The Managing Director of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Mr. Mathew Lawrence Pwajok has lamented that only about 13% of jobs in aviation are held by women, adding that today, the aviation industry is grappling with methods to improve inclusion and diversity.
In his keynote address recently on integration and implementation of gender-sensitive policies in the workplace (aviation sector) at the launch of the SHEENGINEER 30% Club organized by the Association of Professional Women Engineers in Nigeria (APWEN) at the University of Lagos disclosed that the aviation sector is a major contributor to Nigeria’s economic growth.
SheEngineer 30% Club, is a Royal Academy of Engineering UK-funded Initiative, by the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN), to build a voluntary network of professional engineering institutions, engineering businesses and organisations in the aviation, automotive, and energy sectors in Lagos State committed to achieving a 30% minimum gender balance within their workforce by 2030 using a 30 by 30 strategy ( a commitment to allocate 30% positions to women in engineering in these organizations yearly).
The project is expected to improve diversity and inclusion in these organisations and drive profitability, productivity, creativity, and reduce skill shortage by encouraging more girls to take up engineering courses and careers.
Pwajok stated that the sector supports over 241,000 jobs and contributes over $1.7b to our GDP. Representing 0.4% of the nation’s GDP as noted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) report on “The Importance of Air Transport to Nigeria”, Pwajok said, “Sadly, only about 13% of jobs in aviation are held by women.”
“Today, the aviation industry is grappling with methods to improve inclusion and diversity. A majority of aircraft pilots, Air traffic Engineers, flight engineers, air traffic controllers, and aviation administrators in Nigeria are male. The executive side has not fared any better as only 3% of managerial and executive positions are held by women”, he added.
He reiterated that while there is a consensus amongst stakeholders that the aviation sector would deeply benefit from gender diversity and inclusion, there is however no agreement on the best strategy to attain this.
According to him, in recent years, organisations like IATA had launched initiatives such as the IATA 25 by 2025 gender diversity initiative, a voluntary initiative for the aviation sector to improve female representation in the industry, noting that the campaign was to serve as an initial step to making the aviation industry more gender-balanced.
The campaign which was launched in 2019 is seeking to create opportunities for more women with sought-after aviation technical and policy qualifications and experience in the aviation sector across the globe.
He disclosed that airlines like Aero Contractors and Air Peace deliberately adopted policies to increase the number of women in under-represented jobs like pilots and operations, stressing that in essence, they took deliberate steps to address skill gaps in the sector by promoting diversity and inclusion in their recruitment policies.
Aero, he said as of October 2011 had 101 pilots in total, and 13 of them were female. This he said was a percentage of just under 13%, which is more than double the industry average.
It would be recalled that in 2009, Aero Contractors, became the first airline in Africa to operate a flight with an all-female cockpit and cabin crew.
In 2018, Air Peace launched its first all-female crew flight with its first female captain, Sinmisola Ajibola, in command. Over 20 key positions in the airline, including those of the Vice Chairman, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief of Finance and Administration, are occupied by women. The airline has employed over 2,000 workers since it commenced operations, about 1,500 of them women.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in 2021, in a bid to encourage women in aviation, announced a 50 percent discount on various aviation courses and certifications for women.
The announcement was in line with Sustainable Development Goal 5 (gender equality) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development founded by the United Nations.
Although progress had been made, it however seems slow, and thus, Pwajok stated that stakeholders in the aviation industry should be encouraged to do more in promoting gender diversity and inclusion.
“This is one reason the SheEngineer 30% Club is a welcome development. The 30 by 30 Strategy for achieving this laudable objective encompasses the four phases (RWPK) of reach out – getting more women into the aviation profession, getting rid of bias in recruitment, pulling women through the promotional pipeline, and keeping talented women”.
As issues of gender diversity and inclusion continue to top the agenda of most organisations in aviation, with an increasing number adopting diversity and inclusion policies like the one that was launched, the NAMA boss further stated that the sector’s overall population was becoming increasingly diverse, and cultivating diversity and a culture of inclusion would continue to remain a key tenant for successful organizations in aviation in the coming years.
Programme Leader MSC Quality Management, University of Scotland, Dr. Evi Viva said she had been working with APWEN and with Dr. Felicia Nnenna Agubata for the last few years, admitting that she gained, as well as the insight into the challenges women engineers face in Nigeria as well as everywhere in the world changed her as an educator and as professional, adding, “The knowledge has challenged me and improved me.”
The 30% club she noted addresses a gap that has been there for years and aims to change the way businesses operate, what society expects, and all in the name to transform organisations to be productive, and resilient and bring economic prosperity to their communities.
She urged policymakers and more organisations to sign a pledge to join the 30% club, accepting that it makes business sense and it is one of the best investments they would do in their business and their country.
Agubata narrated that there are more males in the universities studying engineering than women, who are predominantly in the non-scientific and non-technical disciplines, hinting that this has resulted in a wide gender gap in engineering courses.
She said, “Women are largely underrepresented in the engineering sector in Nigeria and professional women engineers have been known to suffer discrimination at work, and also the apparent lack of interest in engineering by young girls has resulted in shortages of engineers in Nigeria. This situation has led to capital flight and brain drain for Nigeria.”