Friday, January 01, 2010

Flying Above the Glass Ceiling - A book review

I was asked to read the book Flying Above the Glass Ceiling and give the author my comments. I always feel under such pressure to do this (what to say if I don't like it?), especially since I'm writing my own book and know that you just can't please everyone. If I'm willing to blog about it, my feelings about the book must be ones I would like to pass along...

Captain Nina Anderson has compiled a book about the women in aviation between the era of the WASP up to the present day. The WASP were amazing in supporting the war effort in WWII but their efforts did not achieve full equality with their male counterparts though they did many of the same jobs - especially since they were only offered jobs as flight attendants instead of pilots by a major airline after they were disbanded by the government. If you don't know the history of the WASP. Stop Reading. This. Now. and proceed to Wikipedia to learn about these amazing women. Then come back. We'll wait.

Ok, so we now know it took thirty three years for these women to get official recognition for their efforts, so there were many years leading up to 1977 - and after - for women to gain acceptance as pilots and equals (some would say we're still waiting...). It was only just last year that the WASP received awards for their military service! But there has been and are so many other aviation careers available - and rarely do we hear stories of the first female major airline pilots, corporate pilots, aeronautical engineers, air traffic controllers, etc., and examples of their struggles to be able to get their turn at the controls.

Well, here, after a nod to the women who blazed the trail before them, is a book that talks about those women who punched through the glass ceiling that the WASP and others in the past could only crack. And Flying Above the Glass Ceiling tells their stories with all the facts - some of them a bit harsher than others. It could not have been easy to be a fully qualified (perhaps even over-qualified) female applicant and told that you weren't going to be hired for the job because there were no bathroom facilities appropriate for the "fairer sex." Or that the wives of the other pilots would be threatened by a woman working so closely with their husbands. Or laughed at as a child when voicing dreams of going into space. Luckily legislation has made some of this, at least, illegal. You'll have to read the book to hear get the stories about ridiculous treatment from the general public.

I found myself inspired by many of their stories. I remember the day in the Army Flight School when a senior officer said to me, "You know the only reason you're here is because you're a female." The wind left my sails with an audible whoosh (though that could have been the lungful of air that escaped when that verbal punch hit my gut). Here I had thought I had gotten there (and stayed there - seemed like a lot of folks wanted to wash me out) through all of the hard work I was putting into my classes.

Although I feel I had a bit of a struggle in my becoming and being a pilot, it was nothing compared to women being outright criticized and rejected merely because of their gender. I appreciate the honesty of the women in this book who share their stories and their frustrations of being hired only to be the only pilot in their flight department not able to do ________, since a woman's place was _______. [This was kind of a recurring theme, feel free to choose your own words to fill in the blank.] It is also an underlying message in all of the stories that everyone is responsible for creating her own success.

Just in case you think this might be a call to burn your bra and scream out an anti man tirade, it is far from it. A couple of the women even submit opinions such as "women who seem to attract harassment or discrimination expect it." I can't agree with this generalization, though I will offer that none of the chapters relate only negative experiences. The contributing authors also share moments where they had people offering an incredible level of support (made more obvious in the midst of some who only liked having female pilots around to hit on). The most important thing we current women in aviation can do is to mentor our successors and offer our support to those following in our footsteps in what is still, obviously and unarguably, a male dominated profession. Ignoring this fact does not make it go away. Encouraging more women into aviation so they can be successful there will achieve the equal acceptance women seek.

I believe this book helps with that goal because it gives wonderful insight into the career progression of all of the women so that people unfamiliar with the different ways of "building time" in a career in aviation will learn about various routes to achieve their goals - whatever they might be. The book closes with some well worded, well deserved tips on being a respected professional in the aviation world (some unfortunately need a little reminding). But mostly it allows us to know the women who wore our shoes first; and though the styles have changed the lessons still apply today. Their frustrations, motivations and inspiration and why they continued to fly against headwinds no matter how strong and gusty because they wanted their dreams to take flight.

If you like what I had to say and would like your purchase of the book to result in a donation to Girls With Wings from click here.

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