In an industry that was once male-dominated, we’re now seeing a shift with more female pilots and a change in how the industry approaches diversity.
Nivedita Bhasin became the world’s youngest commercial airline captain in 1989, and to this day still recalls how her crew treated her in her early years, as they would rush her to the cockpit because they believed passengers would get nervous if they saw a female pilot.
Now, years after Nivedita Bhasin’s career, female pilots are no longer a rarity in India’s aviation sector, making the country number one when it comes to diversity in the industry. India has the highest percentage of female pilots worldwide, as the International Society of Women Airline Pilots estimates India has about 12.4%, compared with 5.5% in the US, which is the world’s largest aviation market, and 4.7% in the UK.
However, the country placed 135th among 146 countries on the World Economic Forum’s ranking of nations based on gender parity. The statistics raise questions about how India was able to reverse the trend in the airline industry.
There have been some studies that show female pilots have fewer safety incidents and businesses that are more diverse tend to perform better. America had almost five times as many drastic air accidents as India since 1945, while the UK has had 15 more deadly incidents, according to Aviation Safety Network.
As the size of demand is different in these regions, differences in statistics could simply be the outcome of the US being a larger aviation market than India, as more flights increase the probability of accidents. Regardless, many pilots do believe that having a large percentage of women is helpful to safety.
Need for More Female Pilots in the West
The demand for hiring more women is also seen as a way to help airlines address the staff shortages that are disrupting travel as the world emerges from the Covid pandemic and increased demand.
“India has started decades ago recruiting women into STEM positions, including pilots, in the U.S, we have only started the demand for a diversity movement in aviation because of our current drastic pilot and technician shortage.”- said Michele Halleran, a professor and director of diversity initiatives at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.
Nivedita Bhasin, as well as other trailblazers in the aviation sector, say Indian women are being encouraged by a string of factors from outreach programs to improved corporate policies and strong family support. The expense of commercial pilot training is a factor that is hindering more people in the industry as it needs to be more financially accessible.
Many female pilots in India also have a more definite 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 manage households, is particularly helpful in an industry that demands long hours and regular travel away from home, pilots say.
Some companies such as Honda Motor Co. give full scholarships for an 18-month course at an Indian flying school and after completion helps them get employment. Some airlines in India are devising policies to retain female talent.
“Over a period of time this consistent effort all over the country has led to large number of women choosing a profession some didn’t even know it existed,” Harpreet Singh said.