More data on aviation’s gender pay gap has become available since our first post on this in January, and a theme has emerged across the more prominent pay gap reports.

This is that although men and women may be paid equally for doing the same job, the figures are significantly affected by the fact that the vast – the very vast – majority of senior and therefore more highly paid jobs are held by men. In most cases, in aviation, this means pilots. We saw in the EasyJet report that just 86 of their 1493 pilots were female; at British Airways the figure is 94% male, at Jet2 it is 95%, and 95% again at Tui Airways. The BA report helpfully notes what their figures would look like if pilots were removed from the equation – there would be a 1% gap, in favour of women. It is clear where the problem is.

So how do we fix it? We have seen countless commitments to ‘close the gap’ and declarations of equal opportunity and gender-blind recruiting, but what does doing something about it actually look like? It may be, after all, that recruitment policies and retention initiatives are not the source of the problem. It may be that it begins much earlier than that.

Starting from the beginning

There are many studies showing that girls lose interest in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – the subject areas most helpful for pilots) in primary school, with recent research confirming entrenched gender stereotypes of ‘boy’ subjects and ‘girl’ subjects, leading to ‘boy’ jobs (like being a pilot) and ‘girl’ jobs. For example, Girlguiding’s 2017 Girls Attitudes Survey  has found that while 15% of girls aged 7-10 felt that STEM subjects seemed to be for boys, this rises to a staggering 52% for girls aged 11-21[1].

Efforts are being made to change these perceptions. Most high street bookshops currently feature displays of recent books showing children, regardless of their gender, that women can do – and often have done – anything. The ‘Fantastically Great Women’ books are prominent, with pilot Amelia Earhart and astronaut Valentina Tereshkova on the covers; ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’ is in its second volume; Amelia Earhart again covers her own edition of the ‘Little People, Big Dreams’ series; there is a shiny hardback called ‘Women in Science’ (with specific sections on STEM) and, perhaps most tellingly, in March the world of ‘Mr Men & Little Miss’ welcomed a new character – Little Miss Inventor.

In addition to the books, the latest research from Egmont Publishing shows that girls at primary school age have been the biggest growth category over the last five years for children’s magazines. In answer to this demand we see titles like Scoop celebrating International Women’s Day and pioneering women – including pilots like Ruth Law – and with a target age range of 7+, this is aimed at just the right bracket to make a real difference to the way its readers see these careers. This is a good start, and these books and magazines help to normalise the image of female pilots, scientists, etc. for children at the age when the crucial first impressions are formed.

However, and however groundbreaking they were, the Ruth Laws and Amelia Earharts and Amy Johnsons of the world broke that ground close to a century ago. Where can a girl look now for examples that will inspire her to stick with STEM subjects long enough to make it to the cockpit?

Leading by example

The best initiative we have seen is Girlguiding’s new Brownies aviation badge, sponsored by EasyJet and its Amy Johnson Flying Initiative, which helps girls understand the opportunities available and consider being a pilot as a genuine option.  Participants build experimental aircraft and have the chance to see and speak with EasyJet’s female pilots, giving them the visible young role models they need to help get past inherited job/gender stereotypes.

There are opportunities for creative-thinking corporates as well. Accenture’s ‘Girls in STEM’ initiative, for example, shows the company doing the research, taking the lead in discussions of the issues complicating female involvement in STEM subjects, and doing something about it by holding events all over the world designed to get girls engaged with and hungry for these skills. This research has found that ‘parents and teachers agree that children need guidance from businesses to visualize the career options that STEM opens up’, and that ‘talks in schools from industry professionals… would help to make these subjects more appealing’[2]. That’s how the aviation industry can help – we need to show up and speak to kids about what we do before the damage is done.

Going back to move forward

The new rules on gender pay gap reporting in the UK have revealed a huge disparity in the number of male and female pilots, and fixing it will not just be a matter of adjusting recruiting policies. We have to go back to the classrooms and playgrounds where girls are losing interest in STEM subjects, and perceiving a difference between ‘boy’ jobs and ‘girl’ jobs.

That’s how early we have to start to ease the gender pay gap in aviation. Right at the beginning – by normalising the idea that girls can fly just as well as boys can with the ‘Little Miss’ books and school excursions to STEM events and bedtime stories of fantastically great women. We have a lot of ground to cover, but it is clear where the impact needs to be made for the benefits to flow through into adult life. We’re going to think about how we can contribute to this, and we encourage you to do the same.