IAWA Study FInds Aviation Leadership Gender Gap Remains

 - September 16, 2021, 4:35 PM

Nearly 60 percent of women who have held aviation leadership positions have considered leaving the industry, underscoring a lack of progress in addressing the gender gap in high-level roles, according to a new study from consulting firm Oliver Wyman and the International Aviation Womens Association (IAWA).

“Women are more likely to be pushed out because of negative experiences, while men who leave the industry are more often pulled away by the lure of better opportunities,” the organizations added.

The study involved surveys of 450 aviation professionals holding front-line, mid-level, and senior leadership positions (75 percent women), and the organizations supplemented the results with interviews to gain a deeper understanding of why the gender-gap problem has not improved and what could be done to address it.

“Women report they are struggling throughout their careers in today's aviation culture," added IAWA president Bobbi Wells. "Our study shows relative to men in the industry, women report more negative experiences, slower career advancement, and fewer opportunities to take on senior or challenging roles. It's time for aviation leaders to change these dynamics if we are to attract and retain the most talented workers, regardless of gender."

The survey found that women took longer to reach leadership roles than their peers in general, while 92 percent of the men surveyed had advanced more quickly or at the same pace as their peer group. In addition, the survey indicated that men believe the companies are doing a good job of offering effective and accessible programs to promote gender equity, while women do not find these programs as easy to access or as effective.

"The aviation industry is missing out on critical leadership talent," said Oksana Bardygula, v-p with Oliver Wyman. "We are already at a tipping point with talent shortages across the industry in various fields, from pilots to mechanics. Increasing the visibility of women and their roles in leadership is vital to expanding the talent pool."

The study identified three major areas that could help address the gender gap, including escalating culture change at the top, redesigning efforts to provide a better balance, and expanding sponsorship programs.

“Senior leaders in aviation must commit to leadership gender balance as a priority, build a culture that deliberately includes women, and set leadership inclusion and diversity goals that are tied explicitly to incentives,” the organizations said.

Further, women must have a greater voice in revamping culture and leadership programs, they said, adding that aviation must also “over-invest” in formal sponsorship programs that serve women.