Posted by: William McClain | November 27, 2009 6:07 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for all these comments, but I think this debate over innate differences is a dead end. If we all completely agree that men and women should be free to choose their role in life, why don't we return to a more useful theme of the discussion... are there ways we're missing that would entice more women into the flying world? because as several commenters have noted, we need 'em.

Posted by: Mary Grady | November 27, 2009 6:23 PM    Report this comment

This is a very good question. But, I think before asking this question, we need to state some reasons on “why” more women need to be involved in aviation. Otherwise, the question comes across as a sexist comment that turns off men who think that there is a discriminative, gender card being played. So without writing a novel on this subject let me share a couple reasons on why aviation needs women to be involved:
1) When little Jr. wants to go for a ride in an airplane, it is the Moms of the world who have the veto power. So, if you want to get more kids involved in aviation, get their moms involved.
2) Like it or not, it is the woman who is the ultimate decision maker. When it comes to buying a plane, women need to feel that it is the “right” decision for the entire family. So, if we want to sell more airplanes and the ability to be able to go flying in them, get the wives involved.
3) Yet, there is another aspect. It is a shear numbers game. Since women have not been tapped in this market, it is a whole new group to become involved. When it comes time to battle legislative issues surrounding one of our last freedoms, there will be more people fighting on our side. So, if we want aviation to stay around for years to come, involve more women.

Posted by: Ginger Davidson | November 27, 2009 7:27 PM    Report this comment

This is a very good question. But, I think before asking this question, we need to state some reasons on “why” more women need to be involved in aviation. Otherwise, the question comes across as a sexist comment that turns off men who think that there is a discriminative, gender card being played. So without writing a novel on this subject let me share a couple reasons on why aviation needs women to be involved:
1) When little Jr. wants to go for a ride in an airplane, it is the Moms of the world who have the veto power. So, if you want to get more kids involved in aviation, get their moms involved.
2) Like it or not, it is the woman who is the ultimate decision maker. When it comes to buying a plane, women need to feel that it is the “right” decision for the entire family. So, if we want to sell more airplanes and the ability to be able to go flying in them, get the wives involved.
3) Yet, there is another aspect. It is a shear numbers game. Since women have not been tapped in this market, it is a whole new group to become involved. When it comes time to battle legislative issues surrounding one of our last freedoms, there will be more people fighting on our side. So, if we want aviation to stay around for years to come, involve more women.

Posted by: Ginger Davidson | November 27, 2009 7:28 PM    Report this comment

As pilots, don't we strive to tell everyone we know that flying is safe? Don’t we get upset if the media portrays aviation as being a risk and dangerous? Flying has been around for over 100 years and the industry is way past the point of it being a “scary, risky, dangerous adventure”. So, I don't buy the "scary, risky, dangerous adventure" viewpoint shared by a few on this post. As pilots, our egos often get into the way and we want people to think that we are doing something spectacular. But, are we really?

I will agree that men will typically explore hobbies that are perceived as “scary, risky, dangerous and adventurous” more than women. Therefore, that is how aviation has traditionally been marketed. The marketing (what little bit is actually done right in aviation) is what needs to change.

Posted by: Ginger Davidson | November 27, 2009 7:33 PM    Report this comment

Sure there are ways to entice women to "sign up". The WASP's felt an obligation to serve and they were paid to do so. The same went for men. I noticed some of the commenters got their start in the military. Following the progress of pilot training in China and India might give clues.

Posted by: Larry Fries | November 27, 2009 7:34 PM    Report this comment

I’ve tried having this conversation with others in the past and it has fallen on death ears; but once again, I’ll put out some “free advice” to those involved in aviation. STUDY THE TRENDS AT HARLEY DAVIDSON! Look at their success in bringing more women on board. Over the past 20 years, the observant would have noticed that there were more women passengers on motorcycles. Women found it was FUN to go places and to get away or to get a hamburger at an out of the way place or to go shopping in a quaint little town. And out of that trend, a great new thing has recently transpired; more women are now owning and riding their own “Hogs”. In 1990, 4% of new Harley’s were sold to women and in 2006, 12% of their sales were to women. Additionally, the number of women motorcycle operators increased 34% during that timeframe.

Posted by: Ginger Davidson | November 27, 2009 7:37 PM    Report this comment

So, back to aviation. . . Have you ever stopped to listen to the conversation at a pancake breakfast? Probably not something a “typical” woman would be interested in talking about. So, you lose the ones that might have been along for the ride right from the onset.

Have you ever heard of a Fly-In Mary Kay or Tupperware party? O.K. those might be a little ‘far out there’ but women have to find a real reason to want to be involved and to want to learn. By “real” I mean beyond the fear that their husband is going to have a heart attack while they are flying with them and they need to be able to land the plane. At our airport, we host ice cream socials once a month and strive to make them family oriented. Everyone loves ice cream so we see daughters, wives, Aunts, and even Grandmas that take to the sky. They need a reason! Show them that it is FUN to go places and to get away or to get a hamburger at an out of the way place or to go shopping in a quaint little town – all achievable via a plane.

