To celebrate Women of Aviation week and Women’s History month, we caught up with some of our air traffic controllers at Prestwick Centre to find out why encouraging more women into aviation is important to them and what inspired them into their roles…
For Emily it was her dad, who always had a keen interest in aviation as she was growing up. “He used to take us to Southport air show and Manchester airport back in the days when you could visit without a boarding pass.” she said.
“In 1999 when we went on a family trip to Florida, we flew on a B747, and I was just fascinated with how something so large could actually get off the ground! This sparked an interest in all things aviation – this combined with a love of puzzles and problem solving meant air traffic control seemed to be the perfect fit for me’.
air traffic control seemed to be the perfect fit for me
Similarly, Becky was also encouraged to pursue a career in aviation by her parents who met while working in IT for an airline. Growing up under the flight path for Heathrow, she would regularly run to the window when Concorde could be heard roaring overhead.
She said: “At school I was part of the RAF section of the Combined Cadet Force and had the opportunity to do some flying. On a visit to RAF Boulmer we spent some time with the controllers in a bunker but I didn’t consider it as a career until I was looking for a new job and wanted to stay in the aviation sector. I went onto NATS’ website and played a few of the games and thought this seems fun, how hard can it be? As it turns out, quite hard!”
Abi, another recently validated controller at our Prestwick centre, was inspired to become a controller by a friend. She said: “Before applying, I met up with a female controller who was a friend of a friend to find out more about the role. As soon as she started describing the job, I was hooked. I loved the sound of the challenge ahead. The training is tough, but I was eager to test myself and knew it would be unbelievably rewarding if I could prove to myself I could do what is a widely respected job.”
For Vanessa it was a trip to the old Terminal Control Operations Room at West Drayton that sparked her interest: “That was enough to get me hooked. From that point on, the only thing I wanted to be was an Air Traffic Controller. I started as a temporary Air Traffic Services Assistant in the Area Control operations room which gave me the ATC knowledge grounding and confidence to apply for the controller role.”
When it comes to inspiring the next generation, at NATS we believe that increasing diversity is vital for several reasons, not least because we always need to expand our pool of talent (both male and female) as our needs evolve, but also because we have some truly ground-breaking developments on the horizon.
To achieve this, a lot of outreach work happens with local schools, organisations, and STEM programmes to raise the profile of NATS and the overall aviation industry. We heavily rely on our own people to help do this – as they are the brain and the heart of our business.
Vanessa said: “Over the years I’ve taken part in several activities to inspire and encourage our next generation. From careers fairs in schools, to STEM activities at Prestwick airport I’ve tried to inspire the same feelings as I had in those two weeks at Terminal Control. Reaching out to young minds is essential if we want to see more women in STEM roles. We also need more diversity visible to them, so they have role models to be inspired by.”
We also need more diversity visible to them, so they have role models to be inspired by.
Emily has also helped at several careers fairs during her time at our training college and school STEM programmes at some local secondary schools. “It was really important to me to become an On the Job Training Instructor to nurture and inspire the new students and trainees coming through.” she continued.
It’s important to encourage more women into aviation for a number of reasons, but Emily hits the nail on the head:
“When women can’t see themselves represented in a certain industry, they are less likely to want to apply for jobs in this area. This is a perfect example of why we need to celebrate things like Women of Aviation Week!” She continues: “From experience I see that the women at NATS all bring diversity of thought and experience, and that difference makes for a stronger, more innovative and more cohesive team.”
When women can’t see themselves represented in a certain industry, they are less likely to want to apply for jobs in this area.
Becky said: It’s important to continue breaking down the gender stereotypes of jobs. Despite there being a lot of focus on gender equality in the workplace over the last decade, females are still under represented in aviation. It’s important to have female mentors and a diverse team as they can challenge each other and bring new perspectives. Everybody benefits from having a more diverse workforce and I’m delighted NATS has recognised this and made gender diversity a business priority for the workforce of the future.
Everybody benefits from having a more diverse workforce
Vanessa said: There will be people reading this who look around and see plenty of women and wonder what we’re on about. I can only speak from my experience as to why we need more. In our operations room, for many years, we have had no more than two women in management roles. Today there are more, and their influence is making a difference – but diversity is essential when managing a large operation.
“The women I work with challenge the more traditional views. They push back on things they believe aren’t inclusive and help the team think differently. I have seen a huge change in how we address issues and I know this is due to those women. More importantly we now have role models which is something I didn’t have. There are women to look up to for the next generation and most importantly each of those women are there holding out their hand to pull that next generation up to join them.
There are women to look up to for the next generation.
Huge thanks to Emily, Abi, Becky and Vanessa for sharing their stories with us this Women’s History Month.
Whilst we aren’t where we want to be yet, we are ensuring that we take the right actions and are laying robust foundations that will improve gender equality within NATS. As an organisation we remain committed to doing all we can to accelerate this work within our own business as well as across the wider aviation industry – NATS is one of the signatories to have signed the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter; a Government initiative aimed at increasing gender balance across the industry.
We have put a lot of focus on this area over the last few years and are determined to make meaningful change to improve the experience of the women who work at NATS, and to inspire and attract more women into the aviation industry.
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