Women from a cross-section of business aviation gathered for an NBAA News Hour online discussion to stress the importance of taking risks, having a willingness to “be the first,” and mentoring to pave the way for a more diverse workforce. Moderated by JetLaw partner Kali Hague, the News Hour, “Women in Bizav—Being Bold,” featured women who hold varied roles from operators to airport and maintenance fields.
Julia Harrington, lead captain and Chicago base manager for Axis Jet, discussed how “being bold” is “really about being unafraid to take a seat at the table and go after your goals with tenacity—and not letting being the first stop you from wanting to move forward with those goals.”
At her initial charter flying job, Harrington was the first woman pilot hired by that company. She conceded that, at the time, there were some barriers to break through: the head of the flight operation was worried about how the wives of the other pilots would react. That, she said, “is too old school for these modern times,” but was a short-lived concern.
Since then, that company has employed multiple female pilots and recently had a female-only crew, Harrington said. “You never know what doors [being first] can open for the future,” she said. “Once those barriers were broken down, I know that the flight department has benefitted greatly from having a more diverse staff.”
When Harrington moved on to Axis, she noted, her new employer was “ready to accept women” and has since encouraged her to seek leadership roles.
Hague added that it is important to note that there aren’t many women in business aviation. “Just because you are the first doesn’t mean the company is opposed to having [women] there.” It is just there are fewer to hire, she said.
GrandView Aviation COO Jessie Naor stressed the importance of being an advocate for oneself. Many women tend to want to please others before they would step forward in a leadership role. “[We] have to be first for a moment here so we can help others,” Naor said, stressing that this can be accomplished in an upbeat manner. “You can be positive and still be promoting yourself. You don’t have to be aggressive in a negative way.”
She pointed to her strong interest in rest and duty regulations. Naor was always pushing for improvements in the rules. “I was really loud to a lot of people,” she said, and in the end was appointed to an FAA Rest and Duty Rulemaking Committee. This participation in turn opened doors to other appointments, Naor said.
As for breaking down barriers, she noted society has been conditioned in many ways that little actions are not necessarily conscious actions. Naor gave the example of shaking hands. People will tend to reach for a male’s hand before a female’s. “Most people don’t notice it,” she said. She responds by extending hers first to bypass that. “You do that over and over…[it] makes an impact,” she said. That grows from the little moment to life choices, such as having counselors encourage girls to seek an engineering degree rather than an alternative career.
Erin Croop, marketing coordinator for Lee County Port Authority–Page Field, meanwhile, added that women must remain curious, constantly questioning and learning, and have the courage to take on new things. That acquired knowledge can be shared with others coming into the industry.
Lee Brewster, director of communications, public relations, and industry engagement for ATP, further noted that women should “embrace who you are. It’s okay to be feminine and a mechanic,” she said, adding that many people over her career helped her understand that.
Hague noted, “That reflects where feminism is today” versus in decades past. “While some of us might be the first in our company, we’re probably not the first in the industry. That gives women a lot more freedom…to be who we want to be. We don’t have to fit a certain image,” she said.
Women also have to be willing to be confident in going after positions, said Harrington. Men tend to go after positions even if they are not fully qualified, while women will tend to believe they must be 100 percent qualified before they will seek out advancement, she said. “You have to apply to be considered. So many times, we take ourselves out of the running. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that you may not be qualified. Your previous qualifications aren’t your goals.”
Brewster agreed. “Unless you practice and put yourself out there, you will never build the confidence.” This will shape a person, enabling them to guide others and to mentor in the future. For Brewster, mentorship was an important part in the growth of her career. She credited the NBAA Maintenance Committee for this mentorship. She joined a little more than a decade ago, become one of the first—if not the first—female members on the committee. That committee encouraged her in many ways, she said.
Croop discussed how mentorship and community outreach is critical. She learned this as she went through a work-study program at college. That program highlighted the need for each person to have a sense of community. She also pointed to numerous mentors who helped shape her career. In turn, she helps stage aviation days and tours at her airport, as well as internship programs to bring others into the industry.
“Mentorship has a huge impact on everyone in the industry,” Hague agreed. “There is not a clear path to join the industry.”
Harrington agreed. “Mentorship is invaluable. It cannot be overstated.” Her mentor was Patty Wagstaff. Harrington emailed the famed aerobatic champion when she was eight years old to say she wanted to do what Wagstaff did. Wagstaff responded, beginning a relationship that guided Harrington into her career.