There are many reasons why working as an airline pilot is still predominantly a male privilege. But one thing is for sure, we are now seeing more female commercial pilots. Logically, the increase is linked to improved social equality. However, when we look at which countries have the highest percentage of female to male pilots, you may be surprised. Furthermore, it’ll make you think – if the skewed percentages don’t correlate to gender equality, what is behind the low number of female pilots?
Why are there fewer female pilots than male pilots?
Before we get into which country has the most female pilots, let’s look at why there are so few. There are several factors. First of all, the British and US commercial airlines really took off after WWII. This meant they could dip into a ready pool of trained pilots eager to work – who were mostly male. There were female pilots during the war but there was a general agreement, men needed the jobs more. The women should go back home to look after the kids.
By the 50’s the glamorous image of the dashing male pilot was firmly set into our imagination. The age of the stewardess was taking off too. Soon the roles on board became clearly delineated. Pilots were male, highly (and expensively) trained. Women were stewardesses, quickly trained and easily dismissed once they got married. This all contributes to a model in which for many years, boys were encouraged to imagine a career as a pilot whereas girls were not.
Besides this, the best route into a career as a commercial pilot is still via recruitment. If you look at BA the recruitment page, you’ll see you only need to be 17 years old to apply. And the training is also referred to as the Cadet Programme. This all adds up to attracting very young people into the training. These young people need to have been encouraged to consider the role from a young age. While many women may consider the possibility later on, independently, if they’re not prompted from an early age – they still miss out.
Which airline has the fewest female pilots?
So when we guess who employees the most female pilots, we probably think of airlines in the developed world. How about Norwegian, Qantas or Virgin Atlantic? It may surprise you to learn, Norwegian has one of the lowest percentages – just 1%. Virgin’s female pilots make up just 3.2% of the whole. Qantas boats 4.3%, but still. As a point of reference – worldwide only 5 in every 100 pilots is female.
Get to the point already!
So bucking the association between social equality and female pilots, India is the country with the highest percentage of woman in the job.
In India female pilots make up almost 13% of the workforce. But why is that? In essence, the Indian airline industry has made the job attractive to women. That, and they are actively recruiting in huge numbers to meet growing demand.
If you look at wage equality as a whole in India, it is very bleak for women. Fifty percent of the population is engaged in low-pay agriculture, but women make up 70% of the whole farming work force. In comparison, the airlines offer union-mandated equal pay for women, a safe workplace and day-care services. There is also a sense of the double advantage of education and aspiration. The number of people in secondary education in India is rising. But the increase in women is double that of the men. This means, many more women are becoming professionals. And outside of medicine, engineering and teaching, being an airline pilot is seen as a decent middle class job.
So when we wonder why Norwegian has so few female pilots, we may have to ask something different. Is being a pilot as an attractive job as it appears? Long hours, irregular hours, cramped working condition? As Norwegian women already have high levels of equality and child care – perhaps the role is just not that desirable to them. Either that, or there’s something more sinister going on.
That’s just my thoughts on the matter. If you have any ideas, let me know.