The business aviation field has been called a "boys' club," and with good reason. Illustration by John T. Lewis.
Illustration by John T. Lewis

The Bizav Boys' Club

In his recent Business Jet Traveler interview with Elite Aviation owner Chris Holifield, journalist Matt Thurber noted that “you don’t see a lot of women-owned aviation businesses.” Bizav, he said, is “a boys’ club.”

It sure is, and so is the rest of the aviation world.

Granted, female pilots have become more common, and there’s even a magazine called Aviation for Women. But can you imagine a periodical called Aviation for Men? The title sounds ridiculous. Women in aviation, on the other hand, are still enough of a novelty to merit a dedicated publication.

Just look around. The CEOs of the National Business Aviation Administration, General Aviation Manufacturers Association and National Air Transportation Association are all male. The heads of ARG/U.S., Wyvern and the Flight Safety Foundation are all male. The CEOs of the six major fractional-jet-share providers are all male. Virtually all the leading bizav consultants are male. The CEOs of Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Cessna, Dassault, Embraer, Gulfstream, Hawker Beechcraft, Piaggio Aero and Pilatus are all male.

Are you beginning to detect a pattern?

Business Jet Traveler magazine, which I edit, mirrors the aviation community and the overall society. We feature women on our cover and in our pages every chance we get, but we don’t get enough chances. We have interviewed some prominent women, such as financial adviser Suze Orman and former New Jersey governor Christie Whitman and, as noted above, we recently ran a Q&A with Elite Aviation’s Holifield. But the vast majority of our covers and interview subjects have featured men. Our audience is predominantly male, too, and so are our company’s CEO, COO, EVP, publisher, production/manufacturing manager, editor-in-chief, magazine and online editors and creative director, though we do have a few women in senior-level positions.

I know that many societal factors contribute to this imbalance and that it isn’t necessarily a reflection on the practices of our company or any of the others I’ve mentioned. But that doesn’t make the situation any better.

The good news is that attitudes and laws are changing, albeit too slowly. My 13-year-old daughter can barely believe it when I tell her this, but in my admittedly not-too-short lifetime, there was a period when employers could legally specify in an ad whether they sought to hire a man or a woman. I still remember the “Help Wanted–Male” notices in The New York Times, which would announce positions for attorneys, corporate executives and other professionals–and the “Help Wanted–Female” listings, which would say things like, “Needed–Gal Friday. Must be able to type 55 wpm.” This continued for nearly a decade after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed job discrimination based on race.

That this mistreatment of women persisted should surprise no one who has paid attention to history. While blacks often had to fight for the right to vote until the Civil Rights Act of 1965, they at least earned that right officially way back in 1870, with the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which said that the right to vote could not be denied based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” But that amendment made no mention of gender. Women had to wait until 1920 and the 19th Amendment to gain the right to vote.

As I’ve said, there’s no question that we’ve witnessed progress in recent years. More and more women now occupy top slots at corporations, for example, and, in 2008, a woman had a serious shot at the presidency for the first time. And there are more women in aviation than there were a few decades ago.

But it’s way too soon to celebrate. Men still hold the vast majority of senior executive positions, women still typically earn less than men for the same jobs and some people still wouldn’t vote for a female presidential candidate. Moreover, the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment–which simply stated that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex”–never became law because proponents failed to find 38 states willing to ratify it by the 1982 deadline.  And while it has been reintroduced in Congress in every session since then, it has never garnered enough votes to allow the ratification process to restart. In 2010, meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Antonio Scalia stated his view that the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which ostensibly provides equal protection to all people under the law, does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex.  

Here’s hoping different views will soon prevail and that we’ll someday live in a world with many female pilots and aviation CEOs–not to mention female U.S. presidents. Until we do, millions of women will be shortchanged and both men and women will miss out on the benefits of their untapped capabilities.                                                                                                                      

Show comments (2)

Jeff - no more tears in public, please. If there were more women longing for the hard and demanding work of an aviation industry or service CEO, we would have them already. Meanwhile, the worldwide fashion industry is desperately short of male leaders. Among lawyers and bankers, you ll find nearly equal employment, however, there you find more time for shopping. And they are paid better. Let us all acknowledge and accept that boys are boys and women are girls. Who wants a female boss, after all, when you have your girls friend and/or wife back home, telling you what to do ?

At first I thought you were trying to be funny but you are serious. I am the last guy I would ever see taking the other side of your post being referred to in my career as a "walking HR issue", it's good I own the place.

You are muddling two issues. Many studies have been done trying to figure out how to address training issues with female pilots. What is interesting is it is now a moot point, it never was a gender issue. More than likely two generations ago the pilot candidates worked on their own cars and had mechanical aptitudes while the vast majority of femal applicants did not have that experience. In this day and age most student pilots could not remove the cowling let alone understand how a turbine or resiprocating engine functions. If flight training was just a matter of conditioned responses we would be training monkeys to fly airplanes. Until we can figure out how to train pilots to be one with the machine they are operating we will continue to have accidents such as Colgan where we fly perfectly good airplanes into the ground.

However this has nothing to do with being a direct report to a woman. I am 50 years old and a complete sexist pig however somehow I have managed to get beyond that and so should anyone in our age group. The next generation coming up does not have this issue so just get over it. Women make great managers, planners, strategic thinkers etc.

One other issue was addressed in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review. They called it the arousal factor or some such thing. The bottom line is males are genetically wired to evaluate their desire to reproduce with every female they encounter. No solution exists for the problem and unless we want to castrate male workers we (males as a whole) simply need to behave, and punish our couterparts who have to vocalize or act on this primal instinct. Tacit acceptance of "bathroom humor" (I am not saying this as eloquently as the HBR) creates a "fraternity" like atmosphere that is toxic to female management growth.

We have a long way to go, I have never seen a women at a QB gathering and many other aviation fraternities. It's us old farts than need to make women feel welcome in management, governance and all other roles in our industry.

Now I have to go check the MEL on the G650, I am almost sure it has "testicles" under pilot. Gotta get that fixed (see I can't help myself).

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