As the aviation industry continues to evolve in the wake of the pandemic, there is no better time to discuss efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion in an industry that has long been seen as lacking in those areas. A panel at the recent ATCA Annual Conference titled “Women in Aviation – Diversity & Inclusion” delved into the conversation around increasing minority representation and overall inclusion in aviation and how to go about affecting change at a time when change is not only being accepted but embraced.
The panel included the following experts:
- Kathleen Yodice, Esq., Managing Partner with Yodice Associates and discussion moderator
- Dr. Menah Pratt-Clark, Vice President for Strategic Affairs and Diversity and Diversity Professor of Education at Virginia Tech
- Brig. Gen. Brenda Cartier, Director of Operations and Communications, AETC, USAF
- John Benison, Assistant Administrator for Civil Rights, FAA
- Pamela Whitley, Former Assistant Administrator for NextGen, FAA
- Yvette Rose, Senior Vice President, Cargo Airline Association
- Melissa Rudinger, Eastview Aviation Consulting
A few of the key moments of their discussion are captured below, showcasing the variety of perspectives on these issues, and how different areas of the aviation world are tackling this challenge:
Planning the Dance, Not Just Being Invited to it
Dr. Pratt-Clarke set the stage for the discussion around diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion using a school dance analogy. In her analogy, diversity is getting invited to the dance, inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is “being able to dance to the music that is representative of your background heritage.” And ultimately, it all comes back to the fact that the power of affecting change in this dynamic lies in the hands of those planning the dance, prompting the need for ingrained, systemic change.
“What those who are on the outside of the dance decision-making team really want is equity. They want to be part of the planning committee, co-selecting the music, co-selecting decorations, not having to wait to be asked to dance… It’s about changing the system and the way in which the dance decision-making process operates. It’s about challenging the policies that create the dance decision-making committees. It is about changing the procedures associated with the dance. It’s about restructuring practices, procedures, policies, and politics, to create a system that is more wonderful for everyone.”
Mission Readiness Relies on Inclusion
Cartier spoke to her 30-year career with the U.S. Air Force and the immense change around inclusion that has taken place during that time. From allowing women in aviation to fly combat aircraft to the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Cartier is hopeful and inspired by the steps taken towards a more diverse and inclusive military during her time in the service.
“We want underrepresented groups, we want minorities, we want whatever your gender identity is. We want you to be able to serve and be part of the great Air Force that we’re in and also to be able to avail yourself of the opportunities that we provide in the Air Force.”
Varied Perspective is Invaluable
Benison expanded on the inclusivity goals of the FAA and the incredible value that comes with varied expertise and perspectives. The FAA offers a strong example at the federal level of how to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into everyday operations. One example Benison pointed to is the agency’s gender-neutral language order, noting that everyone should feel they are being addressed equally.
“We really wanted to come up with programs that would be fully embedded into the agency culture, and directly connected to the agency’s mission, because we believe that the FAA’s critical safety mission will be more successful if we have a diverse workforce.”
Promoting Change from Within
Whitley reflected on her 30-year career with the FAA and the many changes she saw the agency undergo, and spoke to how the agency has matured in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion. With more active conversations around the topic at higher levels, she is seeing more marked, noticeable change not just within the agency, but across the industry when it comes to women in aviation among other groups as well.
“I think there’s change, and as always, there’s room for growth. And I think we are having the right conversations to now drive that growth that I think is needed over the next five to 10 years.”
Sparking Interest in the Next Generation
Rose shed light on existing challenges and misperceptions around pursuing a career in aviation for the next generation, and much of it relates to awareness in general. “The majority of our survey respondents said, when asked what got you into aviation in the first place, majority of respondents will say, I had a family member or a friend in aviation. So that’s a great insight to have, but we need to do something to change that.”
She expanded on how we clear and illuminate the pathway for future aviation professionals through partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and bring aviation careers to the forefront of the conversation for up-and-coming professionals.
Opening the Doors of Possibility
Building on Rose’s sentiments, Rudinger reflected on her own journey into the world of aviation, recalling instances of underestimation from male counterparts. It fueled her passion to make aviation more accessible to underserved minorities and raise awareness around the opportunities for those interested in aviation. She pointed to her work with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and standing up its You Can Fly program.
“I didn’t really have a career goal. I just was open to possibilities. And I see that in the young kids today that are in our [You Can Fly] program. [From a] female perspective, it’s almost a non-issue with kids…they don’t view the world the way we did, or the way we were programmed to [then].”
Each of these experts brings their own unique expertise to the table when it comes to representation and diversity in aviation, along with their own plans of action. And all of these women are working towards a more inclusive industry that is more accessible to all women in aviation.
Connected Aviation Today is a proud media sponsor of the ATCA Annual Conference. You can register here to view sessions from the event on-demand.