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Yes She Can: The Stories of Women in Aviation
Did you know that only five per cent of pilots are female, and that only 1.4% of captains are female? Just let that sink in…
Traditionally a male-dominated field, starting off (and staying) in the aviation industry is often a turbulent experience for females. There are many factors that contribute to this sometimes-challenging environment, including gender stereotypes, workplace culture and unconscious bias – that is, the attitudes or stereotypes that people hold unconsciously which can affect their behaviour and decision-making.
These biases are often based on societal and cultural messages that we are exposed to from an early age. A by-product of all of these factors is a lack of representation of women in the aviation industry, and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; If women are underrepresented in aviation, this leads to a lack of role models and mentors for others who are interested in pursuing careers.
If you ask any female in aviation how their career journey has been so far, almost all of them will have a story to tell of self-doubt, unique situations, sexism and a struggle for equality. Some of them have persisted fearlessly, despite the abrasive nature of feeling out of place.
Touch the Sky is an eight-part docuseries that aims to bring these issues into the spotlight as they follow and celebrate women in aviation from different backgrounds. Some of these women are just learning, others are much further along in their careers. But all of them have a common goal – they all want to encourage more females to enter the industry. These strong women are from all walks of life: mothers, daughters, influencers and refugees, who share what it takes to overcome different types of adversity as they take to the skies.
The series also focuses on the power of overcoming issues such as fear, guilt, workplace harassment and bullying. The fact is, these are hurdles that women can
regularly face, but are things they shouldn’t have to experience as ‘the norm’.
The docuseries trailer on YouTube shows a sneak peek of the women in action, capturing their ups and downs, their wins and their losses. Without giving too much away, the series is bound to tug at heart strings and provide a rare insight into what these women are thinking and feeling as they face different challenges along the way. Apart from the raw emotion and candid dialogue, one thing is clear – the sheer determination and strength of these women is sky-high.
Bringing the Idea to Life
Michael Monck, CEO of lockr.aero saw an opportunity to make a difference in the sector and rallied a group of like-minded individuals and business owners, in the aviation, space to do something about the lack of women in aviation.
Touch the Sky is produced by the talented team of Nora and Red Dog Productions. Both the Director and Producer have their own origin stories in the aviation world and have brought their own love of flying to this inspiring series. As a teenager, Producer Bridget May, was in the air cadets but was unable to continue as her dyslexia became a struggle, so she stopped. “Struggling with learning issues and being the only female in the group with teenage boys was note enjoyable,” she said. “So many people I have spoken to about this project are surprised around the percentage of women who are pilots, but then just accept it, nothing around ‘why?’. I hope by making this series, it will get people to think more on those soft barriers and support the young people and women, hurdle any barrier they might have.”
Director, Stephen Limkin learnt to fly seven years ago to overcome his fear of turbulence. He loved the experience so much that he became an instructor. “At first, I was blind to the imbalance, but then I began to notice that roughly 95% of the students were males. With each theory class of roughly 20-25 students, one maybe two were women,” said Stephen.
“I’ve come to realise that there are a lot of soft barriers that are stopping women from pursuing their dreams. I hope that the stories of these eight women will inspire more women, who may not have considered aviation as a career or for fun, to engage with aviation and allow their dreams to take flight.”
Meet the Women
Each episode of the eight-part series focuses on a different woman’s story and how they overcome obstacles along the way to achieve their goals.
The women come from a diverse range of backgrounds and abilities and each of them have paved their own unique pathway in aviation.
Juggling Family, Work & Self-Doubt
Catriona Rowntree – Journalist, TV Personality
Catriona has spent much of her life jet-setting across the world as a professional TV presenter, but now it’s time for her to jump in the cockpit herself. Catriona doesn’t think she is smart enough to learn to fly, so has to overcome her own self-doubt and insecurities.
“There is not a fibre in my being that thinks that I can do this… and I really feel physically ill. It brings up all of these vulnerabilities. I’m trying to grasp hold of other people’s
faith and belief in me. I am really worried that my head is going to go to mush and not be able to take the information in.”
Danni Maynard – Head of Safety, Bonza Airlines
Danni has always wanted to be involved in the aviation industry and growing up thought her only options to be in the industry were cabin crew or ancillary positions like reservations for airlines. Being from a military family, Danni struggles with the notion that her husband can go away for months at a time to help his career, leaving her to look after their children. She feels guilty when she does something similar to help in her career, based on the perception of what others may think.
“It has been quite a challenging process… I loved that it was finally happening, I was on my own and it was completely up to me. It’s like no other feeling when you go solo.”
Zahra Rajabi – Afghan Refugee
Zahra joined the Afghanistan air force in the hope of becoming a military pilot. Within months she had fled the country and arrived in Australia with little English, and no support when the Afghanistan government collapsed. A group of pilots heard her story on the radio and are helping her to learn to fly. Zahra hopes are to be a light for women and children in Afghanistan and show them that women can be whatever they want as she sees little female participation or visible women from where she grew up.
Overcoming Childhood Adversity
Maddy Borg – Student
Maddy is 17 years old and has completed aviation gateway school. She can’t decide whether she wants to be a pilot or an engineer. Originally, Maddy didn’t realise that aviation was even an option for girls, as she had not seen many female role models who are aviators. Her father and mother both have mental health problems, leading her
to live with her aunt.
Breaking Gender Bias
Ellen Franklin – Charter Pilot
Ellen recently completed her instructor rating. To overcome gender bias in the industry, Ellen said she needs to do things better than her male counterparts. Ellen felt the isolation that comes from being away from friends and family while she was doing her instructor rating full time. In a foreign city, with people she hardly knew, she was determined to obtain her rating.
“After university, I did all the tests and I passed everything, which was really exciting. I was just waiting for an offer of entry. I got an offer for entry into the air force and told I was medically unfit on the same day. I was pretty devastated.”
Australia’s Youngest Flying Instructor?
Sonja Conway – Flight Instructor
Sonja obtained her instructor rating on her 18th birthday. Sonja’s struggle has been gaining the confidence in delivery of briefs and the cockpit. She has found her voice but struggled to do so throughout her training. She wants to show women that there is a place for them in aviation.
Killara Nawa – CAE Recruitment Specialist
Killara has wanted to learn to fly since she was two years old. Killara’s father moved her and the family to Australia from Papua New Guinea eight years ago so Killara could follow her dream of being a pilot. Killara didn’t speak English, and she is having to deal with issues of racism at work, language barriers and the lack of female instructors visible in the industry in Australia. Her male cohort at university told her that being a captain in the airlines is for men, and women are more suited to general aviation flying.
Fear of Flying
Erin Douglas – Flight Candidate, Advanced Aviation Training
To overcome her fear of flying, Erin decided to learn how to fly (check out SportPilot Edition 101 for her back story). Now, Erin needs to overcome her anxiety and fear of being bullied to pursue her dream of being an instructor. Erin has a fantastic community of online followers who support her. Unfortunately, there are other pilots who have been bullying her online too. Erin has been bravely telling her story, being an example for others to follow. She is also acutely aware that female participation in the industry is low and is determined to be part of changing the culture.
“It was so unbearably tough and still having to do what is probably one of the most challenging ratings that you can tackle in aviation.”
Where to Watch
The entire Touch the Sky docuseries can be watched on YouTube, head to the Touch the Sky channel to view these incredible stories!