Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Venus and Mars: GWW's Meeks on Gender Differences on the Flight Deck
In part one of my interview with Girls With Wings founder Lynda Meeks, her own words proved my point that as far as GA's efforts to recruit females into our community, there is no better ambassador out there than Meeks, known in the Twittosphere as @GirlsWithWings.
Her answers in part one told the tale of why we need to grow the female pilot population, and how that starts with introducing young girls to flying. In part two below, Meeks gets into what a female might expect once they earn those wings.
World of Flying: Do you think there is any difference between male and female pilots?
Lynda Meeks: Definitely. I used to tell girls I present to that I had a secret for them: that girls make better pilots than boys because they have a better control touch. But I stopped doing that because I didn’t want them to think that is the only quality important in a pilot. There are technical and mechanical aspects to being a pilot that girls may shy away from, so in my interactive demonstration of “everything” a pilot knows to complete a flight, I show them that even these intimidating portions of our training can be successfully mastered if they are willing to break down the big concepts and learn them a bit at a time. Women also learn differently than men, so a woman may struggle more with a training subject as a man might explain it.
I have only twice received any type of flight training from another woman and just briefly. The last time this happened I asked a simulator instructor about a system in the Citation X I was struggling to understand. In two minutes she explained it to me in a way that allowed the “fog” to lift. Women like to fully comprehend a subject they are studying more than men do and will tend to get tangled up in the weeds. Most men are O.K. with not understanding things initially, figuring, eh, they’ll get it eventually. Many w have told me they fear falling behind their peers and are concerned with disappointing their instructors if they don’t immediately pick a subject up. But on the other hand women WILL work their heinies off to succeed when they put their minds to it.
Of course I’m generalizing, but I find the above to be true in most cases. Because of gender differences I insist on doing my Girls With Wings presentations to audiences of girls only. When the teacher doesn’t want to exclude the boys, I say that having both boys and girls in the group will inhibit the girls from fully participating. Boys are more aggressive and self-assured , and when in a group entirely of girls, girls feel more comfortable expressing themselves. It is not that I’m anti-boy, and most teachers do agree with this assessment. It reminds me of a time in flight school, in a class populated with all guys except for me (as it usually ends up - even now there is little chance of my being in a training class attended by another woman) when I bit my tongue to answer a question that I was sure I knew. The ground instructor kept asking what a part of the rotor system was called and my flight instructor had always insisted I named everything I touched on the preflight. Finally in frustration I yelled, “It’s a delta hinge!” My classmates were stunned. I hadn’t been known for speaking up in class for fear of being wrong and looking like “the stupid girl.” I’m still reluctant to speak up in my training classes because if I ask for clarification the male ground instructors (yes, they’ve always been male) spend the rest of the class helpfully (and embarrassingly) asking me if I am understanding everything.
World of Flying: As a professional charter pilot, do you ever run into males (or females) who are not comfortable having their jet flown by a woman?
Lynda Meeks: Thus far, no one has deplaned on me, thankfully, though I have heard of it happening. Whether my passengers just simply left their doubts unspoken, I have no idea. I have had quite a few times when people thought I was the flight attendant, but some get really excited when they find out I’m the pilot. As in, “I’ve never had a female pilot before!” I get a few people telling me its “cute” I’m a pilot, but after 16 years I feel like I should be seen as a professional, not as a novelty. As a captain on the airlines there were so many times when I’d be sitting up front filling up the paperwork and people would board the plane and wonder why I was sitting so far in front and not “attending” to the passengers. I had maintenance guys at the airline REFUSE to talk to me, and I remember one FO in particular that finally screamed at them, “Why are you talking to me? Go talk to her, she’s the captain!”
World of Flying: If there was one thing you could do to help add more females to the licensed pilot community, what would that be?
Lynda Meeks: Girls With Wings uses women in aviation as role models to inspire girls to achieve their full potential. We realize girls don’t all want to be pilots, and that’s fine, but we want them to know it’s an option. I have had more than one person say to me, “I didn’t know there was such a thing as a girl pilot,” which I find amazing. Many more say, “Yes, but are you a ‘real’ pilot?” I at least want to make sure many more people want to at least SEE a girl pilot and recognize her as such (I’ve even had female flight attendants hesitantly ask me if I’m a pilot while I’m in uniform!). Research has shown that we can tell girls that they can be anything that they want to be, but if we can’t show them examples of women succeeding, it negates the message. Plus, we need more positive role models for kids, and who better than aviation professionals, who need to show dedication, stay healthy, have a good driving/academic record, etc.? We even have a branch of Girls With Wings, called Mommies With Wings, since there’s very little information out there about being able to raise a family as a pilot.
Being a pilot is not only something a girl can aspire to, she can be very successful at it! Although Girls With Wings does not provide flights for girls, we do direct folks to seek out Young Eagles flights if they want to pursue this option further. We just need to get them in the cockpit. And we need to get more opportunities for girls to see younger, more women pilots. The average age of a student pilot is 43, and just like going to the airport with your dad to see other middle aged male pilots, this does not encourage their participation. Once they’re hooked on the idea of an aviation career or hobby, they can continue to visit the website and its message board, as well as follow the Girls With Wings Facebook Group or Twitter page for more encouragement.
World of Flying: How can pilots and aviation businesses help Girls With Wings and you in achieving your goals?
Lynda Meeks: When I started Girls With Wings I was told more than once that “there was no market for such an concept.” Not only have I proven them wrong, I have found that the encouragement for the GWW mission is much greater than I had ever imagined. Girls With Wings is growing by leaps and bounds and I do need the assistance of others to help GWW succeed. I can always use more role models and presenters to join the clubs that I am forming around the country to do presentations, We would appreciate sponsorship so that we can purchase the materials for the presentations as well as donations for our scholarship to fund flying lessons toward a PPL. I need more publicity to spread the word about what we’re doing, as well as assistance in the things I’m not experienced in, for example, website design and online games, PR and Marketing, merchandise research, legal advice, publication editing, administrative assistance, video recording, etc.; the list is endless really. Volunteers provide the framework for the success of Girls With Wings, and you don’t need to be a woman or a pilot to help. Anyone with skills and willingness to be a self-starting individual should get in touch with me at Lynda@GirlsWithWings.com. Thank you!