By Debbie Hersman
Today I addressed Women in Aviation International’s 25th annual conference. The theme was “Today’s Vision, Tomorrow’s Reality.” Those four words sum up how any positive change happens, be it transportation safety or the advancement of women in their chosen fields.
This morning at the conference I saw and heard women of character, courage, and commitment from around the world supporting their peers and those coming into the business. A recent study found that in the U.S., Brazil, China, and India, roughly one-third of women graduates in science, engineering, and technology feel “stalled.” They say that within a year, they are likely to leave not only their jobs, but their whole field. In the U.S., 86% of women in those fields say they lack mentors.
As I spoke to the assembled Women in Aviation, I thought about the availability of mentors and role models for the next generation. One of the first people that came to my mind was Erin Gormley, a pilot and engineer who works in the NTSB’s recorders lab. Erin is tireless in her efforts to engage and support other women in the field of aviation. I can’t tell you how many conference attendees (men and women) told me that Erin had been a mentor to them. She is a true STEM ambassador, encouraging young women to get interested in science and engineering and she knows we need to start early. As Erin explained, “I got interested in aircraft accident investigation before turning 8. I have friends who were 5 years old the first time they visited a cockpit or saw an airshow and decided that was going to be their dream job – after two decades of purposeful pursuit, they made that dream a reality.” WAI is about giving young women the tools to build the character, courage, and commitment needed to pursue their dreams as pilots, investigators, and women in transportation safety, just like Erin.
In my remarks to the attendees I talked about trailblazers in technology, aviation and space. At the NTSB our highest ranking aviation investigator is the Deputy Director of Aviation Safety, Dana Schulze. Dana put her education in Space Sciences and Mechanical Engineering to work in the commercial aerospace industry in various engineering and engineering management roles. She came to the Board in 2002 and served as investigator and Group Chairman in a number of prominent accident investigations. She was the first woman to serve as the Chief of the Structures, Systems and Powerplants Division, the first female Chief of Major Investigations and now the Deputy Director of the Office of Aviation Safety. Dana has shown the character to pursue the facts with integrity, the courage to jump into the field she loves and the commitment to serve the traveling public.
Like the other NTSB women I have highlighted this past week, Dana is positive, independent, and a trailblazer. She is living proof that women of character, courage, and commitment can make a big impact today in their STEM fields — and also help point the way toward tomorrow.
As Amelia Earhart put it, “Some of us have great runways already built for us. If you have one, take off. But if you don’t have one, realize it is your responsibility to grab a shovel and build one for yourself and for those who will follow after you.”
It takes a woman of courage, character, and commitment to lead in her field. It takes even more of all those virtues to prepare the ground — or in this case, the air — for others.