Gender Gap at the Top Reflects Aviation Industry's Systemic Failure to Advance Women Leaders

Gender Gap at the Top Reflects Aviation Industry's Systemic Failure to Advance Women Leaders




- New study from Oliver Wyman and the International Aviation Womens Association examines why the industry faces a major gender gap and the steps to address it

NEW YORK, Sept. 14, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Over half (59%) of women working in leadership positions in aviation have considered leaving the industry. Women are more likely to be pushed out because of negative experiences, while men who leave the industry are more often pulled away by the lure of better opportunities.

This is according to a new survey from global management consulting firm Oliver Wyman and the International Aviation Womens Association (IAWA).


The study surveyed 450 aviation professionals in front-line, mid-level, and senior leadership (75 percent women), supplemented by interviews, to understand why there are so few female leaders in aviation – and what needs to be done to make progress in increasing that number. The survey found that aviation has not made progress in addressing its gender gap at the top, as a third of the women surveyed report taking longer to reach leadership positions relative to their peer group. By comparison, 92% of the men we surveyed advanced more quickly or at the same pace as their peer group.

In addition, men in the industry broadly believe their companies are doing a good job of offering effective and accessible programs to promote gender equity. Women on the other hand do not find these programs as effective or easy to access.

"The aviation industry is missing out on critical leadership talent," said Oksana Bardygula, Vice President with Oliver Wyman. "We are already at a tipping point with talent shortages across the industry in various fields, from pilots to mechanics. Increasing the visibility of women and their roles in leadership is vital to expanding the talent pool – as well as in gaining access to the innovation, creativity, and risk management that more diverse leadership would provide."

"Women report they are struggling throughout their careers in today's aviation culture," added Bobbi Wells, President, IAWA. "Our study shows relative to men in the industry, women report more negative experiences, slower career advancement, and fewer opportunities to take on senior or challenging roles. It's time for aviation leaders to change these dynamics if we are to attract and retain the most talented workers, regardless of gender."


The study focused on identifying areas where the industry must make meaningful and lasting change to address the gender gap:

  • Escalate culture change from the top: Senior leaders in aviation must commit to leadership gender balance as a priority, build a culture that deliberately includes women, and set leadership inclusion and diversity goals that are tied explicitly to incentives.
  • Redesign systems for balance: Current inclusion and diversity solutions in aviation are ineffective. Women must have a greater presence and voice in revamping aviation culture and ensuring leadership programs address real barriers.
  • Close the sponsorship gap: 65% of the women we surveyed have never had a sponsor. Aviation must over-invest in developing formal sponsorship programs that explicitly serve women and encouraging leaders to sponsor more diverse talent. Sponsorship is critical in reaching the top echelons at aviation organizations.

About Oliver Wyman

Oliver Wyman is a global leader in management consulting. With offices in 60 cities across 29 countries, Oliver Wyman combines deep industry knowledge with specialized expertise in strategy, operations, risk management, and organization transformation. The firm has more than 5,000 professionals around the world who work with clients to optimize their business, improve their operations and risk profile, and accelerate their organizational performance to seize the most attractive opportunities.

About IAWA

The International Aviation Womens Association (IAWA) is an international organization for women who hold positions of impact in the aviation and aerospace industry. Founded in 1988, IAWA brings together women of achievement and promotes their advancement throughout the world.


Women are assuming greater and more visible roles within the industry. Through annual global conferences, regional receptions and connects, IAWA provides a forum to share views on matters of importance to the industry, as well as to women in general.

IAWA members serve as role models for other women seeking advancement and growth in the industry. We also encourage young women to enter the aviation and aerospace industries through IAWA's Scholarship Program.

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