In the last couple years, the shortage of women in aviation has gained a lot of attention. Most of that attention is focused on female pilots. There’s another career in aviation where women are an even smaller minority: Maintenance.
According to the FAA’s 2015 Civil Airmen Statistics, female mechanics comprise just 2.4% of certificated Airframe & Powerplant mechanics! As a female A&P myself, I think these women deserve more of our attention, and here’s why.
We’ve been around since the very beginning.
Phoebe Omlie was the first woman to become a licensed aircraft mechanic in 1927– which, by the way, was the very first year that the Department of Commerce’s Aeronautics Branch began issuing pilot and mechanic licenses. She held positions at both the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA), and set the precedent for excellence in female mechanics.
In some circles, female mechanics are still regarded as an anomaly or a “new” phenomenon in aviation maintenance, but that simply isn’t accurate! We’ve always been here.
Female mechanics can help fight the mechanic shortage.
Since those early days, we haven’t broken any records in demographic growth, but female mechanics continue to be a lasting presence in aviation maintenance. We might be one of the biggest minorities across all aviation careers, but that still equates to over 8,000 women who can turn wrenches and buck rivets!
I’ve spoken to many Directors of Maintenance and other decision-makers in aviation operations across the U.S. One comment seems to be pretty universal: “I’m always short on mechanics. I can’t find talent!”
Instead of the normal resume-crawling on JSfirm or turning to headhunting agencies, try networking with the wealth of talent found in organizations such as the Association of Women in Aviation Maintenance (AWAM) or Women in Aviation International (WAI). In both membership groups, you will find extremely motivated and talented maintenance professionals that could make a big impact on your team.
Female mechanics excel in maintenance training.
As maintenance professionals, we know that “trainability” is incredibly important for new mechanics and can set the tone for what quality of work they will put out over their career.
Anecdotally, I believe women make exceptional maintenance students. I graduated #1 in my class in both my military and civilian maintenance training, despite being the only woman and having less of a formal mechanical background than some of my male peers. I chalk it up to being a motivated and voraciously hungry student who layered basic mechanical skills over a very strong foundation of systems theory.
It turns out that there’s evidence of this drive across many aviation training institutions. Just take a look at Aviation Career and Technical High School in Long Island City, New York. It’s a nationally-recognized high school that introduces students to aviation with a FAA-approved curriculum. Students get to actually work towards their Airframe & Powerplant certification.
Interestingly, the female students at “Aviation High” hold more leadership positions than male students, and are frequently stand-out performers. This is even more impressive since they make up less than a fifth of the student body.
Similar performance has been observed across many other training programs, and Reggie Baker- executive director of Aviation Institute of Maintenance (AIM)- says that being more detail-oriented makes women particularly excel as technicians. According to a recent University of Glasgow study, women may be “superior at tasks requiring high-level cognitive control, particularly planning, monitoring and inhibition,” especially when in stressful or multitasking situations.
Sounds like a recipe for success, right?
Female mechanics break up the monotony.
While this is a subjective point, it is hard to deny that having a little diversity in the hangar can be good for both morale and productivity. The more mechanics you have that can approach problems from a different angle, the higher your chances are of having a team that can troubleshoot creatively. Everyone how that can be key when the mystery ghost fault hits a particularly difficult aircraft.
You might also find that the female mechanic you add to the mix is a more effective communicator. That’s important considering that 80% of maintenance professionals cite communication as a major challenge in their hangar. A study by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology found that across 17 different countries and many different industries, teams with more women saw greater team confidence and efficiency.
Female mechanics are just good for business.
What if I told you that adding women to your maintenance operation could directly translate to more profit? There’s a growing wealth of research that is beginning to support that very claim.
One Credit Suisse study found that companies with women holding the majority senior management roles enjoyed improved sales growth and higher investment returns. A Grant Thornton study also came to the same conclusion. It turns out women make pretty exceptional leaders while also improving the management abilities in others.
While anecdotal, there is the argument that woman aircraft owners might prefer to do business with shops who employ female mechanics- similar to the success of female-run automotive shops such as Caroline’s Cars, which has won over both women and men in their community looking for trustworthy automotive maintenance. Employing women there meant improving the business’ reputation with customers.
Personally, I have found the women in our industry to be fiercely loyal and supportive of one another in order to help improve our experience in a male-dominated industry. Incidentally, we also encourage and hold each other to higher standards, which is good for everyone!
Do you have a rockstar female mechanic in your hangar? Leave us a comment and brag a little bit!
We love to hear how you’re making your maintenance operation stand out… after all, this work is hard. It’s even harder when your team doesn’t communicate very well. Want to help your team be more productive? SynapseMX can help.
Kasey Dixon, Industry Happiness Advocate @ SynapseMX.