Aviation Job Search Article: My story and what it's like to be a woman in aviation
Part 1: Published at https://blog.aviationjobsearch.com/meet-jordan-an-aviation-human-factors-specialist/
Tell us about your aviation career so far?
My name is Jordan, I’m 26 and although I’m originally from Newcastle Under Lyme in the North-West Midlands, I currently live in Windsor, just West of London, and as you might have guessed from my full name, I’m proud to be from a mixed ethnicity background. I’m incredibly close to my family, and am truly surrounded by the best friends, so for that I class myself as extremely fortunate.
My career so far has most certainly not been a straight-forward path! Despite falling in love with everything ‘aviation’ from about the age of 4 when I took my very first flight (to PMI- Mallorca!), it took until I was 21 for me to really begin my journey within aviation. Having been academic at school, and a lover of dance and the arts, I was lucky to have choice upon leaving school, and decided to take my earliest steps into the job market as a performing artist. Despite enjoying this, I couldn’t shake the thought and feeling that I was supposed to be in the skies.
I was still obsessed with aircraft, couldn’t stop watching re-runs of ‘Airline’, and it was during a visit out to Alicante at the end of the first year of my undergraduate degree (where my friend had started flying for UK holiday and leisure airline) that I finally decided to follow my heart and plough all of my energy into becoming part of the industry. I landed the position of cabin crew with a short haul leisure airline based out of MAN, and after working out how I could manage my full time University studies around a full time flying roster I began my training to fly as crew.
Around this time my parents had gifted me a trial lesson in a Cessna 152. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was excited and to become further immersed in the industry that I loved. During that first lesson, we worked through all the basic elements of flight such as how to control the pitch of the aircraft. Local landmarks were pointed out to me, we flew over my house and university, and suddenly, I had a whole new perspective on the world. The only way I can describe it was a feeling of total freedom and clarity that I hadn't experienced before. There was also the underlying sensation that this was exactly where I was supposed to be in my life, and I still get that feeling every time that I fly now. Probably around 15 minutes into flight, I knew that I was going to start saving towards my flight instruction… and luckily, I had dropped on the perfect job to do that.
At the airline I worked for, we had a commission-based pay structure, that we were paid on top of our salaries. Don't get me wrong, we worked incredibly hard to get this commission, and had to hone our sales skills over time, ensuring we fully understood and endorsed our products on board, but the reward was worth it. I put all my commission into a savings account during the period in which I worked at this airline, and within time it built up nicely… although I wasn’t going to end up using it until Autumn 2020.
I had the time of my life working at my first airline (where I also trained to work on the lease provider we had a partnership with, providing me with my first experiences of wide body aircraft), and I thank them for giving me the foundations and teaching me so much about the industry, as well as giving me friends for life. However, the opportunity came up to go for a role with a legacy long-haul carrier out of LHR, and unexpectedly, I landed the role. Whilst it was sad to say goodbye to my home base in the North, I knew it was something I wanted to experience and so at the start of 2020 I moved South and began training for my long-haul life.
How has COVID impacted your career?
This is where COVID-19 suddenly began to wreak havoc on not only my career, but the entire world. What was merely just a whisper of a virus in January 2020, had grounded pretty much our entire fleet by mid- March. I flew several milestone flights during this time, including the last flight to leave South Africa before they shut the borders, a repatriation flight that departed a couple of hours after Boris Johnson’s official lockdown announcement, the first cargo flights to operate with medical supplies onboard and every single passenger and their story will stay with me for life. Although this wasn’t the long- haul flying I had expected to be doing, I knew I was privileged to be there and a part of so many people’s journeys.
I operated a JFK several weeks into the pandemic, and whilst sat in the flight deck, I had this feeling that that was the last flight I would operate for a while… however I had no idea that it was going to be the last flight I operated before I faced redundancy along with thousands of incredible colleagues. My world and life plan shattered overnight. Luckily, I found non-aviation work quickly to ensure I could sustain my lifestyle, but I knew I need to formulate a plan to be ready for as and when the industry eventually picked up.
