Sunday, May 27, 2012

Girls With Wings Aviation Inspiration Day 2012 - pt 1

It's the morning after our Second Annual Aviation Inspiration Day in S. St. Paul, MN, and I am still enjoying thinking back on our day. The good: the several hundred people that showed up at our family friendly event despite the bad: the terrible weather. In fact, I think if not for the horrible storms we endured that at one point even caused a power outage, we would have been overwhelmed with attendance. It was due to media coverage such as the live interview done Thursday morning before the event.

Many thanks to Dave Sniadak of Axiom Marketing for bringing so much attention to AID2012. As we receive links to the additional coverage we will bring them to you. So if you need a PR guy, then Dave is your man.

Also, please let me emphasize that this event would not have become the extravaganza it has become without the efforts of Amy Lauria of the Commemorative Air Force - MN Wing. It is because of her efforts through planning, organizing and executing that we have had another successful Aviation Inspiration Day!

Registration for the Girls With Wings presentations immediately spiked. Interestingly enough, I received the following email from Jennifer:

comments =
Yes, please contact me. I would like to know when you have a Boys with Wings program so I can take my boys to it. I know they would love to go. I find it very discouraging that programs like this are out there that discriminate boys against girls. What has our society become? The program should have been Girls and Boys with wings so they would both feel welcome. When I heard this on the news this morning they said "oh, and boys can come too" really? Do you really think they would feel wecome in any way? Why are we putting boys and girls against eachother at such a young age? Fox 9 news also puts on a Girls in Science program which also discriminates boys. Do you think our society would tolerate having a flying program or a science program only for boys? So, please let me know when you are having your Boys with Wings program so our family can attend. My email address is listed above. Thank you.

I haven't received an email such as this for quite a while, so of course I was a bit taken aback because we were trying to emphasize that this was an event for the ENTIRE family. We had many activities scheduled for everyone, the only facet of the event just for girls was the Girls With Wings presentation. The extra push, of course, was to bump up the participation of girls in aviation.

Keith Jones, one of GWW's Board Members, asked to respond to her email. He is father to three great kids who were featured in a blog entry a couple of years ago. Since then the entire family has come onboard as GWW Crewmembers - they even had a booth during Women Fly It Forward and had as their guest of honor Sarah Fraher of Flying Wild Alaska.

I thought Keith's response was so insightful and valuable that I am going to share it with you here:


Thank you for your email and I can truly understand your frustration from the viewpoint that you laid out in your email below.  How you feel was exactly the feeling held when there was not an easy avenue for women to pursue aviation related past times or careers back when Girls With Wings was conceived over 10 years ago.  This is not the first time we have heard this point of view, and we do take it seriously.  In short, we have no intention of Girls With Wings to be sexist only towards girls and women.  However, what we are trying to do is provide more opportunities for women to participate in aviation because of the staggeringly low numbers of women joining the industry in either a commercial or recreational capacity.  For example, only 6% of pilots are women.  3% of pilots for the scheduled airlines are women. That means out of 100 airline pilots, 97 are men and only 3 are women. There are very few other industries you will find that consist of gender statistics like that.  What we found when we started Girls With Wings is that with the rare exception all promotional material, shirts, books, and anything else you can imagine associated with aviation was already boy oriented and girls were subtly excluded by this bias.  Trying to find a girl’s pink airplane t-shirt was virtually impossible 10 years ago.  Now, we have that through Girls With Wings.  Every day was "Boys with Wings" and girls did not have the same choices for their preferences, which many times can be different than a boy's preference.  The Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds were, for many years, only male pilots, and the public recruiting face of those military branches.  In fact, Nicole, the first female Thunderbird pilot, is a role model on our site and she by far gets the most email because she has inspired girls to think about following in her footsteps. We started Girls With Wings to help young women have an avenue when they are curious about aviation but may have been told they could not or should not do it because someone in their life may have told them "planes are a boy's thing" or they think it is too hard of a passion for which to reach.  

In addition to our many male supporters, there are two men on our Board of Directors.  In fact, I am one of the Directors and am a father of one such girl that I described above.  I have a son (8), a daughter (7), and another daughter (3).  My son loves everything about aviation and is welcomed nearly anywhere he goes that is aviation oriented (male and female events).  I am a pilot and I have been exposed to flight instructors that refuse to even teach women how to fly or were very derogatory toward women pilots to their male students.  Unfortunately, this is just a fact of life in aviation and we are trying to overcome it.  My oldest daughter once told me "I can't like planes like my older brother, it's only a boy's thing".  This seemed to me to come out of left field, since I never heard her actually told anything of the sort.  What was my response as a pilot and a Dad?  I sought out and started volunteering for Girls With Wings and now both of my daughters, who thought aviation was only a "boy's thing" before now, live and breathe aviation because they know they are just as capable as boys to participate in aviation.  In fact, I am a man who volunteers frequently for Girls With Wings and my young son joins me to support his little sisters' passions in aviation even if his sisters are not there with him.  An 8 year old boy is trying to help girls his age become interested in aviation just as much as he is - without competing with them.  That is what we try to do here at Girls With Wings:  help each other attempt to live to our fullest potential, using aviation as a theme, but all of our fullest potential in general.

If you are looking for general aviation organizations that don't have missions specifically concentrating on changing the statistics for women in aviation, may I recommend AOPA ( and EAA ( that are gender neutral and could have more men for your boys to interact with.  They have many many more events than Girls With Wings each year if you review their websites.  You could also read about and join the Young Eagles program ( which, as you will find, will have at least 94% male pilots for your boys to interact with. This is also the organization that has volunteered to offer the free flights at our Aviation Inspiration Day Lynda discussed on TV. It is important to remember that Girls with Wings promotes aviation in general.  We welcome both genders at our events.  We welcome individuals of both genders because it helps move our mission forward.  All three of the aforementioned organizations, and many more, are also very supportive of Girls With Wings because they also understand the need to interest more younger women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and aviation is a perfect avenue for that education. 

Although it seems you are very frustrated at what you perceive is a competition of boys versus girls and I'm confident this letter will probably not change your mind, I wanted to share where our inspiration started.  If your sons and daughters would like to attend the event, they are more than welcome to come.  In fact, bring your whole family!  As Lynda, the Founder and Executive Director of Girls With Wings, said on the TV interview, the event is meant for the whole family.  During the short TV interview she only had time to talk about the highlights of our organization and the event so hopefully this email gives you a little more background concerning Girls With Wings.  The information I shared with you in this email would have taken too long for the TV spot we were allotted.

If you have any other comments or concerns, please feel free to email me back.
Keith Jones
Director,  Girls With Wings, Inc.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization

PS - my mentor when I was a student pilot was a female pilot that I met through Girls With Wings and I found her listed in the "role models" section of our website.  She helped me get through some of the tough times faced when I was learning to fly.  And because of that, I believe GWW is capable of helping pilots of any gender depending on how you use the resources Girls With Wings has to offer anyone interested in the organization.

I post these emails because I am emphasizing the point that we are really encouraging everyone to participate in our Aviation Inspiration Day. I am looking forward to bringing you in successive blog entries highlights of the event as the pictures and videos start to roll in. I'm also in the process of building a permanent webpage for AID 2012 and creating June's newsletter - before my memories start to get fuzzy!

Oh, and here's a photo of two of my three helpers that also happen to be my nephews. Clearly I wasn't the only one exhausted by the day's activities. They were real troopers!

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