Posted by: Ginger Davidson | November 27, 2009 7:38 PM    Report this comment

Don’t get so caught up in the ‘career’ side of things that you forget about aviation as a “fun” venture. Most men don’t take up flying until they have had careers and families. This is the point in their lives when they have time and money to spend on the hobbies that they have always wanted to do. They might get the opportunity to use aviation in their careers but it is not their career. Since there are more women involved in professional careers such as law and medicine (as Mary pointed out), there will be more women with money to spend on flying as well later in their careers. But, no one is marketing to these women. Sell them on the image they need to see to be interested and make it known in magazines, websites, TV programs, etc that have the demographics represented by these women.

Posted by: Ginger Davidson | November 27, 2009 7:40 PM    Report this comment

And as for Mary Grady’s conversation with the 2 people at the AOPA Aviation Summit who told her that they don't like the idea of pilot organizations strictly for women. I say “RIGHT ON GIRLFRIENDS”! The women’s organizations that exist today would be better described as affirmative action programs for women in aviation. It’s ridiculous! Women need to make it in aviation careers because they are good at their jobs– not singled out and given a scholarship that results in a job just because they are female. The ultimate result of this type of program is that it gives the women who are capable and competent a very bad reputation that they don’t deserve. It’s a very sad historically repeated mistake to think handouts and undeserved promotions will improve the quality of life for any demographic group.

Posted by: Ginger Davidson | November 27, 2009 7:41 PM    Report this comment

Ginger, love that name, we all think we are "special" and as pilots, by the numbers we are!

Posted by: Larry Fries | November 27, 2009 7:43 PM    Report this comment

And, while I’m on this topic, I came across this article while taking a break from writing a letter to Craig Fuller at AOPA about being “PISSED OFF” (and that’s putting it lightly) that AOPA took it upon themselves to give out my personal information (which I had previously told them that I didn’t want shared with ANY of their partners) to one of these women’s organizations. And, not only did they share my information freely (or possibly sold it), I was made a member of something that I don’t believe in as a result of this. Apparently, AOPA and Women in Aviation, International (WAI) have become partners. This new alliance has enhanced the list benefits available to AOPA members by allowing me to take full advantage of the benefits of a complimentary WAI membership for an entire year.

Posted by: Ginger Davidson | November 27, 2009 7:43 PM    Report this comment

To those women that do believe in these organizations, you should also be upset. According to the letter I received, this is supposed to be a new benefit to AOPA members. Many of you have been paying for your membership into AOPA and Women in Aviation, International. Why didn’t you get a FREE WAI membership this year if you were also an AOPA member?

And, the remaining 94% of pilots who are male should also be upset. I haven’t heard of ONE male AOPA member that received a complimentary membership because of this new partnership even though WAI says it is open to women and men from all segments of the aviation industry.

And, if the premise of this “greatly formed new partnership” was to entice more women to be involved in aviation, there is NO logic in this thinking. I’m already involved. Find someone else who isn’t involved. In fact, all AOPA members are already involved. I suggest that you go to an NRA Women On Target Shoot and offer them free memberships into AOPA or at a Harley Davidson Garage Party for Women.

(Sorry for multiple posts. . .but I had a lot to say and there was a character limit.)

Posted by: Ginger Davidson | November 27, 2009 7:45 PM    Report this comment

Wow, now that's making an entrance! And I saw you were in there too, Mr. Fries! :)

Posted by: David Miller | November 27, 2009 8:19 PM    Report this comment

Ginger -- Do you think that the women's aviation groups help bring more women into flying, or not. I get that you aren't personally in favor of them. I have let my memberships lapse in both WAI and the 99's. I figured out how to push myself along to an ATP/A&P without the support of a group. But everyone has their own path. The issue isn't whether they work for me, or you, but whether they work.

Posted by: KRISTIN WINTER | November 27, 2009 8:42 PM    Report this comment

we don't just need more women, we need more men, also. If women flew at the rate that men do, we'd have, at best, another 200,000 active pilots; we need to get everybody flying at higher rates. Or face the fact that this will be unavailable to our granddaughters -- and grandsons.

The "innate difference" argument is a waste of time because for many people, including our author here (and the APA), it's an article of faith that such don't exist; and for many others, it's an article of faith that they do (although no thinking person believes that statistical differences can describe more than tendencies among groups; statistics are useless for understanding individuals, anyway, and getting people flying is a matter of retail persuasion at the individual level). As Mary noted, it's a counterproductive argument and it's rare that you change people's beliefs, which tend to be forged in the heuristics of their own lives. So let's concentrate on what we can do.

Posted by: KEVIN O'BRIEN | November 27, 2009 9:42 PM    Report this comment

LWFries: The WASP's felt an obligation to serve and they were paid to do so.

Dunno if that's a good example. I am not an expert on the WASPs but my understanding is that they were all prewar aviatrices (there's an archaic word!) who flocked to the colors. We've never had trouble getting a tiny handful of adventurous women on board (or members of any other minority, all the way back to before WWI. We need to reach beyond that handful. How?

LW Fries: Following the progress of pilot training in China and India might give clues.

So far, the dynamic in Chinese and Indian pilot training (which I am familiar with) is completely different. Even in the military and in the airlines, a very high percentage of Western pilots fly because that's what they love to do, and what they always wanted to do. The young Chinese and Indian people (and in the Chinese case, almost 100% men) who are now in ab-initio programs are mostly there because they heard it was a good and well-compensated job, and they passed the cognitive and physical tests. They have no passion for it (and some of them appear to have no aptitude either).