Despite passionately declaring that I was done with education after my BA in Education (which I completed sat in the living room of my flat in Windsor during lockdown), I knew I wanted to make myself more competitive and stay connected to the industry. I had toyed with the idea of an MSc (and eventually a PhD) but always thought I’d have a few years flying the world before I enrolled, however the time on the ground suddenly seemed like a gift to be able to study without facing jet lag, and roster scheduling.
So, I applied to study an MSc in Human Factors in Aviation at Coventry University, and was thrilled to be accepted. I’ve been fascinated with Human Factors, CRM, and Fatigue since my very first initial training, and I’m a strong believer in if you’re going to commit to study, you need to love whatever you’re studying. It’s hand on heart one of the best decisions I have ever made and provided me with a whole new group of connections, opportunities and possibilities. More importantly, it is also the main reason why I am in the role that I am today. Although new to the role within this major European airline, I’m truly enjoying every second of working in a completely new side of aviation, and working with the best people… people say I’m a lucky girl (and I happen to agree), but I have worked tirelessly to get to where I am today, and it really is a representation of hard work pays off.
The pandemic also granted me so many opportunities to connect with and help the wider aviation community. I became a volunteer for Project Wingman, a mentor for Resilient Pilot/Crew, a writer in the form of my own aviation/travel blog, and have been super fortunate to have been asked to write several pieces for different magazines, and websites. I write about anything and everything to do with the industry, from my experiences as a student pilot, women in aviation, my favourite destinations I’ve travelled to, life as crew, and mental health within the industry. I’ve raised money for Aviation Action and worked at a vaccination centre to help the NHS and the UK move forward past the pandemic. It’s been a busy year!
Time to commit to flying
Fast forward to September 2020, still very much mid-pandemic, and I couldn't help but feel something was missing from my life. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I had this nagging feeling that it was time for me to commit to flying. My whole 'wait for the right time' theory had been blown out of the water quite spectacularly, meaning that I was starting to see that there was no such thing as the 'right' time, only what we have now in the present. I had enough money saved still and whilst it scared me that I could be spending my security if things were to take a turn for the worst again, it was a risk I weighed up and decided to take anyway.
I asked around for recommendations of schools in the Heathrow vicinity given that was where I was now based, and my network of friends within the industry led me to my current school. I started flying again in October 2020.
Within 5 minutes of the first lesson at Fairoaks, I knew I had made the right decision. I often say that flying is my therapy. The two hours of my day where I don't think about anything else other than the task at hand, which is to focus on the lesson and fly the aircraft. I can completely switch off from the pressures of life, the pandemic, and anything that is happening on the ground at that current point and focus on doing something entirely for my own benefit. This was what I had been missing the entire time, and I have no regrets for choosing to go after this dream of mine, at what was on paper the worst time of my life, but in reality and looking back now, was the best time to have done it.
It hasn't been simple though. During this time, we faced two further lockdowns of four weeks, and almost four months respectively. Lockdown 2.0 in November was slightly easier, as we were granted permission as an educational establishment to keep training student pilots, under the premise that we followed strict COVID-19 protocols. Lockdown 3.0 was very difficult. From mid-December, up until the 12th April, we were not permitted to fly at all as students due to the severity of the pandemic. I used this time to start revising for my ground exams, review everything we'd been working on up until this point and do plenty of 'armchair' flying. Since re-starting to fly I’ve since done my first solo and been working on the navigation component of my PPL which whilst is challenging, I’m really enjoying.
That brings me to today really! MSc Student, full-time Human Factors Specialist, and student pilot. Never did I think that this is where my path would lead, but I am so eternally grateful that it has, and for every opportunity and every person that has been brought into my life… even if half of it was gained from the pandemic!
What has been a highlight of your career so far?
It’s so hard to pick just one! I think my first Wings ceremony (when you essentially graduate off your cabin crew training) was really special as my whole family came to celebrate with me, and it was the start of everything that was to come really. The first time I sat in the flight deck for landing will always stay with me as well, as that really inspired me to achieve my PPL…. It’s an experience not granted to many and I’m blessed to say I experienced it on more than one occasion.
