Flybe targets gender imbalance in aviation with launch of 'FlyShe' programme

The UK's only female airline chief is spearheading a series of initiatives aimed at filling a significant numerical gender gap in the aviation industry.

Regional airline Flybe, along with trailblazing CEO Christine Ourmières-Widener, has this week launched FlyShe, a campaign aimed at inspiring the next generation of young women to consider a career in aviation, such as pilot, engineer or a member of senior management.

It is the first major piece of work with ad agency McCann Bristol, which won the Flybe PR account last month, following a three-way pitch.

The campaign includes a new online hub, flyshe.co.uk, and the continuation of a series of regional initiatives. These include sending female pilots and engineers into the classroom to engage with pupils, and supplying educational materials for schools to host their own sessions, encouraging girls to consider high-trust roles as their future careers. This year, Flybe also offered two young women places on its new engineering apprenticeship scheme. 

The initiative is in response to Boeing research, which predicts the sector will need 637,000 new pilots by 2035, and Flybe's own independent research, which finds that girls are four times less likely than boys to want to be a pilot and half as likely to have aviation engineering ambitions. Conversely, girls are almost three times more likely than boys to pursue a career as cabin crew.

Ourmières-Widener, who began her own working life as an airline maintenance engineer, said: "Aviation is still very much a male-dominated industry. There are many reasons for this gender imbalance, but the main one is that the pipeline of female talent in engineering and piloting is simply not there."

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Ourmières-Widener added: "Forty-one per cent of Flybe’s workforce is now female, with women in every role from apprenticeship to the boardroom. Whilst the majority still comprises cabin crew, there are increasing numbers across all other areas of the business, including pilots and engineers.

"We cannot ignore the fact that the research indicated that nearly one in five girls believe there are jobs they cannot do and I firmly believe that young women cannot be what they cannot see. Through FlyShe, we are committed to showing women they can fly high – whatever it is they want to do."

Fellow budget carrier EasyJet has also identified the need to recruit from the 51 per cent female slice of the population, with last month's Catch Me If You Can video campaign, by Taylor Herring, and its Amy Johnson Initiative, which has been encouraging more women to apply to be pilots since its 2015 launch. 

In August, TUI Airways was slammed for giving little girls "future cabin crew" stickers and little boys "future pilot" stickers on flights. 

Flybe's research also revealed that advertising and popular culture play key roles in current male-female role perceptions, with both children and adults seeing more men taking the roles of pilots and aviation engineers on TV, in films and in adverts. Nearly two thirds of parents agreed that media and advertising have influenced the perception that some jobs are more suitable for men and others are more suitable for women.

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