I don't think we'll find the answer to our X-chromosome deficit among the less egalitarian societies of Asia, actually. If I'm wrong about that I'll eat Szechuan curry crow, but I doubt I am.

Posted by: KEVIN O'BRIEN | November 27, 2009 11:01 PM    Report this comment

It didn't seem right at the time when I first read the blog to veer off its primary subject, but maybe Mr. O'Brian has opened the door for me now to say, Hey African Americans, where are you? How about Hispanics? Native Americans? Men and women. C'mon down, we need boots on the pedals. Maybe other groups have been overlooked, too. Never hard for me to locate white pilots at my airport. My dentist and UPS driver are in these groups mentioned - I've overlooked them before, but not now. And I think Ms. Davidson, among others, had some well-thought-out, creative suggestions for us to consider also.

I'm thankful for the opportunity to speak here - I don't want to lose our priviledge and freedom to fly any more than anyone else, and I think AvWeb does a great service with these blogs to promote our passion of flight.

Posted by: David Miller | November 28, 2009 12:11 AM    Report this comment

Mr. O'Brien, if I may explain; The high cost of pilot training, in money and time, as a recreation or "hobby" eliminates us "poor folk". Just so you'll understand the demographic. It's a fantasy to believe that in this country somebody would pony up the bucks. However that is not true elsewhere and the mix of genders is quite diferent, I think. I do know that some African-American students took advantage of subsidized training all of the way to a career. I'll second the kudows for AvWeb Mr. Miller. Please excuse me while get familiar with some Chinese and Indian pilot trainees.

Posted by: Larry Fries | November 28, 2009 2:39 AM    Report this comment

Flying is not a Male/Female thing. Quite apart from the fact that it takes years of dedication, persistence and little to no income for any individual, be they male or female, to "make it" in just about any avenue of aviation, but especially to be hired on as a pilot with a major airline, it should be recognized (and admitted) that there is an inherent difference in the mental make-up between men and women, and that no matter the gender, it takes a certain turn of mind to want to fly at all.

Test this for yourself. Go into any classroom and ask for a show of hands from the girls and the boys to either visit a stable and try riding a horse (just about as dangerous for a neophyte as flying a plane) – or go to the airport to take an introductory flight. You will be lucky to see one hand for the latter from the girls and will get close to the full number of girls in that classroom for the Horse option … and vice-versa for the boys.

There are really no more "ancient" obstacles to prevent any woman with a mindset to becoming a pilot from so doing, that specific “mindset” being the operative word here - providing she has the fortitude and the determination to persist through the difficulties and obstacles that are encountered by any gender attempting to enter this profession.

Posted by: Sue Ramsey | November 28, 2009 7:45 AM    Report this comment

Mr Fries: Affording anything is a choice. I spent years living in roommate situations, driving old cheap cars, not traveling, not having good jewelery, and buying second-hand clothes to pay for the privilege of being an instructor. When I did it full-time, I was the only person who didn't have a "real" job or a significant other with one to pay living expenses. Why? Because I could not imagine doing anything else. When others would be adversely affected by my choice (kids), I temporarily stopped flying--but having kids is a choice too. We are who and where we are because of the sum-total of our choices-simple as that.

Posted by: Cathy Babis | November 28, 2009 8:39 AM    Report this comment

Can't we all just get along? Let's agree that we love aviation, especially if we have an opportunity to fly. Bless others with the gift of an introductory flight, participate in CAP and Boy Scouts Aviation Explorers, offer to talk to schools about your career...even if you don't have them or your kids are too young for or out of school. Five of us 7 siblings are connected to aviation - exposure is the key. Two of my brothers are professional pilots and were "naturals." I had to work at being good, and as a result, I was an awesome instructor-"was" because I accidentally missed renewal a few years back. Wear aviation jewelry (both sexes) which will stimulate more conversations about our passion. Men and women are different - I'm glad! Is this even something to spend more time discussing? Women's pilot groups (and other affinity groups) provide platforms for sharing similar experiences and encouragement. I like to dance. Most men don't. I go to places where there are men who dance instead of complaining about the ones who don't. If I want to talk about flying, I read AVFlash, go to a 99's meeting, or go rent a plane and an instructor - yeah, I'm out of biennial too. Life is way too fun to spend it whining!

Posted by: Cathy Babis | November 28, 2009 8:42 AM    Report this comment

Ms. Babis; Too true. I can't drink therefor I can't dance and the 99's make me feel out of place. At least there is AvWeb and a hangar full of like minded avionkers. What do YOU think about a web site for pilots with emty seats to share? Other AvWebers with or without gender bias might find satisfaction.

Posted by: Larry Fries | November 28, 2009 1:57 PM    Report this comment

Cathy! Thanx,Thanx,Thanx.....There IS a God and she wears a dress, or not!

Posted by: Larry Fries | November 28, 2009 3:27 PM    Report this comment

Mary – a lot of comments here. Your article certainly hits the nail on the head with the hammer. I don’t see any change in the number of women entering the field. I take up the young eagles and half are girls. What happens to them from prior to being a teen to after?

Girls seem to loose their enthusiasm. I don’t believe men have anything to do with it. If you want something bad enough you will get it. This profession is highly self-selected.

