Most people who follow this website are probably aware of the low percentages of women in STEM fields. Research shows that women hold only 24% of STEM jobs and only makeup 30% of all STEM degree holders. But in my field of aviation/aerospace, the numbers are even lower.
It may surprise you to learn that of all licensed pilots in the world, only 6% are women. The percentage of women that are airline pilots is about 4%. The percentage of women working as air traffic controllers is 16%. In my official profession as an aerospace engineer, women are about 13% of the workforce. The most depressing statistic is that women only hold 2% of the aircraft mechanic jobs.
Lack of Role Models
I believe that one of the primary reasons for this is a lack of role models. When I earned my private pilot license during my senior year of high school, not only was I the lone female flight student at the airport, but there were no women working anywhere on the airfield. I was a very intelligent person (3rd in my graduating class of over 700 students), yet it never occurred to me that I could be a professional pilot, as I never saw a single woman working in aviation!
Sally Ride once said, “you can’t be what you can’t see”, and this is so true. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me they fly “all the time” and have never seen a female pilot, I am not surprised. And I can’t tell you how many times in my 30+ year career I was the only woman in my department. Sadly way too many times.
So how do we solve this problem?
By providing more role models, and role models of people from different backgrounds. This is why I am a member of Women in Aviation International (WAI), an organization all about providing networking, mentoring, education and career opportunities for women in our field. I talked about this a great deal when being interviewed for this feature article in Ranch and Coast magazine last year, which highlights one of the six impressive young women I have been mentoring for the past three years:
My “Dreams Soar” Journey
The importance of providing role models is the primary reason that I left my job in early 2017 to be a full-time, unpaid volunteer for Dreams Soar, Inc, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire the next generation of STEM and Aviation professionals.
Our founder, president, and pilot is the most amazing and inspiring person I’ve ever known, Shaesta Waiz. It took me all of 10 minutes on the phone with Shaesta to give up my career as it was, to help her fly solo around the world in a Beechcraft Bonanza, for the purpose of inspiring the next generation, particularly young girls around the globe who don’t necessarily have an awareness of the opportunities in front of them.
One of my roles for Dreams Soar, during Shaesta’s Global Flight for STEM, was to lead the planning of 32 Outreach events in 14 countries. During these events with children and young adults, Shaesta told her story of being born in an Afghan refugee camp, fleeing to the United States as a child with her family, going to school in an underprivileged district, but nonetheless finding her way to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, earning her commercial pilot’s license, starting a nonprofit organization, and planning and completing a flight around the world.
She is the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe solo in a single-engine aircraft. And she is setting the most powerful role model of all to young girls everywhere. Shaesta can stand up in front of a group of young girls who are shy and unsure of their futures and say, “I was you! And I am no different than you. If I can do this, you can do anything. You must believe in yourself and allow your dreams to soar”.
The world needs more Shaestas. So go out there and be a role model. Use your superpower to prove to others that anything is possible. Help us inspire more young kids to pursue STEM and Aviation education and careers. As I always say, “the sky is not the limit”!
To follow Dreams Soar:
About the Author:
Jill Meyers, the Global Outreach Lead for Dreams Soar, Inc., has over 30 years of experience in the fields of aviation and aerospace. She obtained her pilot license at age 17, holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, and is an Air Force veteran. She spent over 20 years working as an aerospace engineer, program manager, and business leader, supporting various companies including Boeing, Raytheon, and Eclipse Aviation, working on a variety of aircraft including the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance aircraft; Air Force One and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Jill is a long-time member of the Society of Women Engineers, Women in Aviation International (WAI), and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She consults to several organizations working to encourage young girls to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education and careers.