Equal space on the flight deck : challenging the myth of the professional pilot
Newton, Noreen Philomena
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Subjectappreciative inquiry; gender of organizations; narrative inquiry; organizational analysis; organizational culture
Currently, women in the field of aviation constitute less than six percent of the professional pilot population, while the demand for pilots is unparalleled. The purpose of this study is to understand how female pilots have confronted barriers, and how their experience can inform a cultural shift, challenging the masculinized image of the airline pilot and making room for women on the flight deck. Despite the inherent sexism of aviation culture, these women achieved leadership roles on the flight deck. This interpretivist study was designed as a narrative inquiry through an appreciative lens. Nine women with between two to four decades of experience as professional pilots were interviewed. Their stories detailed their career experiences, capturing how historically they were excluded from leadership roles in the aviation industry as they were compared to the image of the mythical heroic male as the norm, and found lacking. The analysis revealed that masculinized leadership styles of the professional pilot and organizational cultural bias toward male pilots are still present in the aviation industry. Nonetheless, these women have both succeeded and augmented the image of the professional pilot by advancing and enacting feminine leadership values, by organizing their own networks, and increasing the visibility of women who fly. However, for a cultural shift to occur in their organizations, women must continue to communicate the different values and goals that have led to their success, and which are not reflected in the dominant image of the (male, masculine) pilot. In turn, the leadership in the aviation industry must recognize that, in order to create an inclusive flight deck to the benefit of all crew members, these women’s voices need to be heard and feminized values need to be integrated into the culture. Keywords: organizational culture, women in aviation, gender of organizations, narrative inquiry, appreciative inquiry, professional pilot, gender
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