Posted by: Christopher Basham | November 29, 2009 4:33 AM    Report this comment

I took my daughter flying. She's not even two yet. When she sees airplanes flying overhead, she squeals with excitement! My wife doesn't care for flying, but she is supportive. I hope to be able to involve as many people as I can in my aviation activities. If you want to get more people flying, male or female, extend your hand and take them flying. Show them all of the unique opportunities aviation provides.

Ginger - I've been to your airport for a malt shake. We had a great time! Thank you for everything you do for aviation. I'm envious and grateful.

Posted by: Wayne Bressler | November 29, 2009 9:01 PM    Report this comment

I've asked this question to all my female friends and about 99% of their response to becoming a pilot has been: "I don't know, I've never thought about it." When asked why not, 99% of their response has been: "I don't know, I've never thought about it." When asked if they'd be interested in becoming a pilot, 99% of their response has been: "What's with the 3rd degree here?"

Bottom line, most women don't think about aviation. It's a horrible career, and dollar for dollar, it's perhaps the most expensive hobby out there. As a career, it's a really bad choice all things considered. It's no secret.

Women also have that maternal instinct that does not include high risk activities or 4-5 days a week away from their little precious ones.

There are no barriers to women who are interested these days. Bottom line, if women are not interested, you're not going to get them involved. And that goes for men as well.

Posted by: William Wang | November 29, 2009 10:31 PM    Report this comment

Who knew there were so many women reading AvWeb?

I think women think with a different part of their brain (or body) than men. I mean, what exactly draws a person into the career of airline pilot? There's very little job security, the hours are long, the pay is poor and you spend a lot of time on the road. Don't you think that people choosing that career have some other, non-rational reason. I believe women are more rational than men when it comes to such decisions. In other words, women are too smart to by sucked in by shiny jet syndrome.

Another comment: why is it when men need to do something that's not "inherently male", they just go do it and women need to form support groups?

Posted by: Jerry Plante | November 30, 2009 8:40 AM    Report this comment

Another comment: why is it when men need to do something that's not "inherently male", they just go do it and women need to form support groups?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 30, 2009 10:14 AM    Report this comment

Another anecdotal datapoint. I was strongly discouraged from flying (and a number of other "risky" sports) by my parents. I introduced my step daughters to flying fairly early and they seemed to like it, so I assumed that when they got old enough they'd want to take it up. My oldest stayed with me until she was old enough and proficient enough to solo (14 for gliders), which corresponded with menarche. I was eavesdropping while helping with her birthday party as she told a group of friends (all but one female) about her upcoming solo. All but the male responded with words like "icky" and "booooring". She never went to the gliderport with me again, and started campaigning for a horse. She spent all of her spare time for the next 3 years with a predominately female group at the arena. This is also about the time that she refused to take any more math (she did well in math and had already had the legal minimum) and only the legal minimum science classes. Her little sister went the same route, with the exception of a couple weeks when she was interested in a boy who wanted to fly.

In the last 10 years, I've started 10-12 female students (out of a total of 20-30). All but one were teenagers and all but two of the teenaged females dropped the sport while a half dozen of the guys pushed on thru, often despite some serious financial obstacles.

Is it social or biological? I just don't know.

Posted by: Merl Raisbeck | November 30, 2009 11:15 AM    Report this comment

Wow! Just be offline for a few days and look what you have to catch up with!!

My experience has been that aviation is a "man's world" -- always has been, probably will be for a LONG time. Did I let that stop me?? No! I managed a pretty successful 35-year career in just about every area of aviation -- except 121 (Don't like unions, sorry! I wanted folks to know I got where I was on my own merrit, not because a union was using me as a token.) I flew frieght in BE-18s in the midwest, corporate, commuter, FAA CE--500 DPE, and instruction. I loved every minute of it.

I've also been told more times than I care to enumerate:

"You have great qualifications. We'd love to hire you but what would th other pilots' wives say?"

"Great checkride, and I was twice as hard on you because you're a woman." This from the FAA.

Whenever you are different from most of the crowd, you are going to be noticed -- for good or bad. I remember loosing the engine on a 150 and ending up upside down in a cornfield in Indiana. The story circulating when I finally got back to MDW that evening -- dumb girl didn't recognize carb ice. (Blew cylinder off!)

I just kept flying.


Posted by: Linda Pendleton | November 30, 2009 11:18 AM    Report this comment

Paul>> Support or social? Dunno.
Linda>> At only 6%, duh.
Mary>> Get over it. We really need the professional, and I dare say lifting note, that women (hard work) seem to have. If at only 6%, so be it. Ok, so I have a "thing" about uniforms, it suits me.

Posted by: Larry Fries | November 30, 2009 12:41 PM    Report this comment

I take exception to Paul Bertorelli's comment about women's aviation groups. Is there data I'm unaware of that shows people who benefit from such support groups are less deserving to be pilots? Since only ~6% of pilots are women, they are truly a minority group.

If you aren't black, can you truly know what it's like to be black? Where would they be today without the support groups they formed?

I remember a lesson from my childhood: walk a mile in my shoes.

If a support group means more women become pilots, shouldn't it warm the heart rather than leave one cold?

Posted by: Susan Simmons | November 30, 2009 12:56 PM    Report this comment

Merl answered Paul's question. When teenage girls don't think that flying is icky, then there will be more women in aviation. The social reaction is not genetic. It is a learned behavior. That is why the support groups.

