The movie ‘Courage under fire” starring’ Meg Ryan was an inspirational theme about women’s role in the heat of battle and their ability to make correct decisions.
The U.S. has always been in the forefront when it comes to women taking up the role previously considered the exclusive domain of men. The rules of the game are changing, and more and more women are assuming roles of responsibilities becoming tank commanders, fighter pilots, and frontline combatants.
For years it was argued that women were not up to the challenge and could not cope in command positions as such.
Women all over the world but most particularly in the United States have proven that they are up to the task to do things previously assigned to men.
It is not only in the armed forces only but also in virtually every sector of civilian life that women have attained and reached the heights of glory as CEOs of multinationals or communications giants.
To cite a few examples, Mary Barra is the CEO of General Motors, Meg Whitman of Hewlett-Packard, while Virginia Rometty heads IBM, Indra K Nooyi, Pepsico and Marilyn Hewson leads Lockheed Martin. In other words, women have taken up the mantle of responsibility in every field.
However, in the Aviation Industry in the USA women did not make many inroads until the late seventies.
The Aviation Industry had been exclusive male domain as to become a commercial pilot; pilots were required to accumulate a sufficient number of flight hours flying with the US Navy or Air Force, and women were not being inducted into the two services as pilots as they were barred from flying.
Women despite being trained by the Armed Forces and flying sophisticated aircraft including bombers, pursuit jets, and as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP ) the program was discontinued in 1944
In civilian life, these women flew as pilots and instructors and although highly qualified were not allowed to fly commercial aircraft, American Airlines, was the first to have a female pilot in 1973 and the first Captain in 1986.
The percentage of women pilots although low it is estimated that as of 2010 there were a total 7% of female certified pilots working with commercial airlines. (both private and commercial) in the United States were women. As of July 2014, approximately 5.12% of certified airline or commercial pilots in the United States are female.
Women working as pilots have certain issues which need to be addressed, the first and foremost being how to balance motherhood and their profession.
Most airlines do not have a maternity leave stipulation that is to say that female pilots must go on unpaid leave as and when the baby is about to be born. Some airlines tell their female pilots to go on leave eight to fourteen weeks before the due date.
Four women pilots have taken Delta Airlines to court for discrimination. The female pilots contend that they are can be assigned to ground duty during the maternity period.
Although they can claim sick leave pay and other benefits, it does not equal the full pay that they wish to have. A group of female pilots of Delta Airlines has made a Facebook page for which they are advocating full maternity paid leave.
Another major issue is that female pilots immediately after birth have to pump their breasts for lactation which means that on long haul flights they have to exit the cockpit or flight deck which raises significant concerns for aviation safety.
Although the federal aviation authority has not taken up the issue, it has been said that leaving the cockpit for twenty minutes is not acceptable. Some airline has lactation rooms, but the flight deck of a jumbo jet is not the typical workplace.
Four female pilots of Frontier Airlines are suing their employers for discrimination demanding to be reassigned duties on ground so that they can breastfeed their babies.
A former captain for Northwest Airlines, Kathy McCullogh has e admitted that maternity policies in the leading airlines are outdated and obsolete.
Stepping onto a plane often feels like walking into a time capsule. The primary reason for lack of rules for women is that female pilots constitute only four percent of the United States’ 159,000 certified airline pilots – a number that has been slow to rise over the past decade or so.
The first female pilot to be appointed in 1973 was Bonnie Tiburzi Caputo by American Airlines.
Caputo now 67, says that there was no such thing as maternity leaves in those days as there were no female pilots save her.
The issues concerning women pilots have not be resolved even after 40 years. Policies are set by agreements between the airlines and the collective bargaining agent (CBA).
Delta Airlines has now changed their policy. Subject to doctor’s approval female pilots can continue to work until the end of pregnancy. In other careers, balancing motherhood and the profession is quite different as compared to women pilots.
Some companies have very generous and extensive policies which cater to the employees’ wellbeing and her newborn child.
In enterprises, another point to note is that women employees are in sizeable numbers, so contractual agreements are made accordingly. The problem is also of communication with each other as it has been difficult to relate their work related issues as they hardly get to see each other or fly with each other.
However, that has changed with the forming of a Facebook group FAST —Female Aviators Sticking Together which has almost 6000 members now and another group DAMP or Delta Airlines Mommy pilots.
And the Delta and Frontier pilots know they are pressing an issue that still plagues a group long dominated by women: flight attendants.
Many experts who have studied the issue have opined that female pilots have a very complex problem to handle for the problems lies in the fact that they have joined a profession and asking for solutions when they are working in an organization which did not have them in their minds in the first place.
In the developed countries workers usually have a good working relationship with their employers and more or less all the main disputes relating to pay, leave, benefits and other conditions are mutually and amicably negotiated and settled and workers do not have to resort to violent protest to redress their grievances as is the won’t in the lesser developed countries.
Female pilots are as professional, responsible and prudent as their male counterparts and deserve equal treatment. Initially, they work as crop dusters, or in private aviation companies while they are in their early thirties they get jobs in the leading airlines but at which the same time they aspire to become mothers also and have a family.
So what is the alternate for these pilot mummies? Should they go on maternity leave for a year and lose out on pay or should they engage in other jobs till they get back to their professions?
For female pilots, planned parenthood would be a prudent choice as many factors are involved, the health and wellbeing of the mother and child, as well as flight safety if she opts to resume immediately and conduct the breast pump procedures for lactation on board.
The lure and charm of an airline job are captivating as one gets to see the world’s exotic places enjoy the sights, soak in the sun and meet new people.
However, the job is at the same time demanding, challenging with a great responsibility and at times it proves to be stressful.
History is the judge to the fact that women have never had it easy no matter which profession they chose. They have faced gender discrimination, sexual harassment, unequal pay and many other problems but as time progress awareness and consciousness of rights and duties began to set in. Trends started changing especially in the developed countries of the world such as U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Australia and the United States.
Feminist groups lobbied their governments for improved working conditions for women and government launched a fair and generous policy for female workers.
It may be pertinent to mention that the next President of the United States is quite likely to be a female and Hillary Clinton if elected and being a woman and a mother will probably do a lot for improved working conditions for working women.
Forty years ago, the airline industry could not envisage that there will come a day when females will be at the controls of a jumbo jet and did not give much thought to things like maternity leave and all.
Trends are changing rapidly and who knows one day sometime in the future female pilots will be entitled to fully paid maternity leave as well as other park and privileges.