Ethiopian Airlines is the fastest growing and most profitable airline in Africa. Yet only a third of their employees are women. In a bid to promote diversity, female empowerment, sustainable growth and the importance of African women working, the airline decided to launch a marketing project in the hope it will inspire more African girls to pursue aviation careers.
The number of women working at the airline gets smaller when it comes to positions such as pilots and technicians.
For one week at the end of November, all flights from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to Bangkok, Thailand, were entirely staffed by women, all the way from the ground crew to the pilots. It was the first time in the airline’s 70 year history that entire flight operations were run by women.
On ground flight preparations included Cabin Operations, Airport Operations, Flight Dispatcher, Load Controller, Ramp Operations, On-board logistics, Aviation Safety and Security, Ticket Offices, Catering, Air Traffic Controllers as well as Global Call Center. Even the customs and immigration officials in Bangkok were women.
Ethiopian Airlines CEO Mr. Tewolde GebreMariam said these flights will inspire women in Ethiopia as well as around Africa.
“Here in the continent of Africa, we are lagging behind in women empowerment. So this is going to inspire all the school girls in Africa that they have a very bright future in the 21st century,” he said.
The United Nations recently ranked Ethiopia 174th out of 184 countries in its 2011 Gender Development Index, so it is easy to see why the airline would want to do their part in setting an example of what the future looks like where more women are employed.
With the announcement of the recent Sustainable Development Goals by world leaders at the United Nations, one of the key areas that have been identified which will play a large role in alleviating global poverty by 2050 is the financial empowerment of women. Because the majority of the world’s illiterate and uneducated are women, when those figures alone are reversed, we will start to see a huge impact on economic growth globally.
Tewolde GebreMariam’s remarks show what it looks like when a corporation does their part to eliminate inequalities based on gender.
“It is a great honor for us to have competent Women Aviation Professionals at Ethiopian in every aspect of the aviation field, which portrays Ethiopian as gender responsive organization that strives to pursue its underlying stance of being an equal opportunity employer,” he said in a press release.
“Above all, this is an ample opportunity to inspire young African female students to believe in their dreams and embark to fill the skill gap for Aviation professionals. Women are the continent’s greatest untapped resources, and hereby fully dedicated to ensure the increase number of women in decision making positions on top of key operational areas by consistently grooming and mentoring successor female employees for top managerial, technical and operational positions.”
While this was certainly a moment of celebration for the airline and women’s empowerment, it should be noted it’s not the first all-female crew that has flown an airline. Air Zimbabwe accomplished the same achievement a week before Ethiopian Airlines, where an all-women crew flew from the nation’s capital Harare to Victoria Falls. They too sent a powerful message about women in the aviation industry.
Elsewhere in the industry, a report from Women of Aviation dating from 1960 – 2010 shows that only 6.73% of pilots were women in the US in the year 2010. American Airlines became the first airline ever to hire a female pilot, in 1973, but it seems as if progress in the gender equality stakes has become stagnant.
Ethiopian Airlines is certainly making a huge push to change the numbers in a way that reflects women as half the population. Along with encouraging more females as part of their company at all levels, on board their flights, they also want to make the flying process easier for mothers. They are launching a Nursing Room equipped with modern amenities; comfortable reclining chairs, and refrigerators for the storage of breast milk. New electronic breast pumps are also distributed to new mothers.
If only more corporations around the world were willing to go above and beyond to promote women’s empowerment with the understanding that economic growth and sustainability impacts everyone in society. We eagerly await the next company to do something similar to Ethiopian Airlines so that we can share the story with our readers.