General aviation

Celebrating the role of women in Canadian aviation

Air Canada today marked International Women’s Day 2019. (CNW Group/Air Canada)

Canada’s airlines and airports marked International Women’s Day, Friday, celebrating the women who keep the planes in the air and the passengers happy.

Both Air Canada and Westjet celebrated the day with flights operated by all-female crews. Westjet flying from Calgary to Mexico, and Air Canada from Montreal to Brussels.

“We are proud to share that approximately 56 per cent of our workforce is female,” said Mark Porter, WestJet’s Executive Vice-President, People and Culture. “The strength of female talent represented across all departments at WestJet is a great competitive advantage to our business and talent strategy. WestJet continues to focus on hiring and developing talented female leaders, promoting careers for women in aviation and providing mentorship opportunities to ensure gender equality is achieved at all levels.”

The day also served to remind the industry of the work left to be done since Raymonde de Laroche became the first woman to earn her pilot’s licence 110 years ago in France.

At Westjet, only seven per cent of the highly-paid pilot positions are occupied by women, although that compares favourably with an industry average of just over five per cent. Indian low-cost carrier IndiGo has the highest proportion of female pilots at 14%.

Generally, women occupy positions that pay less, such as call centre agents, support staff and flight attendants. That is a significant problem in an industry where pilots can make as much as five times more than their non-management colleagues.

Figures in Canadian aviation are hard to come by, but in the United Kingdom, where reporting on pay equity is mandatory, reports suggest women trail men by a significant margin. At British Airways, for example, women made an average 35% less than men in 2017, the last year for which figures are available.

The goal, then, must be to hire more women in higher-paying jobs.

Air Canada is marking the day highlighting the senior role women play in the company’s international operations, featuring four women who lead operations, sales and marketing in Montreal, Tokyo, London and New York.

“Today, Air Canada’s most senior leadership positions in Asia, Europe, and the USA are all held by trailblazing women who have oversight for business development, global sales as well as running international operations on six continents,” said Arielle Meloul-Wechsler, Senior Vice President, People, Culture and Communications at Air Canada. “As a company long recognized for promoting equal opportunities for all qualified people, there are no glass ceilings here. We strongly encourage the next generation of young women to pursue their aviation dreams and know that anything is possible.”

The airline reports that about 14,000 of its 30,000 employees are women, with 30% of its senior management positions occupied by women.

On the ground, airports joined the celebration.

Vancouver International Airport signed what’s called the Minerva BC Diversity Pledge, which commits to achieving gender parity in the workplace. The airport says 40% of the management team, 60% of the executive and half the board are women.

One notable place where women dominate the aviation landscape is in tiny (in aviation terms) Prince George in central B.C.

There, the airport authority reports all of the airlines operating scheduled flights are managed by women, including Central Mountain Air and Pacific Coastal Airlines.