India is not the same country as it once was. Now changes can be seen in through our societies, infrastructure, behaviour, and every aspect where we were lacking. But, now the country is on the path to change. For instance, Shweta Singh who once had a dream of becoming a pilot had to persuade her parents to let her pick an uncommon profession for women. Those were the difficult times when Shweta was with unwelcoming males in the cockpit.
Today, it would be not so weird and one can easily embrace. Not just the pilots, women are succeeding in every sector. In fact, more benefits are awaiting – union-mandated equal pay, day care services, equal pay, and a booming aviation sector.
Despite being a patriarchal society, our country has improved a lot and now has the highest proportion of female commercial pilots in the world at 12 per cent.
To Shweta, it was a very difficult time period when she was in a male-dominated environment. But, now the society is changing. If we talk about this progress on a global level, then the percentage of female pilots in India is twice as in most western countries including the United States and Australia. However, only 5 per cent of women are pilots, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.
But, that percentage is going to surge with the 790,000 vacancies for new pilots on a global level by Planemaker Boeing Co in the next 20 years. On top of that India’s aviation market is also expanding, with domestic capacity growing 22 per cent in the first half of the year. So, recruiting more women is the only way to solve the pilot shortage.
But, social constraints have worked against that, said Maria Bucur, a professor of history and gender studies at Indiana University.
According to her, “The training and stressful work needed to become and work as a pilot require choices of women that go against most of the gendered expectations our society has to them at that age: to have babies”.
The pilot is a profession where there is no difference in the pay of different genders. The starting salary range of $25,000-$47,000 is equal for both male and female. Although, this could also depend on the airline and type of aircraft.
At IndiGo, about 13 per cent of pilots are women and from 13 per cent, the 10 per cent five years ago. IndiGo Airlines operated by InterGlobe Aviation Ltd. provides daycare and offers pregnant women office duties and an allowance equivalent to what they would have earned flying helping them “consecutively stay engaged with the profession.”
Women safety has always been first concern among societies. Thus, airlines offer a pick-up and drop-off service from 6 p.m to 6 a.m. After a horrific rape in New Delhi in 2012, women are now accompanied by an armed guard.
“It is the safest job. Women are more protected here than in any other place.” – Shweta Singh.
Change in Society
Rupinder Kaur, a pilot at IndiGo working on secondment with India’s aviation regulator as a flight operator instructor also struggled to find a job after graduating from flight school in 2002. Even at some point, she wondered whether spending 2 million rupees to get her flying license had been the “the biggest blunder” of her life.
It took her a year but she finally got a job in a regional airline, Air Deccan.
“In India, it is generally a rat race, where you choose a profession based on what the majority of people are doing,” she said, adding that airlines should ensure women make up a certain percentage of their workforce, especially in piloting.
“It is still not that easy for us. We have to give our 200 per cent,” she said because women are expected to efficiently manage families and jobs.
Compared to China where the women contribute 41 per cent of the country's economy, Indian women contribute only 18 per cent to India’s GDP. And an only quarter of India’s workforce is female, according to a report by consultant McKinsey.
There are signs that a number of female pilots in India will keep rising.
“The society is changing and there are more acceptances about working in the aviation sector,” Kumar said.