Advancing Women in Aviation

By Sam Ahn, Senior Digital Media Coordinator, and Lydia Jakub, Strategic Planning & Resources Specialist
Aspiring aviators Dashmarie, Jalen, and Awa listen as F/O Kaori Paris (United) talks about paths to the flight deck.

ALPA joined a record high number of attendees at the Women in Aviation International (WAI) conference held March 5–7 in Orlando, Fla. Nearly 4,500 women and men attended this annual three-day conference to connect with other aviation and aerospace professionals and attend professional development and educational sessions.

A bronze-level sponsor, ALPA had a significant presence at this year’s conference. Capt. Joe DePete, ALPA’s president; F/O Costas Sivyllis (United), ALPA’s Education Committee chair; F/O Kandy Bernskoetter (FedEx Express), ALPA’s Membership Committee chair; F/O Camila Turrieta (JetBlue), the President’s Committee for Diversity & Inclusion chair; and numerous ALPA volunteers had an opportunity to speak with hundreds of ALPA members, military pilots, aspiring aviators, and others about the profession.

“While we’ve made great strides in recognizing and advancing the role of women as pilots, there is so much more that can, and needs, to be done,” said DePete, who was the first ALPA president to attend the WAI conference and had an opportunity to share the experience with his daughter, F/O Jolene DePete (JetBlue), and granddaughter, Gianna. “This conference provided a forum to focus on workforce issues women aviators face, and it was really exciting to see how our pilot volunteers were able to connect on multiple levels—beyond a simple ‘hello’ at the booth—to really explore current hurdles and ways our Association can help advance the profession as a whole.”

Today, only six percent of airline pilots are women.

“Now, more than ever, it’s important that we come together and tap into the entire population—regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation,” Turrieta observed. “ALPA recognizes the value of cultivating a diverse workforce and is working at the forefront to recruit and retain trained and qualified individuals from all walks of life who share a love of flying.”

In addition to staffing a booth in the exhibit hall, ALPA’s Education and Membership Committees each hosted a professional development session and a coffee social to assist aspiring aviators and further engage in robust conversations. ALPA pilots also participated in WAI’s Girls in Aviation Day Orlando to help inspire 250 girls between the ages of 8 and 17 to pursue aviation careers.

Promoting ALPA and the Profession

ALPA’s Cleared to Dream booth was in a prime location and exuded a fun, welcoming vibe that drew hundreds of visitors. Sivyllis and Bernskoetter joined Capts. Jessica Meier (Spirit) and John Tabet (Spirit) and F/Os Sara Baer (Alaska), Samantha English (Endeavor Air), Kaori Paris (United), and Jade Lubinski (Endeavor Air) in staffing the booth on a rotating basis. They used their diverse backgrounds to engage in meaningful conversations with ALPA members and others about the Association’s vast benefits and resources and to provide career advice.

“Members need to feel heard, seen, and supported,” Baer stressed. “Pilots, especially women working in a male-dominated profession, can sometimes feel overwhelmed and intimidated by our union and its structure. Being at conferences like this one and helping members understand that they are ALPA will keep them engaged and connected at every level.”

She also noted the great dialogue that took place with collegiate aviators and certified flight instructors who are looking toward their next career step—going to a regional airline. “Many of them were unaware that most airline pilots are members of unions. Being able to educate them on the great work ALPA does for the industry was very rewarding, and I hope that they use the information when deciding where to apply.”

ALPA’s Coffee & Conversation event provided another opportunity for pilot volunteers to connect with current and aspiring aviators. Approximately 80 women and men took part in the informal event, during which ALPA pilots reviewed several résumés and provided feedback based on their experiences.

Striking a Work-Life Balance

Female pilots face unique challenges and often receive misinformation about how to strike a work-life balance. On ALPA’s personal development panel “Strategies for Work-Life Balance as an Airline Pilot,” Baer, English, Meier, and Paris provided real-life examples of how they’re successfully balancing family obligations and enjoying a career they’re passionate about.

“Women can have it all—a successful flying career and a family if that’s what they choose,” panel moderator Bernskoetter emphasized. “While there are certainly some challenges that need to be addressed, the career offers many opportunities not available to those who work a regular 9–5, Monday–Friday job. Having the support of a partner, family, and the community helps to create a positive synergy between a pilot’s personal life and their professional one.”

A sense of comradery filled the room as the 70 women and men in attendance exchanged information and ideas as well as mishaps in their ongoing pursuit of striking a work-life balance. The group also explored strategies for dealing with sexual harassment, general safety issues, and company culture.

International Women in Aviation Conference 2020

Becoming an Airline Pilot

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming an airline pilot. And, once you have all the requirements, preparing and interviewing for a pilot job can be a daunting experience. ALPA’s “Yes, You Can Be an Airline Pilot!” panel attracted more than 75 people at various stages of their careers—regional pilots looking to advance their careers, military pilots interested in transitioning to the airlines, and flight instructors, aviation students, and others seeking to become professional pilots.

“The beauty of our profession is that everyone has a different story of how they became pilots,” explained Sivyllis, who moderated the panel discussion. “It’s crucial that we pay it forward by inspiring the next generation, providing information on the various career pathways, and mentoring those who want to join our ranks. Every young person should know that it doesn’t matter where you start. Your destination can be a pilot.”

Capt. Mary Ana Gilbert (Delta), Baer, and Lubinski connected with the audience by sharing their experiences and noting some challenges along the way—particularly in transitioning from the military to the airlines, from a regional to a mainline carrier, and from a university flight program to a regional airline, respectively. Susan White, the senior manager of pilot hiring programs at United Airlines, also provided a recruiter’s perspective and gave tips on how to be the candidate that airlines are looking for.

Inspiring the Next Generation

Girls in Aviation Day Orlando kicked off with a career panel for girls to learn about 10 different aviation careers. Capts. Pamela Perdue (United) and Julie Thiele (Alaska) talked about the profession and how to become an airline pilot. Afterwards, girls visited 20 activity stations for hands-on aviation training on how to use a visual flight rule navigation chart, read a map, talk like a pilot, and more. One of the most popular stations allowed girls to fly an aircraft simulator with active line pilots F/O Stacey Jackson (WestJet) and Capt. Alysha Shaw (PSA).

“Aviation is a cool industry with a lot of opportunities, and it makes a huge difference for girls to see someone who’s like them doing a job that sparks their interest and gives them a career to aspire to,” said Jackson.

In addition, older girls had an opportunity to speak with representatives from more than 10 collegiate aviation programs, including three universities where ALPA’s Education Committee maintains strong professional development and/or mentoring programs—Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, St. Louis University, and University of North Dakota.

“I never thought of being an airline pilot,” exclaimed 13-year-old Dashmarie while speaking with ALPA pilots in the exhibit hall. After participating in Girls in Aviation Day Orlando, she and her friends Awa, 13, and Jalen, 14, all want to be pilots.

ALPA—through its Education Committee, member participation at events like this one, other outreach programs, and Cleared to Dream—is helping turn those dreams into reality.


Mark Your Calendar

On September 26, Women in Aviation International chapters will host events for the sixth international Girls in Aviation Day. And on March 11–13, 2021, join ALPA at the 32nd Annual International Women in Aviation Conference at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nev.

This article was originally published in the April 2020 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)