Airlines and women (not) in leadership once again topped the talking points on International Women's Day

9 March, 2020

International Women's Day is celebrated on the 08-Mar every year around the world and is a focal point in the movement for women's rights. While, much progress has been made to protect and promote women’s rights in recent times, a gender gap remains. On average, women receive between 30% and 40% less pay than men earn for the same work and the airline business for one knows it needs to work to find equality, not just in gender but across all diversity.

The first International Women’s Day occurred on 19-Mar-1911 and included rallies and organised meetings in countries such as Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. It was moved to 08-Mar-1913 and has subsequently been a fixed date in the calendar.

This year’s missions to help forge a gender equal world, included celebrating women's achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality. “An equal world is an enabled world. How will you help forge a gender equal world? Celebrate women's achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality,” was its slogan.

Airlines and the wider travel and transport industries are certainly working hard in this endeavour – but are they doing enough? Back in 2010, respected aviation intelligence specialist CAPA – Centre for Aviation conducted a study on the state of airline gender diversity around the world, asking “why don’t women run airlines?” Each year it is certainly worth using this as a benchmark to see what progress has been made.

That study a decade ago demonstrated that 18 airlines around the world were led by women, noting that a “velocity of change” was needed. Since then CAPA has conducted a number of panel discussions on the topic at its Summits around the world. Here’s an example from the CAPA World Aviation Outlook Summit in Malta in Dec-2019.

So, what progress has been made ten years later? Well, according to CAPA the bad news is that the number of female airline CEOs hasn’t improved at all over the past decade and in fact has diminished. Today, only 12 airlines currently have a female in the role of CEO, president or managing director.

“That is not a fact that the industry can be proud of. There are continuous assertions by senior figures in airlines of the obvious need to embrace the skills that half the population has to offer,” says CAPA.

Certainly, there is more to the wider issue of women in airlines than just the top job. But as a lightning rod for broader gender representation in the airline industry, there is no more visible indicator of any progress that has been made. Sadly there is little indication there hasn’t actually been any at all.

Elsewhere, it appears more progress is indeed being made. Last year, The Blue Swan Daily highlighted a new study that revealed that tourism offers women more opportunities for leadership roles, has a larger female workforce and a smaller gender wage-gap.

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), in collaboration with UN Women, The German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), World Bank Group and Amadeus, Global Report on Women in Tourism highlighted the progress the global tourism sector has made in advancing gender equality, with key case studies and statistics gathered from around the world.

It showed that the majority of the tourism workforce worldwide was female with 54% of people employed in tourism women compared to 39% in the broader economy. As an industry it also offered women more opportunities for leadership roles: 23% of tourism Ministers are female compared to 20.7% of Ministers overall. The wage-gap was also smaller in the tourism sector with women in tourism earning 14.7% less than men compared to 16.8% in the broader economy.

This subject remains a key discussion point in the airline sector where there are relatively few female airline CEOs. International Air Transport Association (IATA) has launched its 25by2025 Campaign—an airline industry initiative to advance gender diversity in the airline industry by 2025.

While just a voluntary campaign for member airlines, it represents a commitment to increase the number of women in senior positions (to be defined by the member airlines) by either 25% against currently reported metrics or to minimum representation of 25% by 2025. It is also working to increase the number of women in under-represented jobs (e.g. pilots and operations) by either 25% against currently reported metrics or to a minimum representation of 25% by 2025.

There is currently no comprehensive airline industry-wide gender diversity statistical report. But, with women representing around 5% of the global pilot population and 3% of CEOs, the gender imbalance in the industry is clear.

As another International Women's Day passes, everyone at The Blue Swan Daily and CAPA – Centre for Aviation continues to agitate for and encourage all in the airline industry to rethink how this sad situation has been allowed to persist for so long. It's not just sad. It's downright foolish. It is certainly not a situation that can be allowed to continue for another decade!