What is behind the gender disparity in aviation?

by | Apr 14, 2023 | Airlines, Airports, News

What is behind the gender disparity in aviation?


With aviation struggling to attract young talent to the industry and simultaneously suffering from both a brain drain and crippling staff shortages, now is a good time to take a critical look at what must change to secure the future of the industry.

One of the most visible problems is the gender imbalance. This is especially apparent at the highest levels of leadership where women currently hold only 14 per cent of C-suite roles and account for just three per cent of CEOs across the top 100 aviation organizations worldwide. There are initiatives like IATA’s 25by2025 which seek to increase the number of women in senior positions, but systemic issues hindering women’s development must be rectified before representation can flourish.

Oliver Wyman and the International Aviation Womens Association (IAWA) produced a report on the leadership experience of women in aviation titled “Lift Off To Leadership. Advancing Women in Aviation.” The study highlighted the differences between women and men’s experience in their careers and identifies  obstacles holding women back from progressing in the industry.

Representation at every stage, but particularly at the highest levels of leadership, is imperative. Within the report, an anonymous Vice President of a US-based airline is quoted as saying:

Younger women don’t think they have a place in aviation until they see it.”

To accelerate culture change in the industry the report finds:

“An intentional push is needed to make women abundantly visible in the industry and their voices in leadership discussions the norm — not the exception. This can be accomplished by purposefully making women more publicly present, such as on interview panels, delivering keynote presentations, being profiled in company communications, presenting to the Board and C-suite, and leading challenging projects.”

World Aviation Festival are working in partnership with Women in Aviation & Aerospace Charter who will be hosting a keynote panel on diversity, equity and inclusivity at World Aviation Festival on the 27th September.

The study, “Lift Off To Leadership. Advancing Women in Aviation,” surveyed 450 aviation leaders, of which 75 per cent were women, at all levels — front line, mid-level, senior, and C-suite. It also conducted follow-up interviews with female leaders to gain more insight into the experiences of women as they progress through their careers.

Reminding readers that the industry was not build with women in mind, the report highlights key themes negatively impacting women’s careers. A short summary of the findings include:

  1. Women are more likely to consider leaving the industry than men and to be pushed out by negative experiences, rather than pulled away by new opportunities. These experiences come in a variety of forms including but not limited to, slower career advancement relative to their peers, fewer opportunities to take on senior or challenging roles, and motherhood bringing about negative experiences in the workplace.
  2. Aviation’s existing inclusion and diversity programming is ineffective and it is frequently men deciding what initiatives will enhance gender balance, leaving women out of the conversation.
  3. Broadly speaking, women lack access to the relationship that are vital to career advancement including coaching, mentorship, and sponsorship. Women are often not part of informal networks and groups dominated by men and so have greater difficulty developing the trust and relationships that would otherwise arise naturally from these networks.

With the aviation industry progressing slower than others in terms of gender equality and inclusivity, it is vital that the various challenges impeding women from advancing in their careers at the same rate as men are addressed. Within “Lift Off To Leadership. Advancing Women in Aviation,”  recommended solutions to these challenges are put forward. Read the report to learn more. Better representation of women, particularly in leadership roles, is a crucial development the industry must make. It is also a critical step toward establishing a diverse workforce which is essential to the industry’s future growth and performance.


Article by Jess Brownlow