As well as this, I must mention my first solo flight. I had no idea it was going to happen on that day, but when it did it truly was the most amazing feeling. Looking to my right for the first time and not seeing my instructor sat next to me…. Just wow. Like I DID THAT! I was trusted to manage an aircraft by myself and when I’d landed and turned off the runway, I did cry happy tears.
Tell us about Project Wingman?
Project Wingman was the saving grace of my Summer in 2020. It consists of airline workers, volunteering to create 'first class lounges' in NHS hospitals to support the key workers with donated food, drinks, and peer support during what was a super challenging period of their working life. Airline workers were the perfect people for this, given that most of us were grounded due to the pandemic and travel restrictions, our ability to provide top class service and for our skills regarding human factors. We understand the value of communication, listening, and support as we rely on this day in day out to perform our duties to the best of our abilities. It gave me a purpose, and maybe even more importantly it gave me a family in my new home down in the South of the UK. The people here have literally dragged me through this year, been a shoulder to cry on, given me a social life, and I can only say I am forever grateful that I stepped into the hospital on the 1st May. I have worked now with Project Wingman for nearly 14 months, in the local hospital, the London Ambulance Service, and on their Mobile Bus ‘Well-Bee’ as well as having worked with the crewing team to ‘crew’ the bus with staff, and I can’t thank them enough for providing me with a purpose during this hardship of the pandemic.
Your hope and plans for the future of aviation?
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I cannot wait for the day that travel becomes unrestricted again, and connecting loved ones, allowing dreams to come true, and showing that the beauty of the world is ‘in reach’ again is a reality and not just a fantasy. It goes without saying that I stand in solidarity with the airports, airlines, and collaborating organisations at this time pushing for the re-opening of the skies, and for further support for an industry that has been crippled since March 2020. As an industry, we have gone above and beyond in adhering to and ensuring the safety of our people and passengers, and with the success of the vaccine programme within not only the UK, but many other countries, I truly believe we can follow the data and science and safely reopen the skies.
I hope that every displaced worker within the industry who wants to return, every aspiring aviator, and those still working within the industry find themselves in roles that fulfil, support, and encourage their dreams. The day I see aviators return to roles that make their hearts full once more is one that I cannot wait for, and I know that there are many grounded that are desperately waiting to watch the sunrise from a flight deck amongst many other incredible things that aviation provides us the joy of experiencing. I also hope that we will see an increasingly diverse and equal industry going forward, and that’s something that I am actively working to promote.
I hope we learn something from the pandemic. I’d like to think that human factors will continue to be of prominent importance, with the understanding that people are at the heart of the industry, and to look after your people will ensure a thriving and successful business. This will ensure that mental health and wellbeing will become a more open and talked about topic, which can only lead to a safer industry. Within the industry we have known for some time that no matter what colour uniform you wear, we truly are a family like no other, but the pandemic has pushed the meaning of ‘united by wings’ to a new level. It’s been a pleasure to connect and work alongside those from different airlines, and I hope we keep this collaboration to continue learning from each other for time to come.
A woman in aviation
Why do you think there aren’t many women in the industry compared to men?
Ultimately, I believe the reason that there are much fewer women within certain areas of the industry than men, is deeply engrained within society. It does impact on different sectors of the industry differently for example within the cabin crew rank, there are more crew who identify as female than male, and within the flight deck, there are more pilots who identify as male than female. Disproportionately so. For example, in the UK, only 4.77% of pilots are female (Air Line Pilots Association International Trade Union), and this statistic is even lower for Captains/ Training Captains. Historically, men and women are encouraged and expected to follow different paths within their lives, for example it was considered socially acceptable for men to work as engineers, whereas women were expected to follow careers of a more caring nature (i.e. nursing, teaching), and balance this with raising a family. These expectations are embedded into society through generational expectation, the hidden curriculum (i.e. what is taught to our younger generations through subconscious bias) and representation (through what women can see as opportunities open to them). Moreover if I had a penny for every time someone said to me ‘women like you aren’t interested in engineering or being a pilot’ I’d probably never have to work again, and it’s these assumptions that need challenging and changing.
How do you feel this could be improved?
