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Women in Aviation: Embracing Equity

By Brent Bundy | March 8, 2023

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 42 seconds.

With International Women’s Day falling on the second day of HAI Heli-Expo 2023, Bell hosted an interactive panel discussion on “Embracing Equity” at its booth at the show. The event was moderated by aviation journalist and helicopter pilot Jen Boyer, and the diverse and experienced panelists included pilots, maintainers and executives.

Panelists at Bell’s “Embracing Equity” event, which was moderated by Jen Boyer (left). Brent Bundy Photo

With women making up a very small percentage of the workforce in all aspects of the aviation industry, Bell and the panel participants hoped to spread the word about the opportunities and needs within the global community, as well as sharing their own stories and experiences in aviation.

“As women, we need to overcome the preconceived perceptions that are prevalent in this industry,” said Kim Barwick, CFI and pilot for IBM Flight Operations and member of the Whirly Girls board of directors. “We need to change them but we need to be ourselves. There are many obstructions that we face and we need to continue to push past those barriers.”

In sharing her history, CH-47 Chinook captain Fallon Blattner said: “I’ve often found that I am either the first or the only one in what I do in aerial firefighting and utility work. That doesn’t bother me. But, for other women, they need to learn to be comfortable with that situation because in aviation, you will often be the only female in your position or the first one ever hired by the organization employing you. Just embrace it.”

Faith Ortega, helicopter A&P, echoed this sentiment. “Try something for the first time,” she said. “Don’t be afraid. In my experience, you will be accepted, and the men will soon figure out you can do the same job.”

Barwick added, “You can’t judge yourself by others. You need to be yourself.”

Often, having children and raising a family while working in aviation can unfairly impact a woman’s career. “Find what works for you to combine your work and personal life,” advised Amy Bahrani, senior aerospace and defense consultant with Accenture. “Be open with your team and team leaders.”

Bell VP of commercial programs Linda Deslatte added that there are many different issues facing mothers in the workplace. “I have found that when being open with my employers regarding those issues, they are much more accepting and willing to help.”

On the topic of mentors, all panelists agreed that it is necessary to not only look to those who have helped them in their careers, but also be role models for those that are following in their footsteps.

“I fly a Sikorsky S-76 because my female mentor put me in one,” said Barwick. “We should all stockpile mentors.”

Allison McKay, CEO at Women in Aviation International, related: “I’ve been fortunate to have men and women mentors. Look to them and allow them to push you.”

On the topic of recruiting for aviation careers, there was unanimous agreement that there needs to be more specific targeting of women. There is a massive gender gap, and the industry can only benefit by eliminating it.

Following the discussions, panelists engaged with the audience at the well-attended event during a question-and-answer session.

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