The Challenges to Achieving Gender Balance in the Pilot Trainer Role

Posted on

As of January 2020, there were 185,143 airline pilots in the world, of which 9,746 were women (5.26%) and 2,630 were captains (1.42%) (IFALPA 2021). Even more concerning are the shocking figures taken from the Type Rating Examiner (TRE) list currently held at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA, 2022) that estimate that in the UK female TREs make up approximately 0.9% of all UK registered trainers/examiners.

This is of concern as pilot training is the first point of contact for new entrants into aviation, and it is also the only department that has regular contact with pilots throughout their careers. Trainers have the power to shape pilots’ experiences and are pivotal if the industry is to become more diverse and inclusive. Investigating why training departments are still dominated by white male trainers means that we can start to challenge the perception that the pilot trainer role is the preserve of male pilots.

Several high-profile Initiatives to highlight the pilot career to women have been instrumental in changing public perceptions, including, “Amy Johnson”, “Flyshe”, and “Cabin to Captain” initiatives which were launched in the airline environment and although specifically aimed at attracting women pilots, also gave opportunities to male pilots. However, there are no such initiatives to encourage and support women into the pilot trainer role, which is yet another senior role where women are under-represented. Since the start of the pandemic, further valuable initiatives have brought pilots together (e.g., the alta Mentoring Platform, Project Wingman, Resilient Pilot) enabling greater communication within the pilot community and, in turn, a better understanding of the challenges  that minority group pilots may face in the industry.

The Project

A recent study (March, 2020) was commissioned by the Flight Crew Training Group (FCTG) at the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) to understand why women are so poorly represented in the pilot trainer role. A report of the findings was published on 7th March, 2022 and can be found at: https://www.aerosociety.com/media/17924/pilot_training_report_march_2022-final-pdf.pdf). The study, funded by the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) was led by Professor Susan Durbin and Stella Warren, University of the West of England, who worked with Captain Marnie Munns (Deputy Head of Diversity and Inclusion, FCTG/RAeS) and Cary Edwards (Head of Diversity and Inclusion, FCTG/RAeS). Training departments are key to the growth and recovery of the airline industry and are essential to the cultural change that needs to occur to make the industry more inclusive. In order to understand and achieve this goal we needed to address one major question: why are most training departments so male dominated? Ensuring that training departments are able to utilise all of the available talent, keep up with modern training practices, technology and most importantly, stay connected with new entrant pilots, is essential.

This gender comparative, global study draws upon a survey (just over 700 responses) 750 testimonials and four focus groups, with male and female pilots, newly qualified and trainee pilots and pilot trainers. The aim was to understand the pathways into becoming a pilot and pilot trainer and opportunities for progression. This focus upon individuals (we did not include the airlines and training schools) gave participants the opportunity to be heard, whilst retaining anonymity. Some issues raised in the report need urgent attention and are similar in nature to findings from other industries, including sport and public services.

The study revealed four key areas of concern which will be explored in more depth in a series of future blogs, over the course of the next two months but are briefly outlined below.  Each blog will focus on one of the areas and will include key recommendations for action by the airline industry and training organisations to address these challenges.

What are the barriers to the pilot trainer role?

Sexism, sexual harassment and the presence of the ‘old boys’ network’ especially during initial pilot training

This was reported by the majority of women who contributed testimonials. Worryingly, this predominantly goes unreported due to the lack of safe reporting processes in place and a fear of being labelled ‘difficult’. Some men also expressed dissatisfaction with their initial pilot training, due to the cost of training, the poor quality of some of the trainers and for some, being excluded from the ‘old boys’ network’ and ‘macho culture’. Training is a time when the “cockpit gradient,” whether during a flight or metaphorically in the classroom, is at its greatest: trainers are powerful, and trainees are vulnerable. If women (and some men) are experiencing their own pilot training so negatively, will this encourage them to become trainers themselves or deter them from this role?

The unwillingness of airlines and training organisations to offer the pilot trainer role on a part-time basis

The majority of airlines and training organisations do not offer the pilot trainer role on a part-time basis and in some cases, do not allow part-time pilots to apply. This ‘full-time rule’ stands in direct contradiction to the opinions of the majority of pilots and pilot trainers who took part in the research. Ironically, many are currently performing their roles on a part-time basis due to the pandemic, but will training departments stop and evaluate the benefits that part-time working can bring to themselves and those performing the roles?  Offering the role part-time and allowing part-time pilots to apply would mean more women could apply and would open up the talent pool for training departments and benefit the trainees who make such a huge investment to become pilots.

A lack of transparency in the recruitment and selection process

While promotion to command (captain) is generally well understood by most pilots and there are well known career paths to achieve this senior front-line role, recruitment for training positions becomes vague and is influenced by senior management. There is no official career path to the pilot trainer role and it is overtly gendered.  There is a minimum requirement of 1501 hours total flying time to satisfy the regulator but no formal HR processes required. Recruitment is often conducted by internal staff (who are overwhelmingly male) with varying company-specific processes. This lack of transparency in recruitment and selection is holding women back.

A lack of role models and mentor support for women

Due to the lack of female pilot trainers, there are very few role models available, and this was an issue identified by many in the study. The presence of more role models and mentors would also tackle the problem that women were less likely than men to receive support when applying for training, were less likely to be made aware of their opportunities early in their careers and overall were given less encouragement from training departments to apply compared to their male counterparts. Women felt they would be more likely to apply if they were encouraged and supported to do so, could see visible role models and could understand what the training role involves. Men benefited from informal and formal support from training departments, peers and managers. Importantly, having a mentor would go some way in supporting women who are/have experienced sexism and sexual harassment and those who wish to apply for a pilot trainer role.

We believe that both cultural and policy change is needed in the industry if this gender imbalance is going to be addressed. We look forward to engaging with you again through our series of blogs. If you are interested in this research and would like to know more, please contact: sue.durbin@uwe.ac.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top