Linda has been there. One of the reasons I got out of the business and went the grad school route is that I didn't want to be an airborne computer programmer and corporate is a tough road for exactly the reason Linda points to. If the chief pilot of a a one plane operation hires a woman as a co-pilot, he is likely to get a cold reception at home.

While things have gotten much better in the 30 years that I have been involved in aviation, it is not an entirely level playing field, even today. I stuck with it because I loved it and it gave to me something beyond money.

Posted by: KRISTIN WINTER | November 30, 2009 12:56 PM    Report this comment

shouldn't it warm the heart rather than leave one cold?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | November 30, 2009 1:00 PM    Report this comment

You are correct, we still have not achieved equal pay for equal parity. And it is as good a reason as any to have a mentoring and networking group built around striving to help diversify aviation and aerospace. I invite anyone to take the time to read the mission statement of Women in Aviation, International (where 8% of the membership is male, and a much higher percentage of the membership would be considered ethnically diverse). Once you've got past the mission statement, take a look at the blog and the magazine, and read about where the organization does outreach, and what kind of outreach it does. I think that you'll discover there is much more behind Women in Aviation, International than just its name. My heart and soul knows what we do is working, slowly, because I see the stories and get the notes from our scholarship winners when they get new ratings, start new careers and new enterprises. Change takes time and energy on the part of those who desire the change.

Posted by: Amy Laboda | November 30, 2009 2:56 PM    Report this comment

And there it is, in my opinion, flame me if you want to, but until that question of 'why do we want to change what is?' (if 'what is' is open, legal, fair, etc.) is answered, this will go back and forth until bin laden is caught.

Posted by: David Miller | November 30, 2009 3:27 PM    Report this comment

It appears stating the obvious quells nothing. Narry a smolder Dave.

Posted by: Larry Fries | November 30, 2009 3:43 PM    Report this comment

Ah, I thought the desire to change was the desire to see general aviation, and aviation in general grow instead of contract, prosper instead of bump along the bottom, with its companies frequently using bankruptcy as a high colonic for debt reduction and the shedding of other unmanageable obligations.
You can't ignore half the world if you want to change that. Ginger was correct--aviation is not now, nor was it ever marketed in a manner that would catch the attention of women (or girls) and therefore is rarely considered by them as either a viable hobby or a profession. Women, and frankly, a whole lot of other people all over the world are curious to know more about aviation--if we bring it to them the right way they might even lay down some cash to come out to the airport and take a flight lesson. And if we make that lesson tickle their fancy, they may stick around to become the next generation of pilots and aviation enthusiasts. G.A. needs friends right now. We should be open and eager to invite them into the fold.

Posted by: Amy Laboda | November 30, 2009 4:03 PM    Report this comment

Amy, an invitation has ALLWAYS been there. Seems that only 6% respond.

Posted by: Larry Fries | November 30, 2009 4:20 PM    Report this comment

Ms. Laboda, I agree with you that aviation isn't properly marketed. In fact, I'll bet most of it is by word of mouth. And if you're lucky enough to be talking to the right person, you might get exposed. The alphabet organizations completely fails in this respect. They attend aviation expos and take ads out in aviation related magazines. This assumes the interested individual already has some level of aviation exposure to begin with.

You want women to be more involved in aviation? Get these alphabet organizations (especially WAI and 99's) to take out ads in magazines that are OTHER THAN aviation related. I challenge them to send out marketing kits to every guidance counselor in our primary and secondary education system. I further challenge them to reach out to every teacher in our primary and secondary education system. Until they do this, IMHO, they are not really serious about getting more women involved in aviation, and all this chatter is just that, chatter.

Posted by: William Wang | November 30, 2009 4:26 PM    Report this comment

Maybe we're looking at this from the wrong perspective when trying to bring women in to aviation. The question shouldn't be "Why aren't women interested?", but rather, "What sparked the interest of those women who did become pilots?" What did they see that was appealing to them? I don't believe there is much credibility in the argument that it is too challenging or too risky, after all, look at the numbers of women who scuba dive or spelunk(risky), compete in triathlons or marathons(challenging). And who dictated that the only reason to learn to fly is to work for an airline? That's a job that I couldn't be less interested in, personally.
And is it really that they don't know? There are a lot of women in aerospace jobs, but curiously, not a lot of them fly either. They most certainly know.
It is definitely not marketed to women in the same way that, say, health clubs are. When was the last time you saw an article about a woman flying herself somewhere in Woman's Day? Making a chocolate cake, yes, flying, no.

Posted by: kt jarrett | December 2, 2009 12:47 PM    Report this comment

kt, have you looked into how expensive it is to learn how to fly? Have you also looked into how expensive it is to fly as a hobby and pay for every hour of it? Have you considered the recency of experience requirements by the regulations as well as the constant need to stay proficient so that you don't end up killing yourself because you forgot how to use the right rudder properly? Flying skills are ephemeral. This all translates to a dollar amount. A friend of mine joined a very nice gym for a year and she paid $1500, open access with classes of all sorts (spin, yoga, sword fighting, etc.). For $1500, I'd be lucky to get 15 flight hours in a beat up C-150; less hours if I want to fly in something that won't scare someone who have never flown in a light aircraft before.

