Nivedita Bhasin became the youngest airline captain in the world in 1989, but the Indian pilot still remembers her early years, when other crew members encouraged her to run to the cabin so passengers wouldn’t be nervous to see a woman in charge of the flight. aircraft.
Three decades after the start of Bhasin’s career, female pilots are no longer a rarity in the world. Indiaand the country has become a success story when it comes to diversity in the airline industry.
India has the highest percentage of female pilots in the world, according to the International Society of Commercial Pilots, with about 12.4% of the total, against 5.5% in the United States. USAthe largest aviation market in the world, and 4.7% in the UK.
The statistics raise questions about how a nation that ranked 135th out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s gender equality ranking managed to reverse the trend in this sector.
Some of the answers may offer lessons for other countries and sectors that are struggling to bring more women into their workforces.
At companies who are more diverse tend to perform better, and some studies have even shown that female pilots have fewer safety incidents.
Hiring more women could also help airlines deal with staff shortages as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. Covid and demand picks up.
Pathfinders like Bhasin say Indian women are encouraged by a range of factors, from outreach programs to improved corporate policies and strong family support.
Many Indian women were drawn to flying through an air wing of the National Cadet Corps, formed in 1948, a sort of youth program where students are trained to operate ultralight aircraft.
To make expensive commercial pilot training more accessible to women, some state governments offer grants and companies such as Honda provide full scholarships for an 18-month course at an Indian aviation school and help job.
“India started decades ago recruiting women into scientific and technical positions, including pilots,” said Michele Halleran, professor and director of diversity initiatives at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.
“In the US, we only started the demand for a diversity movement in aviation because of our current drastic shortage of pilots and technicians.”
The Indian Air Force began recruiting female pilots for helicopters and transport aircraft in the 1990s.
It wasn’t until this year that they were allowed to take on roles on fighter jets.
Some airlines in India are drafting policies to retain female talent.
THE IndigoIndia’s largest passenger airline, said it offers flexibility for female pilots and crew to continue working safely during pregnancy.
It gives 26 weeks of paid maternity leave which is required by law and also offers day care.
Pilots can opt for a flexible contract with two weeks of leave in one month, until the child turns 5 years old.
Vistara offers pregnant pilots and crew the option of temporary ground jobs or administrative roles until they are ready to fly, according to a spokesperson.
It also grants paid maternity leave for six months and reimburses childcare costs.
Some companies also assign a driver and guard to drop off and pick up women who fly late at night, said Hana Khan, a commercial pilot for an Indian airline.
Many pilots in India also have a more prosaic explanation for their successes: family support.
India’s family structure, where extended families often live together and grandparents and aunts often help raise children or run the household, helps in an industry that requires long hours and regular travel far and wide, pilots say.
“It is no secret that we have the support of parents and it is normal to hire employees,” said Zoya Agarwal, who caught the attention of the international media when she commanded the first flight of the Air India nonstop from San Francisco to Bangalore with an all-female crew last year.
“Women like me can fly to San Francisco for five days and not worry about what’s going on at home. You have that comfort.”
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