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You probably already know that the 8th March marks International Women’s Day, celebrating our achievements while also driving for equality, and supporting positive change for our place in the world. This week, the 6th-12th March, is also home to Women of Aviation Week; a movement striving to celebrate women’s achievements in the industry, get girls interested in a future in aviation and to address the ongoing gender imbalance present in the industry.  

We’ve taken this opportunity to dig into the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, what the statistics look like for women in aviation today, a timeline of the history of women in aviation and their achievements, and what needs to be acted on for the future.  


International Women’s Day 2023: #EmbraceEquity 

Equity is the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day. It’s all about embracing and understanding that each individual has their own unique set of circumstances. It unpicks the concept of equality, as being equal often means that everyone is given the same chances and opportunities. The problem here is that to truly be fair, we’d all have to start from the same place to begin with.  

#EmbraceEquity calls for the world around us to go further, giving each person the resources and specific opportunities that they need to be successful and thrive. It’s about acknowledging that this will look different from one woman to the next, that all experiences and backgrounds are celebrated and valued.  


Spotlighting on women’s contributions to aviation  

Embracing equity is particularly important for industries which are typically male-dominated, and remain so today. While there are many different industries worthy of attention, we’ve decided to focus on aviation right now. Rebecca Lutte’s research paper ‘Women in Aviation: A Workforce Report’ outlines statistics on women working in aviation in 2019. Here are some of the key findings:  

  • 5.18% of commercial pilots across the world are women, a total of 7,409 
  • 3% of CEOs and COOs are women out of the world’s top 100 airlines 
  • 3.6% of aircraft mechanics and service technicians are women  
  • 13.4% of aerospace engineers are women  

In contrast, travel agents were found to be 85.5% women and 79% of flight attendants. These numbers may be 4-5 years out of date now, but they still speak to the low number of women in leadership and technical roles within aviation today.  

Despite this, women have achieved amazing things in aviation and have fought for their place in the skies for decades, proving to their male counterparts, and the rest of the world, not to underestimate their abilities. Below is a timeline of some of the stand out names in aviation history, showcasing the achievements of these women from the early 1900s onwards. 


History of women in aviation timeline  

1910Blanche Scott, first (unofficial) female pilot  

1910 – Baroness Raymonde de Laroche: first woman to receive a pilot’s license (in France)  

1911Harriet Quimby – first American female licenced pilot and first woman to fly across the English Channel in 1912  

1912 – Amelie Hedwig Beese: first woman to patent an aircraft design 

1915 – Marie Marvingt: first woman to fly in combat 

1921 – Bessie Coleman: first African American female pilot  

1929 – Florence Lowe Barnes: first female movie stunt pilot 

1932 – Amelia Earhart: first woman to fly solo about 14,000 feet and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean 

1934 – Marina Mikhailovna Raskova: first woman to teach at a military flight academy 

1937 – Hanna Reitsch: first woman to pilot a helicopter 

1939 – Willa Brown: first female African American commercial pilot 

1953 – Jacqueline Cochran: first woman to break the sound barrier  

1963 – Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova: first woman in space 

1964 – Geraldine Mock: first woman to fly solo around the world 

1981 – Ensign Mary Crawford: first female naval flight officer 

1983 – Dr Sally Kristen Ride: first American woman to fly in space  

1993 – Barbara Harmer: first woman to fly a supersonic airline jet 

1995 – Lt. Col. Eileen Marie Collins: first female pilot in the U.S space shuttle programme  


More notable achievements by women in aviation  

It’s also important to acknowledge the contributions that women have made to aviation outside of the cockpit. Katharine Wright, sometimes referred to as the ‘forgotten sister’ was a spokesperson and major source of support to her pioneering brothers, Wilbur and Orville Wright. 1917 saw Ruth Law as the first women being authorised to wear an aviation army uniform, yet was denied the chance to fly during combat. She also delivered the first air mail to reach the Philippines in 1919. 

Mary Light was an aerial photographer who, in collaboration with her husband, photographed and mapped remote areas in Uganda and the Congo for the American Geographical Society in 1937. Christine Darden worked as an Aeronautical Engineer at the NASA from 1967 onwards and contributed to leading research on the sonic boom. Research Psychologist Patricia Cowings investigated groundbreaking research on space-sickness in the 1980s. 


What does the future hold?  

These women, who have been championed throughout aviation history, have paved the way for female aviators today and it’s important to keep building on their legacy. It’s 2023, yet there is still a long way to go in achieving gender balance and equality represented in the different aspects of aviation. For example, if leadership roles in the industry are predominantly held by men, how can we ensure that women’s voices and perspectives are being represented in the decision making process?  

International Air Transport Association (IATA) have launched their 25by2025 initiative, calling for organisations to increase the number of women in senior and governance roles by a minimum of 25% with a deadline of 2025. While 25% isn’t a huge number given the baseline that the industry is starting from, it is a start and something to continue building on.

The important thing here is for change to continue; that organisations don’t reach the minimum target and then stop there. The more women that are represented in senior positions opens more ideas and avenues for inspiring further equality and growth. This prioritises equity in ensuring that they are tackling the various obstacles women face in entering or progressing in the industry.  

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Written by

Donna Foulis

As Digital Content Executive with Ideagen, Donna creates content which delivers value to the reader and provides insights and solutions into the challenges they might be facing. With a strong background in content writing, Donna is passionate about creating quality pieces which resonate with our audience across the digital sphere.