Shattering Glass for Women in Aviation Talent abounds; let’s use it
By William Garvey, Editor-in-Chief

Aviation women at AirVenture 2014. Photo courtesy of Women in Aviation, International
Aviation women at AirVenture 2014. Photo courtesy of Women in Aviation, International

There’s a natural slowness to summer that helps us reflect about our choices, reconnect with people, ideas and goals lost in the everyday hurry, and rejuvenate – cannonballing into a lake full of happy, squealing children is guaranteed to reset one’s perspective.

With that welcome seasonal shift of focus, industry news typically slows as well. Offhand, I don’t recall any business aviation developments of Can-You-Believe-It?!!! significance occurring in high summer (though I expect that statement might generate a flood of emails to the contrary).

Still, two recent summertime developments, both involving departures, did give me pause. First, Kathleen Blouin decided show time was over. And then Beth Wagner got a new set of business cards. While those names may be unfamiliar to many readers, they both represent something significant. And encouraging.

Some history. In 1992, Jack Olcott, then the publisher and editorial director of B&CA, accepted the presidency of the National Business Aviation Association (actually, then the National Business Aircraft Association). One of the first persons he asked to join him at the NBAA was Kathleen, who had assisted him in his former position, which included overseeing Show Daily, then and still (as ShowNews) a prominent convention and air show publication.

Presently, she was put in charge of the NBAA’s annual convention, at the time the organization’s sole industry gathering. She proved to be terrific at the task and as Olcott moved to expand the NBAA’s meetings business, she was lockstep with him.

Fast forward: Under Blouin, the NBAA’s annual convention has grown to become one of the largest of all trade shows in the U.S.; the organization launched well-attended regional forums; partnered in creating what have become major business aviation gatherings in Europe, Brazil and China; co-sponsored an annual safety summit; and grew yearly meetings of its international operations, schedulers and dispatchers, maintenance managers and flight attendance committees, among others, into significant gatherings as well. Events are a big business ffor the NBAA and now help give the industry clout on four continents.

Olcott told me recently that Blouin was “integral” to all of that “and she deserves all the credit” coming her way. Much of that came at the end of June when she formally retired as a senior vice president at the NBAA, though she’ll continue to serve as a consultant to the organization.

The following month, the leadership within Aviation Week group – my bosses – decided that a variety of key business roles would be best managed by one of their most energetic, persistent and persuasive executives, Wagner. An 18-year veteran in the organization, she had risen steadily and a year ago was named publisher of B&CA, a promotion that cheered us mightily for the reasons just cited, along with her passion for business aviation and its people.

Her subsequent promotion to succeed the recently retired publisher of Air Transport World and to oversee all sales in the Americas for the entire group, including B&CA, is well deserved and logical. Curses! We liked her focused on us full time, but wish her great success in her new, elevated role.

These two people represent a small but significant minority within the aviation community in general, and business and general aviation in particular: women in positions of influence. Once nearly all-male, the aerospace community has changed over time with women now occupying almost every facet of it – flight department managers, airline execs, engineers and mechanics, even a Thunderbird pilot.

As evidence of the gender gap closing in business aviation consider that, in addition to Blouin and Wagner, notables include Sonia Greteman of Wichita’s Greteman Group; Aviation Personnel International’s Sheryl and Jan Barden; Sarah MacLeod of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association; aircraft broker Janine Iannarelli of Par Avion; Paula Corrigan, M.D.; Summit Solutions’ Jodie Brown; and Jackson & Wade’s Michelle Wade, Esq., among many other women serving key positions in private firms, corporations, associations and government.

To management’s credit, Aviation Week has hammered at the so-called glass walls and ceilings. Women hold its only vice presidency and the top or No. 2 editorial slot at four publications including this one, run its online and social media platforms, head its important events business, and represent about a third of all editorial and art positions, along with a variety of sales, marketing and production jobs.

All of that’s a good start, though long in coming and far from burgeoning. As Dr. Peggy Chabrian, president and founder of Women in Aviation, International, told me early this year, women make up only about 6% of the pilot population overall and hold an even smaller percentage of the non-pilot aviation jobs in the U.S.

Considering that by many measures the community is actually contracting, its plodding effort in appealing to and benefiting from the skills and enthusiasm of half the human resources available is a blunder of gross dimensions, particularly now when a tech-savvy generation is coming into its own. We need to do better at shattering glass. Maybe it’s time for a cannonball.

This article was originally published in the September 2014 issue of Business & Commercial Aviation.