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Airlines told to reward managers hiring women as progress stalls

March 23, 2023 Updated Thu., March 23, 2023 at 3:36 p.m.

A paper airplane sits on the ground behind a new Japan Airlines employee at Haneda Airport in Tokyo in April 2018.  (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)
A paper airplane sits on the ground behind a new Japan Airlines employee at Haneda Airport in Tokyo in April 2018. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)
By Angus Whitley Bloomberg

Airlines should financially reward managers who hire more women, said the International Aviation Womens Association, after industry data showed almost zero progress toward gender parity in the past four years.

Women typically hold just 13% of executive posts at carriers, even fewer than in financial services firms, Bloomberg analysis showed last month. The proportion of female pilots, technicians or chief executive officers wallows at less than 10%, according to a 2022 report by the U.S. government’s Women in Aviation Advisory Board.

The figures suggest decades of advocacy and voluntary targets for female representation are failing to deliver material advances.

Managers should instead be incentivized, either with pay or promotion, to recruit a larger proportion of women, said Kathleen Guilfoyle, the president of the International Aviation Womens Association. Pay should also be benchmarked against how well female workers are retained and succeed, she said.

“There has to be some sort of accountability,” Guilfoyle said in a video interview from Boston, where she’s an attorney specializing in aviation litigation.

But she said imposing gender quotas is too often considered punitive. “It doesn’t encourage people or the development of women as much as being goal-oriented,” she said.

The International Air Transport Association in 2019 introduced its 25by2025 campaign, where airlines commit to increasing the number of women in senior positions and under-represented areas by 25%, or to a minimum of 25% by 2025. But the initiative is voluntary, and only half of IATA’s almost-300 member carriers had signed by late last year.

There’s a persistent lack of leadership on the issue, said Guilfoyle. There needs to be more senior executives identifying, sponsoring and mentoring talented women, she said.

“Maybe sustainability in the end is going to be one of the most significant driving factors,” she said. “Because without women, the aviation industry is just not going to be sustainable.”

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