Oct. 19, 2018

The benefits of having women in leadership positions in the business aviation industry were the focus at the Aviation Leadership for Women education session at NBAA’s Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE).

Speaker Hillary O’Connor Mueri, chief legal officer at Intrepid Analytics and retired U.S. Naval Flight Officer, led an interactive examination of attitudes regarding women in aviation, a discussion of both why and how to increase representation of women in leadership positions and an exploration of the skills, attitudes and networks that can help our industry develop and advance women leaders.

During the session, O’Connor shared her story of wanting to become a fighter pilot as a child, but not being allowed to because of her gender. She studied aviation engineering at The Ohio State University, but she realized, “I didn’t just want to design planes for people to fly, I wanted to fly myself.” This inspired her to join the U.S. Navy, which had recently began allowing women to become combat pilots. She served in combat missions in Iraq and eventually became a lawyer.

Having spent most of her career in male-dominated professional environments, O’Connor has valuable insight on how unbalanced gender representation impacts both women and companies. “When women see other women in leadership, they see that they can make it,” she explained. “When you have a company culture that is supportive of women, you have an easier time retaining them.”

She stressed that women in aviation can take steps to further their own careers including networking, which provides female employees with advice and a sense of belonging. O’Connor also encouraged women to participate in formal mentorship programs their companies may offer or start one at tthir organization.

However, O’Connor also called on companies to do their part to create work environments in which women are equally represented. “Having women in leadership helps companies make more money. It’s going to take time and effort, but it’s in your company’s best interest,” said O’Connor. But, she added, “Talk is cheap. When you have unconscious bias in hiring processes and an expectation of narrow experiences, you miss out on great candidates.”

She challenged companies to take a look at the way they write their job descriptions and watch for hiring practices that could be excluding qualified female candidates in the screening process. Many leadership positions require candidates to hold an MBA, 64 percent of which are awarded to men, when a master’s degree in management, 52 percent of which are awarded to women, could fulfill the needs of the role equally well.

O’Connor also suggested that businesses treat diversity as a business strategy by expanding outreach, networking and recruitment efforts to create a more diverse workforce pipeline. She added that exhibiting a visible commitment to increasing the number of women in leadership will, in turn, attract more women to the aviation industry.

Learn more about NBAA’s Workforce Initiatives.

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