Following ‘Brave Bessie’s’ flight plan


Pioneer American aviator Bessie Coleman – widely known as Brave Bessie – celebrates an important anniversary next Summer. On June 15th 2021, it will be 100 years since Bessie became the first woman of African-American descent, and also the first of Native-American descent to obtain an international flying licence.

Some 99 years on, some of the many women who have followed in Bessie’s footsteps gathered online this week for the International Aviation Women’s Association’s (IAWA’s) General Aviation Leadership Forum. More than 2,000 delegates registered to hear over 100 female speakers share their inspirational stories about carving out a career in aviation and aerospace. Whether pilots, or engineers and technicians, aircraft brokers, lawyers, or other roles in aviation, this was the place for women to gather advice about not just finding their place in the industry but about how to land senior management roles.

Among the stellar cast of speakers was Airbus chief technical Grazia Vittadini, the CEO of Girl Scouts and five US Air Force fighter pilots.

On one level, so much has changed since Bessie Coleman perfected her circuits and bumps in a Curtiss JN-4 (Jenny) biplane, as testified by the presence at the event of US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. But on another level, aviation remains overwhelming male dominated. There are still too few women in the aviation and aerospace sectors – with even fewer in senior management positions, René Banglesdorf, CEO of Charlie Bravo Aviation and IAWA Advisory Board member, told Corporate Jet Investor’s Town Hall online meeting last week.

Speaking before the conference, Banglesdorf told us: “Based on a ground-breaking study IAWA conducted with Korn Ferry last year, women in aviation identified a lack of female role models and men lamented that the talent pool does not have visible candidates for leadership roles.” But Banglesdorf also added: “As I have been looking, I have been seeing more women rise to positions of influence within this industry and it’s very encouraging.”

Descended from a family of Texas sharecroppers, Bessie also knew a thing or two about battling against the odds to make her mark in a male dominated industry. So, what would Bessie have made of the leadership forum? There is no doubt she would have been proud of the women who followed in her footsteps. And she would have been excited about the opportunities ahead.

Bessie Coleman: pioneer African-American aviator with her Curtiss Jenny JN-4.


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