A flight school out of CT wants about $8000 for the private pilot training which includes 40 hours of flight time. National average to private pilot completion is 70-80 hours. See how this can get costly FAST?

In my experience, women are practical creatures. And spending $1500 for 15 hours and don't have a body to show for it doesn't sound very practical to me. I think the point that's missing is that learning to fly is a specialized interest and is not easily affordable, regardless of gender. And in some geographical regions, not easily accessible due to lack of nearby airports. Airports are being closed all the time.

Posted by: William Wang | December 2, 2009 1:14 PM    Report this comment

William: As a matter of fact I have looked at the cost. I've paid it, and continue to pay it. I'm not an airline pilot - don't ever intend to be one. And I am very practical, my family would think painfully so.

Why does that make more difference to women than to men? Is it less practical for her to fly for her reasons than him to fly for his? There are lots of reasons to fly, not all of them are airline related.

Learning to fly is indeed a specialized interest, as are the other things that I mentioned - which are also expensive both in initial and continued costs, although granted, not to the extent that flying is.

But aviation marketing has typically been only to men. Magazine layouts are designed to attract men, ads are designed to attract men. Aviation marketing has never been designed to attract women. And it doesn't. Other recreational fields take a broader approach.
At the moment, aviation marketing isn't attracting anyone, because it only advertises to its existing - and dwindling - audience.

p.s. I'd take that $1500 and buy a new DG, and go run around the block a few times.

Posted by: kt jarrett | December 2, 2009 1:53 PM    Report this comment

KT, when I say "practical" I mean that women tend to be more financially practical, at least, in my experience. Perhaps many women see better things to do with their money than dropping a small fortune on one thing.

Learning to fly in hopes for a successful career is very expensive. Learning to fly as a hobby is very, very, very, very, very, very, very expensive. This country's wealth is held by 1% of the population. The rest of us are struggling to pay the bills and taxes and maybe a week vacation somewhere, far be it to have enough disposable income to pursue flying.

I recall female friends who drops hundreds on dinner and drinks on a weekend night and not think twice about it. Apparently to them, socializing and drinking was more important than learning to become a pilot. By inference, there is more value in that activity which justifies the spending. Las Vegas is a living example. Given the number of restaurants, bars, and clubs that are out there, I think it's safe to say that a LOT of people agree. Perhaps it's because women feel they can meet more men at any given moment at these venues vs. at the airport...flying...with some instructor...alone.

To your point, other recreational fields are also far less expensive and far easier to get involved in. And there are activities that are free to get involved in. Flying is just not an American pastime.

P.S. I'd take that $1500 and pay down my flight school loan, which will continue to haunt me for the next 12 years.

Posted by: William Wang | December 2, 2009 3:08 PM    Report this comment

Excuse me, Mr./Ms. Pilot; How much of your budget goes to your hobby?>> ALL of it!

Posted by: Larry Fries | December 2, 2009 3:44 PM    Report this comment

Wait, wait, wait. This whole it's "very, very, very expensive" thing has to stop. It works precisely against what we are trying to accomplish here...bring more people, male or female, into aviation....for business, pleasure, or a career...all are welcome.

As I often tell pilots and others who complain about "how expensive flying has become"....flying is expensive, always has been, and likely always will be. The question is...is it worth it to any given individual? I learned to fly in high school while earning $5/hr, paying $60/hr for a C150 & CFI (or 12hrs work for 1hr flying). Now my students pay $98/hr for a C152 & CFI. Most anyone can manage to clear $8/hr so guess what....back to 12hrs work for 1hr flying! Again, the question is...is it worth it to the individual?

The typical Private Pilot flying for fun puts in about 50 hrs/year. At $100/hr for an older C172, that's $5,000. I know plenty of people who plunk down that to play golf over a year...have them add it up...greens fees, cart, balls, shoes, gas, etc. It's pretty common to see similar numbers for boating and snow skiing (if someone will add up the real costs). Flying is actually competitive with many activities and it is up to us to point this out and market this fantastic activity not available to very many people on the planet.

Posted by: Tom Chandler | December 2, 2009 4:05 PM    Report this comment

My mother was very frugal. I don't ever recall seeing a name brand can of vegetables in our house. Or ice cream, or crackers, etc. But she liked to travel. She told me you always have a choice on what to spend your money on. You can dither it away on Del Monte, or you can save those pennies for what you really want. Which is what she did, and what I do.

I bought an airplane, cheaper than a lot of cars, and learned to fly in it. I drove an old clunker for years to be able to do that. I don't go partying with the girls, I don't have a closet full of shoes or clothes. My money goes to what I like.

I know a manicurist who learned to fly and bought herself an airplane. If she can do it, I figure nearly anybody can.

The real point of all of this, I thought, was how to expand the pilot population. We need to attract more people to General Aviation not just sit around and whine in pilot magazines about how are numbers are decreasing. We need a different tactic than the one we've used for the last 100 years cause this one ain't working anymore.

Posted by: kt jarrett | December 2, 2009 4:44 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Chandler, anyone looking into becoming a pilot can add and multiply. What I find more disturbing are people trying to hide this fact in order to lure people into becoming pilots. Case in point, a flight school advertising 40 hours at $8000 to get your private pilot when the national average is almost twice that! But few speaks of this. You want a more positive acceptance to aviation, speak the truth. People can decide for themselves if that kind of money is worthwhile.

