shutterstock_57203590

Female Founders to Watch: Aviation Edition

This week’s AirVenture not only spotlit female pilots and women-own aviation businesses but also included events to encourage girls’ interest in STEM.

By Terri Griffith (Chair, Santa Clara University Management Department)

AirVenture “The World’s Greatest Aviation Celebration” 2013 — a week of flying, education, innovation, and inspiration attended by 500,000 — is also a great opportunity for women to advance their careers and interest in aviation. Against a backdrop of aviation innovation from around the world can be found women pilots of every type and women-owned businesses throughout the grounds, such as:

The week includes a general job fair, as well as two focused events: WomenVenture and Women Soar, You Soar. There are scholarship presentations, specialty programs for girls considering careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and networking events. Common to all was respect for the efforts of others.

WomenVenture

The WomenVenture events opened with a breakfast arranged by Women in Aviation, International. The group then moved to the main grounds for the annual photo opportunity (2012 photo). The photo is a chance to document the growth of women in aviation, and through the logo shirts, open conversations with other attendees around the opportunities for women in aviation. The final phase of the day is to present scholarships funded by the Ninety-Nines (Amelia Earheart was the first president of the association) and the Experimental Aircraft Association, and engage in a series of talks by aviation leaders. Each of the presenters described their careers through a lens of relationships:

  • Only 6% of pilots are women, but women now touch every niche in aviation. That was the opening message from Sherry Carbary, vice president of Boeing Flight Service. Carbary noted that 460,000 new commercial pilots and 601,000 machinists and technicians will be needed to service the growth expected over the next 20 years. To prepare for this growth, Carbary gave a new twist on STEM: Support, Train, Encourage, Mentor.
  • Major Caroline Jensen of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds gave tribute to the inspiration provided by the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) WWII veterans (five of whom were in the audience). She talked of visiting the wishing well where many of them tossed a lucky penny before taking their first solo flights in the 1940s and how she shares their example with other women pilots. She noted that she’s flown approximately 2000 hours with the WASP “Fifinella” patch on her uniform as a reminder of those who have gone before.
  • Z. Nagin Cox, a member of NASA’s Mission Operations Flight Team and Mars Science Laboratory, spoke of the excitement of her work. She shared a video of the Curiosity Mars rover landing and then built her story around the enthusiasm shown in the images. Her message was that whatever you do, do it in a team, working toward a great goal, under time pressure.

Women Soar, You Soar

One hundred high school girls from the US and abroad worked with 35 women in careers from fighter pilot to engineer. For four days, these girls and women cross paths with the larger AirVenture event, but have a residential program including mentoring, career exploration, and flight activities.

I had the chance to hear from Laura, Kathryn, Grace, and Morgan. These self-confident participants highlighted how the experience let them “do things you don’t usually do or see.” They were thrilled with meeting women like the five World War II WASP and “the chance to be with a group of girls all excited about flying.” I have no doubt that it was a life changing event for many.

How can we kickstart women’s entry into other fields where they’re under-represented?

37c79bf773312dee0a8cee19861ed325About the guest blogger: Terri Griffith is chair of the Management Department at Santa Clara University and the author of the award-winning book, The Plugged-in Manager: Get In Tune With Your People, Technology, and Organization to Thrive. Connect with her on Facebook or @TerriGriffith.