The beautiful thing about history, is that the course of such can always be changed. And there are so many incredible organisations and people out there working hard to improve diversity not only in aviation but also in the workplace in general. In my personal view from my experience in the air, and as an educator, visibility is key. Young people need to be able to see that people like themselves can have successful careers in the flight deck. Schools, colleges, and community groups need to have access through organisations within aviation who would be willing to come into educational settings and talk to young people about their ambitions and provide advice/mentoring.
This ties in with social media as well. Like it or not, it's here to stay and is one of the biggest sources that influence our young people's minds. By ensuring that those pilots that are of a minority have a platform to speak and connect with young people, we can reach out to a whole new cohort of future aviators by simply saying 'hey, I'm like you, and you can do this too'.
We need to fight the belief that women aren't interested in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), and stop accepting this view when it simply isn't true. Women have historically been engaged in aviation, including working as test pilots and flight instructors during WW2, and therefore this view simply isn't accurate. Yet time and time again, I've heard and read this. Instead of accepting this, we need to tackle the barriers that stop women pursuing a career in the flight deck. We also need to be prepared to challenge any discrimination that is seen or heard. This shouldn't have to be an argument or heavy debate, but a mature and educated conversation, however by doing this we begin to break down the stigma surrounding gender within the industry.
This involves providing education and support around financing training, ensuring that organisations are trained and supported to allow those who choose to have a family to do so (there's long standing research that demonstrates that women believe a career in the skies is unavailable to them as a mother), and providing networking opportunities and events to women to allow them to gain the necessary social capital.
I read something once about equality that stated it's not about lowering any standards; it's about removing obstacles that may exist. When it comes to increasing diversity in the flight deck, I think that this summary couldn't be more accurate. I'm still learning, and educating myself in this matter, but I will strive to do all that I can to improve diversity and broaden the range of possibilities of the young whilst in my role.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in this industry?
I just want to say, that I have never been treated any differently in my career, education or training due to my gender. I am incredibly grateful to have been treated fairly and equally at all points and I barely put a second thought to the fact that I may be a minority, until I was asked ‘what’s it like to be a woman in your field?’. This itself shows we have a long way to go yet. I have so many amazing friends and colleagues in the industry who support me wholeheartedly regardless of identifying factors and I am blessed to be able to say that. I have heard the occasional comment made such as ‘you women can’t drive, let alone fly a plane’, or when I was working as cabin crew and we had a female pilot, passengers would sometimes remark ‘oh is she any good?’, but these sorts of comments are normally made from those outside of the industry. I believe it’s important within my position to challenge these types of comments and provide understanding as to why it’s not an acceptable thing to say. Most people that I work alongside and have met through the industry, whether it be my managers, flight instructors, or fellow cabin crew are fully supportive and aware of the need to increase diversity within the industry.
Advice for other women looking to join the aviation industry?
Don’t be put off by being the only woman in the room. I promise you, if you have the skills, ability, drive, and determination to go after whatever role it is you want, and believe in yourself, you’ll get there anyway. You’ll likely find yourself surrounded by people cheering you on and supporting you all the way, and even if not, reach out to fellow female aviators via social media or aviation organisations and we’ll all be there for you!
Immerse yourself in the world of aviation. Speak to fellow aviators, those aspiring, and those who've been successful, and share experiences. Read, and read lots. You can never know enough and there is always something else to learn. Study hard and prepare to make sacrifices. Finally, I’d say embrace the fear, the nerves, the apprehension…. And do it anyway. Remember the saying ‘'What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?'.
What is your end goal as a woman in aviation?
My end goal ultimately is to have a long, successful, and progressive career within the aviation industry. One where I can combine my love for flying as a pilot, with my research interests within Human Factors, and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing within the aviation community. I’ve always believed that the people that make up the industry are special, and I’m so privileged to have a role where I can make a true difference to these people. Now I’m also incredibly interested in outreach with young people on following careers into STEM subjects within aviation. How this all materialises, I’m very flexible about. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it's that flexibility, being in the moment and enjoying the experience is the key. Stepping back and seeing where life takes you can sometimes be the beautiful beginning that comes out of a painful ending.
Follow my journey and research:
LinkedIn: Jordan Milano Hazrati