We Can’t Afford to Lose Them  

Kelly Murphy of Emerald Media USA reports.

On 2–3 December what was once National Business Aviation Association Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE), the world’s largest executive aviation show, went computer-generated and renamed itself Virtual Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (VBACE).

The last year has taken a toll on people and companies across the industry, and new research indicates that the global pandemic has negatively impacted women in particular.

Kriya Short, Textron Aviation Senior Vice President of Parts & Programmes and a member of the US Federal Aviation Administration’s Women in Aviation Advisory Board, led an inspiring conversation during VBACE with other female executives.   

This thought leadership session focused on why supporting and retaining women in this industry’s workforce now is critical for the next generation. They also offered tips during the hour-long discussion on how companies can address the core challenges women are facing.

For the sixth year, McKinsey & Company published its Women in the Workplace study in September acknowledging “the events of 2020 have turned workplaces upside down” owing to the challenging circumstances of Covid-19. The company’s research found women in particular have been negatively impacted. One in four women in corporate America have considered downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce.

“The way to engage has shifted, and we have had to expand our way of communicating and staying engaged,” noted Short. “Women are bearing the brunt of the home life and managing kids at school – we are all in this together.”

Gail Grimmett, Wheels Up Chief Experience Officer, added: “I think in times of crisis – it gives people time to pause and assess what people are passionate about, what they want to do, and where they want to go. This is a time of deep reflection.” She underlined: “It’s important to touch base with your employees” suggesting a virtual happy hour is one way to connect. “Everybody is bearing the brunt differently.”

Sheryl Barden, Aviation Personnel International President & CEO, observed while business aviation organizations have not yet returned to a full schedule of flying, women are taking this gift of time pointing to the trend to see more women pulling out of the workforce. “My all-female team has always been virtual; on our calls we always start with a fun ice-breaker. While we can’t replace the warmth of an in-person office setting, we just start the meeting with something personal instead of tasks,” Barded added.

Rene Banglesdorf, Charlie Bravo Aviation CEO, sees hope in that women are being incredible innovators as they leave the corporate workspace and define their own workspace as entrepreneurs. “In the last six months, we have observed more women are using business aviation with half of our aircraft transactions this year doing business with women whether it is buying aircraft or Wheels Up memberships.”  Banglesdorf added, “There’s an element of safety that we have never thought about before, and as a result it’s an unprecedented time to pull more women users in private aviation and that will naturally attract more women to work in this segment of the industry.”

In times of crisis, people typically look at the education system, said Lindsey Dreiling, Kansas State University Executive Director of Aviation Strategy, adding that the number of incoming students to her university’s aviation programmes are higher than last year. “We are finding new ways of doing things virtually, and we are reaching a broader audience by opening up a doorway to those that haven’t had access before.” She also noted: “This has been a time to reflect – a shift to what does the employee need and how can we serve that employee. For example, we are shifting employees’ schedules to be more flexible with the work day hours.”

Emelie Knobloch, Textron Aviation talent management representative, K-12 Programs, echoed the thoughts of other panellists. “Focus on flexibility. Schedules are changing for everyone with children’s school schedules. For our employees, we published an alternate work arrangement tool kit. Our normal tactics for reaching students have changed with virtual and drop-offs at school.”