Two Easyjet captains took to the stage at the Guild of Travel Management Companies - now the Business Travel Association, the major UK-based association representing TMCs Conference to share how they were helping the airline recruit the next generation of pilots, and educate schoolchildren on battling gender stereotypes.
With a global shortage of pilots, captain Zoe Ebrey discussed how she was promoting the message that when it comes to education requirements, being a pilot is easier than most people think.
Speaking at the Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin in the Netherlands, she told delegates: “The minimum requirements to become an airline pilot are a lot lower than you’d probably expect. You certainly don’t need a degree. It’s five GCSEs, but they prefer two A Levels. That’s the minimum requirement to start a training programme.
“You don’t have to be a maths geek, or a technology geek, to be an airline pilot. It does help, if it keeps that passion alive, but it’s those personal skills you need as a pilot.”
Meanwhile, captain Kate McWilliams (pictured below) said she was presenting at schools one day a week to inspire the next generation of pilots. McWilliams became the world’s youngest female commercial captain at 26, and said she wanted to highlight that it’s acceptable for young girls to aspire to become airline pilots.
“I explain whatever their dream is, they can achieve it – and show them these careers are not gender specific,” she said.
Both Ebrey and McWilliams said they received comments daily about their gender when flying.
“We get comments every day,” McWilliams said. “The reaction should be ‘oh, there’s the pilot’, not ‘oh, there’s a female pilot’. People mean it well, but it shouldn’t need to be said. And you do get the odd comment that isn’t meant well.”
Ebrey agreed, and added that male colleagues were constantly surprised at how passengers “felt the need to comment on our gender”. “When you go the doctor, you don’t go ‘a lady doctor’. With our profession, it seems we always have to have this female appendage – a female pilot, a female captain.”
McWilliams added breaking down stereotypical views would be a long process. “Going into schools, it takes a lot of time,” she said. “But I don’t want to retire until those comments stop, because I don’t want those children to get the same comments I’ve had. The Amy Johnson initiative we’ve got is to increase to 20 per cent the [proportion of] new entrant cadet pilots who are female by 2020. That’s a massive change in perception.”
Meanwhile, she said Easyjet was having “discussions” around its apprenticeship scheme, so it could become more open. “As a company we’re doing everything we can to make sure diversity isn’t just gender diversity, there’s social diversity. Just because you don’t come from a well off family, you shouldn’t be limited in your career options. If there’s skill there, and those competencies, and the passion to fly, why shouldn’t you have the opportunity.”