Mentoring Programs Aim To Boost Ranks of Women in Aviation

Many women’s organizations are active in preparing and supporting aviation professionals.

Several organizations offer mentorship programs that help women pilots realize their career goals. [Credit: Shutterstock]

Aviation is a challenging endeavor, from finding a flight instructor and mastering the controls of a small training aircraft to making one’s way up the ladder to a professional career. The help of a mentor can be critical to success, especially for women, who are underrepresented in the industry in general, and on the flight deck in particular.

Women’s aviation clubs and organizations have a special interest in mentoring aspiring professionals to strengthen their networks and encourage colleagues to persist and excel in their careers, especially during difficult times.

Airline pilots, for example, are expected to “pay their dues” on the path to the captain’s seat, and the journey can be long, rough, and even discouraging. This can be even more difficult for women, who might have less built-in support than their male colleagues. Having the guidance of a mentor who has successfully navigated the same process can make a significant positive impact.

A growing number of women’s groups in aviation offer structured mentoring programs that can make the difference between sticking with an aviation career or giving up. Below are just a few examples. There are many more based regionally, locally, or within individual companies.    

The Ninety-Nines

The Ninety-Nines say leadership positions within the aviation industry are increasingly becoming available to women. Through its Professional Pilot Leadership initiative, or PPLI, the group says it is working to prepare its members for the additional challenges and responsibilities that come as one ascends the corporate ladder or an airline’s seniority list. The program is designed for actively flying members pursuing careers as professional pilots or who are established in their careers and looking to advance.

The Professional Pilot Leadership Initiative (PPLI) aims to accelerate the advancement of women in all pilot professions, facilitate dynamic mentoring, and enhance our leadership role in the aviation community. The program provides highly motivated 99s with the tools to develop their careers and leadership abilities. Through guided activities and formal mentoring partnerships, it strengthens and expands the network of women pilots.

The PPLI includes three phases, starting with the five-month Captain phase, during which participants develop a formal “flight plan” for achieving career goals in the short term. Next comes the Captain’s Circle phase, which adds peer mentoring to continued work on the personal career plan. During the final Navigator phase, you have the opportunity to share your skills, experience, and guidance with another woman pilot in the Captain phase.

Women in Aviation International

Women in Aviation International’s mission is to encourage and promote women with careers and interests throughout aviation and aerospace. Its membership includes a wide range of professionals, including pilots, astronauts, maintenance technicians, engineers, flight attendants, educators, journalists, and many more.

WAI also offers educational outreach programs through its Girls in Aviation Day program for girls ages 8 to 17. The program seeks to raise awareness of aviation careers among young people and familiarize them with the range of professional possibilities across the industry. The organization has also taken its publication, Aviation For Girls, to twice a year to reach more young people.

The organization last year also began revamping its Mentor Connect program for members to take advantage of evolving technology that eases the process of matching mentors and mentees using their individual profiles. Mentor Connect is designed to help mentors and mentees schedule meetings, set goals and milestones, and track their progress.

International Aviation Womens Association

IAWA’s NextGen programs, including scholarships, internships, and mentoring, are designed to strengthen and expand the network of professional women pilots and engage its members in helping women navigate the path to careers in aviation. Through continued professional development, the group seeks to cultivate the next generation of leaders across the varied landscape of professional aviation.

In keeping with its stated mission to "connect, inspire, and lead,” the organization builds its membership through identifying and mentoring  “outstanding young women who are poised to make a difference in the future of the industry.”

The group’s volunteer mentors and mentoring committee help organize numerous events across the country aimed at attracting new members and supporting their aviation pursuits. New members seeking mentors can apply to the program, which includes developing a personal profile that helps ensure a good match between mentor and mentee.

Sisters of the Skies

As an organization of and for professional women pilots of color, Sisters of the Skies focuses on youth outreach programs to give girls a chance to meet women pilots in uniform, take discovery flights and discuss possible careers in aviation. One of the group’s goals is to raise awareness of aviation as a realistic profession that they should consider. 

The group says its membership comprises professional black women pilots who represent less than one-half of 1 percent of the overall professional pilot population. There are fewer than 150 black women pilots in the U.S. who hold commercial, ATP, military, and/or CFI certificates, according to the organization’s statistics. Its goal is “to drastically improve these numbers” through mentorship, professional development, STEM education, and scholarships.

Sisters of the Skies developed its Cohort Program to promote mentoring for women of color seeking careers as pilots. The program focuses on expanding and strengthening the professional network for its members and driving professional development. The Cohort Program uses the Slack app to group mentees with mentors and provides support and guidance based on each individual’s level of training.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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