OTF March Member Spotlight Jacquelyn Emery

Being More Gender Inclusive Within Aviation

As someone who has been both a student and a flight instructor in this industry, I’ve experienced firsthand a lack of gender inclusivity among peers and coworkers. I started flying at 16 at a local FBO, and now at 22, I’m a full-time flight instructor. Gender inclusion is necessary for any organization to run successfully for its members, not only those fitting the stereotypical aviation professional. 

As a student, I commonly experienced a lack of gender inclusion in classes. Many professors during classes would say “you guys,” pause, and then add “and girls” as an afterthought while looking at one of the girls in the room. I shouldn’t be included in that phrase as an afterthought, and I’m not sitting in class to be a reminder to mention the girls too. Even then, “you guys and girls” is not gender inclusive for those who don’t identify by these terms. What’s the solution? I’m originally from Texas and rely on the phrase “y’all.” Not only is it a non-gendered phrase, but I get to bring a little bit of home to the Midwest by using it. If “y’all” is not a term you’re interested in, refer to the group as their title instead. Everyone in a classroom could relate to being called “students” or “pilots” instead. 

As a flight instructor, I’ve experienced the same lack of gender inclusion that I was hoping would resolve after graduating from student to aviation professional. During a work-related event last year, one of the presentations discussed professionalism. Throughout this presentation, the pronouns “he/him/his” were used most of the time. For a presentation on professionalism, this was ironic and exclusionary to anyone there who did not identify with those pronouns. A simple read-through of this presentation ahead of time with this in mind would have solved this problem and included every professional there. Just like the previous example, the best solution was to use our titles instead of pronouns. Referring to us by “flight instructors,” “CFIs,” or “pilots” is more appropriate and professional than using specific pronouns. 

Now that I work one-on-one with students, I can make the workplace more gender inclusive for those that fly with me. Something that I don’t do often enough is ask students their pronouns when I first meet them. I’ve asked students before but I don’t consistently ask every student. I am working on this, and I believe other flight instructors should too. Asking every student their preferred pronouns makes the training environment more inclusive and will make the learning environment more comfortable.

Conversely, students can work on being more gender inclusive with their instructors. Once, a student told me she had a bad female instructor, and she never wanted to work with another female instructor again. In this specific instance, her problems with her instructor had nothing to do with her gender identity but with her teaching style. I’ve had good and bad instructors, but I would not choose to work with only those who identify as a specific gender based on previous experience. Lumping every instructor into a category creates a negative connotation for those who may be great instructors, regardless of their apparent gender identity.            

Finally, keeping praise gender inclusive is vital for the praise to mean something. Telling me that I “fly good for a girl” or that I’m the “best female flight instructor” they’ve had is not a compliment that should be given in a gender-inclusive environment. I'd rather be ranked with all of my peers than be the best in a particular divided group. Taking the gender out of the compliment solves this problem. Telling me that I “fly good” or that I’m “a good instructor” carries more weight than those previous compliments would.          

Talking about this problem is one thing, but it’s up to us to bring the idea of gender inclusivity to the workplace. Replacing gendered terms with gender-neutral titles with peers and students is a small change that will make a big difference. Incorporating gender-neutral terms and compliments into the workplace will bring a more inclusive and comfortable environment for all.