To your point, "expensive" is a relative term. However, just how much disposable income do you think people have? If that example you gave of the golfer only has $5000 to spend and loves golfing, you can count that person out for pursuing a pilot certificate, unless they give up golf for a couple of years or more.

I don't know where you are located but $100/hr for a C172 does not exist in my locale. And if the local demographics don't make as much as those in NY because the cost of living and pay varies, your figure is relative. Around my neck of the woods, renting a C172 is about $135/hr and up.

If flying was as cheap as driving a car, more people would be doing it. The only people involved in flying airplanes are those who have the money and interest to make it happen.

I've offered free instruction to a friend for his instrument rating but his interest resides with his two kids, and I don't blame him one bit! And money isn't an issue with him.

Interest and money. That's all there is to it.

Posted by: William Wang | December 2, 2009 4:47 PM    Report this comment

Yes, I got spoiled by being paid to fly as a CFI; no, I don't fly much anymore; yes, there are jobs easy for a "nesting" (LOL) mom to do...I've done them..ATC, Weather Observing, teaching 3-day ground schools, government; yes, we need more men AND women flying; Darn!neither of my kids are interested in becoming pilots--my daughter got to "steer the plane" (her great uncle's C-150 when she was 5 --I was hopeful. What she DID learn is the value of following her passion-whatever that is because I modeled it for her. I'm with the anti-whiners who have contributed to this discussion. Be the change you want to see!

Posted by: Cathy Babis | December 2, 2009 9:04 PM    Report this comment

You've got that right, Cathy. And that's why I do what I do--market aviation and aerospace directly to women. Yep, there actually are people out there trying to change the statistics, and change is happening, again, slowly. I help more than 1,000 teachers a year bring aviation directly into the classroom and use it to motivate students, girls and boys, to pursue their math and science skills. I write, I edit a magazine designed for women involved in aviation and aerospace (as a career or as an enthusiast) and I help WAI administrate about $400,000 a year in scholarships that some pretty name-brand aviation and aerospace companies with a stake in diversity fund each year. I mentor individuals seeking to become involved in aviation--any aspect of it. It is intensely rewarding. I get more kicks from it than I did when I was a CFI pumping out one or two new pilots at a time. And I still fly--and own--two airplanes, one of which cost less than my car, and the other of which is as economical as my Honda to take on long-distance trips (not to mention the time I save and the fun I have flying it). Do I show off how aviation works for me on so many levels? To everyone I know--because I want to see the privilege of general aviation flying survive. I think it is absolutely necessary that we all reach out and try to grow the industry. Reach out to whoever you are comfortable reaching out to. If they decide to take up piloting, even better. That's my attitude. And so far, so good.

Posted by: Amy Laboda | December 3, 2009 8:42 AM    Report this comment

"Perhaps it's because women feel they can meet more men at any given moment at these venues vs. at the airport...flying...with some instructor...alone."

You really didn't say that, did you Mr. Wang? Please tell me you didn't.

You sound like the guys sitting on the porch at the FBO when I was learning to fly. "She's just doing it to impress a boy friend." "Oh, she soloed? Well she'll never get a license." "She got her private? Well she'll lose interest soon." .... and on, and on, and on.

Now, I have 11,000+ hours, an ATP, two jet type ratings and CFIAI&M, and I'll bet those clowns don't have much more time logged than they did back in 1974 when I started. Point is, women are not encouraged. When someone asks what I do and I tell them I teach folks how to fly jets, they look at me like I came from mars.

Posted by: Linda Pendleton | December 7, 2009 11:51 AM    Report this comment


Try telling them you are an A&P/IA, then they really think you are from outer space.

Posted by: KRISTIN WINTER | December 7, 2009 1:15 PM    Report this comment

Ms. Pendleton,

I'm simply offering a point of view. If you want to sensationalize it and fit that peg in a square hole, that's your business. I often find that ignoring possibilities and being closed minded to reality is often the source of resistance to solutions.

And no, I'm not the guy that sits on the porch of the FBO. I've given enough blood and money into aviation to know that:

1. Flying is expensive.
2. Flying is not necessarily a good career choice.

But I still encourage people to fly, explore it, and pursue their certificates and ratings.

Have you even considered perhaps I am right about some women prefer bars vs. airports as their preference for disposing their income and time? I have sure spent enough of both in my neck of the woods over too many years to know that there are millions of women at bars, gyms, etc. vs. the few at airports. Care to give me an explanation why they're not spending their money at the airport?

I'm all for women flying. I just think some people need to get realistic about the level of success in getting women into flying. Once again, the end game is: money and interest. If a woman is not interested in flying, you're not going to get them to fly. And I have met women who showed interest in aviation to meet men only to never pursue their pilot certificates because that was not their goal. You can lead a horse to water...

Posted by: William Wang | December 7, 2009 1:28 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Wang,

In my experience, it becomes infinitely more difficult to win an argument with a woman if you compare her to a horse...

Posted by: Jerry Plante | December 7, 2009 2:03 PM    Report this comment

What's the issue? OK, men/women don't go to airports to "mate". Women have many more gender biased publications than men. Women seem to aviate with a defensive chip on their sholders. The lure of aviation is strictly a personal issue. The cost/profit aspect of aviation cannot be ignored.
"Can't we all get along" and just embrase the fact that we are PLANE FOLK WITH BETTER VIEW?

