Amongst the many quotable lines to come from HBO’s excellent Mad Men series, there’s a moment where a seasoned businesswoman shares some advice with a young female trying to make it in the cutthroat world of advertising. “No one will tell you this, but you can’t be a man,” she says. “Don’t even try. Be a woman. It’s a powerful business when done correctly.”
Over in the real world, René Banglesdorf, now CEO of the Austin-based Charlie Bravo Aviation, takes a moment to reflect on the successes throughout her career as an aircraft broker. She pauses for a few seconds to gather her thoughts, before imparting a similar piece of advice for any women hoping
to follow in her footsteps.
“I would tell them not to try to be a man, because you can be as successful,” she says. “In my case I believe I have been more successful because I am a woman. I think it’s been easier to prove myself, because I stand out from the crowd.”
You could argue that good advice is timeless, but given the fact that Mad Men is set in the 60s, whilst Banglesdorf was speaking only last week, the similarities are a little worrying.
Having conducted studies herself, Banglesdorf has gathered enough evidence to suggest that aviation today is just as male-dominated as advertising was over 50 years ago. “I have done quite a bit of research and it is my understanding that around 4 per cent of executives in aviation are females,” she says. “In most other industries, it’s around thirty or forty per cent.”
Janine Iannarelli, founder and president of Houston-based Par Avion Ltd. is another aircraft broker who has climbed her way to the top of the corporate aircraft business. Much like Banglesdorf she is confident that she now commands the same amount of respect as her male colleagues, but this was not always the case. Both brokers confess that there were times early on in their careers where they had to work twice as hard to prove that they were women worth taking seriously.
“When I first came to the negotiation table, there was sometimes a sense of: ‘This can’t be serious,” she says. “Perhaps at first glance, we’re not receiving as serious consideration as our male counterparts, because some of the market believes that when it comes time to ask for the deal, a woman is going to be timid about doing so. But it’s frankly quite the opposite.”
Whilst such gender stereotypes have made it harder for women to prove themselves in the industry, they can occasionally work to create a more positive effect. “Some men are chauvinists and will not take a woman seriously,” says Banglesdorf. “But on the flipside, there are people who think a woman is more honest and conscientious.”
Candy Chung, CEO of Global Aviation Asia, is clearly a woman who believes this to be true. “Women are more practical on every aspect and more patient,” she says. “These are the two important behaviour features that help a lot when a transaction becomes quite complex.”
Although such traits may have given Chung an edge over male brokers, it has done little to change the demographics of the aviation industry as a whole. “When you say aviation and women in the same sentence, cabin attendants are what instantly come to one’s mind,” she says. “Unfortunately, apart from cabin attendants, there are considerably less women in the industry compared to others. Even though it is very encouraging to see women in the pilot’s seat or on the boards of an airline, it is still a man’s business.”
Regardless, neither Chung nor Banglesdorf or Iannarelli are willing to lay too much of the blame at the foot of the industry. Ask Iannarelli if the aviation business is sexist and her answer is measured. “If we talk about aircraft sales, I’d say no, but I would say that some companies do nothing to dispel that sort of image,” she says.
Likewise, Banglesdorf believes that the cause of this gender disproportion is not an institutionalised form of sexism within the industry, but something rooted much deeper. “If you think about little girls and boys, boys love things that go and things that fly,” she says. “Aviation is a passion industry. It’s an industry that people get into because they are passionate about flying.”
“I have not found it to be a difficult industry,” she adds. “I have a friend who works in the road construction business, and it’s been extremely difficult for her to get the respect of her peers, because of her gender.”
If Banglesdorf is right, there is little chance that aviation and particularly brokerages will become anything other than markets dominated by men, but that’s not to say that the situation isn’t improving.
“It still is a male dominated industry, but we now have a new generation of people entering the industry that grew up with a sense of equality and the realisation that the girls can often outsmart the guys,” says Iannarelli.
As for her advice to female brokers, it’s a little more sophisticated than the smoky wisdom to be found in Mad Men. “I wouldn’t gender differentiate on what one needs to do in order to prove themselves,” she says. “I’d say be as educated as you possibly can, find good mentors – male or female – and have a great deal of self-confidence. If you don’t already have it, then you’ll have to find a way to develop it.”