We need to inspire the next generation of women leaders - Carolyn McCall

Only 3% of pilots are women. That needs to change, says the easyJet CEO.

by Carolyn McCall
Last Updated: 09 Apr 2017

I fly on an easyJet flight every couple of weeks. It’s the best way to find out what our passengers and our people think about us. A few weeks ago the customary PA from the Captain about that morning’s flight was delivered by one of our female pilots. 

Two women sitting in front of me did a double take, turning to each other in surprise. That’s not an unusual reaction and it reflects the fact that it’s a profession dominated by men. Fifty years ago almost all professions were like that but since then there has been significant progress with women entering and attaining senior positions in professions like law, medicine, education, finance and politics. 

I believe that women in leadership positions need to inspire female leaders. I also believe in a meritocracy. Five out of nine of our management board are female and around a third of our middle and senior leadership team are female. We have a fairly equal balance of men and women in almost all areas of the airline but not in the pilot community. 

It is hard to think of another high-profile profession where women are so under-represented and where the proportion of men to women has not altered over decades. The International Society of Women Airline Pilots estimate that just 3% of pilots worldwide are female and that only 450 of them have achieved the rank of Captain – which means every female Captain could fit onto a single A380 aircraft!

This is something the entire aviation industry can do something about. easyjet last year launched the Amy Johnson initiative, named after this inspirational pioneer.  

She achieved worldwide recognition in 1930 when she became first female pilot to fly solo from Britain to Australia. She set numerous long-distance records and like many other women flew in the Second World War as a part of the Air Transport Auxiliary.

Our aim of doubling the number of female new entrant pilots over two years has been welcomed.  We’ve seen some real success so far [women comprise 5% of easyJet pilots but 12% of its new pilot intake], and have set ourselves ambitious targets to do even more, aiming for 20% of pilot intake by 2020. easyJet can make a real difference in the industry,  drawing on the full range of talent – female, male, of diverse backgrounds and histories.

This is why we made reaching out to girls in schools and colleges a key element of the Amy Johnson programme. Many of our female pilots speak in schools to try and encourage them to consider a career as a pilot, inspiring the next generation and helping them to see and believe that they can break down boundaries that no longer need to be there.

This is so important. Change starts with this generation, and as business leaders we have the responsibility and privilege of helping inspire them to succeed. This is why I am speaking as part of the Speakers for Schools campaign, "Bridging the Gap". The campaign aims to reach audiences of state school children and allow them to raise their aspirations and to help engender a culture of ambitiousness. Endeavours such as these are particularly important when you consider that, currently, although state school pupils make up 93 per cent of the school-age population, those from privately educated backgrounds still dominate leading UK professions. 

Raising awareness of these opportunities through these events have real, significant effects; recent studies have shown they help to heighten the children’s aspirations and improve their prospects.

We know that there is often more than one barrier to entry - the high cost of training as a pilot can be one - therefore the Amy Johnson programme includes a loan underwriting scheme to help  improve access for women and men of all backgrounds.   

We now have an aircraft named after Amy Johnson. It won’t operate to Australia but it will fly across the easyJet European network to generate awareness of this initiative. And we believe our pilots, through their school visits will inspire a new generation of female pilots which will encourage more women to take to the skies.

Read the MT Interview with Carolyn McCall


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