Posted by: Larry Fries | December 7, 2009 2:11 PM    Report this comment

I think the issue is that there aren't enough women in aviation, the implication is that men are at fault, and the men participating in this particular discussion are having a tough time swallowing that, be it fact or fiction.

Posted by: Jerry Plante | December 7, 2009 2:30 PM    Report this comment


That is half of it. The other half is that women are also at fault for buying into society's rigid gender roles. I have as many women who think I am strange for being willing to get my hands dirty in a plane, than men.

Posted by: KRISTIN WINTER | December 7, 2009 2:37 PM    Report this comment

Since you bring up horses, there are plenty of women and young girls who have no problem getting their hands dirty mucking out stalls. Girls, for whatever reason, love horses.

Girls who fly don't have any problem getting their hands dirty, changing the oil or repacking wheel bearings. These, for whatever reason, love flying.

Socially, these women generally don't run in the same circles. Maybe we need to cross pollinate the interests. Aviation with horses, with whatever else it is that women do. We need to reach into their worlds and say, "Hey have you ever thought about trying this? It's fun and adventurous, you need to be smart and savvy (usually), and you can really go places!"

Regarding expense, there is a whole world of smart educated women who make sufficient income to be able to afford flying. Dime to a donut they've never thought about flying. Why aren't we reaching them? I bet they'd love it.

Posted by: kt jarrett | December 7, 2009 3:07 PM    Report this comment

Like I mentioned very early in this thread, I met my wife
Hang Gliding. Since she was interested in aviation as I was we got got married, started building an experimental
aircraft together and got our pilot certificates together.

When we bought our first plane she took a maintenance class for it and was the only woman attending. She said all the men were hitting on her because she was a pilot and interested in working on planes.

Maybe that is an avenue we need to explore?

Posted by: Ric Lee | December 7, 2009 4:22 PM    Report this comment

I don't participate in aviation with a defensive chip on my shoulder or as a way to get a date. Aviation is my vocation and my avocation. As a matter of fact, many guys run the other way when they find out I fly...I have done something they've always dreamed about, but never did. The right one won't.

I just received a note on my FaceBook page today from a girl I went to high school with. She said she will never forget the time my dad took her flying and let her control the plane. Mooney 98M and my dad introduced many kids to aviation. Exposure, encouragment, role models: it's pretty simple.

Posted by: Cathy Babis | December 7, 2009 6:47 PM    Report this comment

Gee, with 94% of the aviation community having hairy legs, how hard must it be find ONE with dirty hands? You should consider how tough it was to find Mrs. Lee. Cathy, I can only admire your resolve. Have you tried a maintenance class?

Posted by: Larry Fries | December 7, 2009 8:49 PM    Report this comment

When I was growing up I can't remember knowing of any high profile female models or actresses being pilots. Now that young girls see that Angelina Jolie is flying herself around in her Cirrus, more females will at least THINK of the possibility of being pilots. If Hilary Swank gets her private pilot certificate, that can make an impact too. And then there's a certain female model who's just passed her written for the helicopter certificate. I just hope the fact that these women can fly is used for all its worth in encouraging women to become pilots.

I remember the days when commercial airlines only had male pilots. When a few women finally got in the door, many people had a mind set that only MEN were supposed to fly the commercial jets. That's what they'd always seen & it had made a strong impression in their brains. Some people flatly stated: "I'd never take a trip in an airplane if the pilot was a WOMAN!" They really believed a 'mere' woman wasn't competent enough to do a "man's job". I think some of the men who said such things felt threatened by the thought that a woman could do something they couldn't do themselves.

Posted by: Susan Simmons | December 7, 2009 9:34 PM    Report this comment

Speaking from knowledge of what I have seen and heard I can tell you that the lack of women completing there flying is due in small part to the lack of support that they get. For the rest of them its really a lack of desire. Those that try and quit before they finish out never had the true passion to start with. I myself had to put things on hold for years because of lack of support and raising kids. Now at 53 I am a student pilot who will be soloed in a few weeks, then go on to finish out my cross country and of course testing. I plan to finish this is a passion that has been there since my childhood. I was born here in the states and raised in Ireland as a child, and know first hand about support. But was independent enough not to let them destroy my passions. I hold a degree in Computer tech, one in Computer Graphics, one in Business Law, One in Business Admin, and have several other qualifying skills. I believe to succeed first you need to have the passion for what you are doing and believe in yourself then it won't matter what they say to you. I hope this doesn't offend any of you but it is truly how I feel.

Posted by: shannon gallagher | February 27, 2010 9:02 AM    Report this comment

KUDOS Ms. Gallagher! Welcome aboard. Aboard what? The good ship "Passion Flower". Here, on the poopdeck, we have celebrations for fulfilling our dreams and getting our feet off of the ground. Now, as a true free spirit and "one of the few", do you think that all of your effort to "qualify" was the distraction or the consession to your passion. Or is earning a living and raising a family simply priority #1 and the passion and welcome distraction of flying a future reward? Ok, it's none my business. But it shows that while we all have the passion that we cannot risk it all for the career. Kudos for those who do!

Posted by: Larry Fries | February 27, 2010 11:39 AM    Report this comment

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