According to data released from the FAA, there are 5,734 certificated women mechanics and 1,800 repairmen compared to a total of 313,032 certificated mechanics. With the challenges of an already tough industry and being in the minority how do women succeed in aviation? AMT takes a look at the resources available and talks to a few women who have been there, done that.
There are several associations that target women in the field of aviation. One is Women in Aviation Intl. (WAI), based in Florida, that offers an annual conference (held in Dallas this month) for networking and technical training, mentoring programs, and scholarships that in 2003 totaled more than $450,000. Formed in 1995, WAI has more than 5,500 members covering all aspects of aviation.
Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA), based in Washington, D.C., also offers networking and training opportunities on a local chapter level and at its annual symposium held this month in Las Vegas. PAMA offers the Professional Aviation Maintenance Olympics (PAMO) to give aviation maintenance professionals the opportunity to demonstrate their skills. The competition takes place at its annual symposium. Teams compete in a variety of events and are scored based on time and accuracy.
Another association is the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance (AWAM) which is based in Florida, and was formed for the purpose of championing women's professional growth and enrichment in the aviation maintenance field.
Robin Lamar, outgoing president of AWAM, was involved with aviation associations long before she was an A&P. "Learning what other folks are doing can be a real inspiration to ones personal life.
"I had been an A&P for many years before someone told me about PAMA. It was good to know that professionals had an association to work within."
And as to the benefits of belonging to an association, particularly AWAM, Lamar says, "Most of us are the only ones of our kind that we see at work, we feel extremely isolated, no matter how great the guys are at work. It's tremendous to be able to meet and talk with other women who talk tech. To share information about different job possibilities, evaluate companies, and compare technical tips is just the tip of the AWAM support. We have created some great scholarships that are not just for students, but are for professionals that want to advance their careers.
"AWAM creates an area of opportunity that would not exist without the organization.
"When I was furloughed (United Airlines line mechanic at Los Angeles International Airport)," Lamar says, "my involvement with AWAM kept me sane. I knew that I wasn't alone during this difficult down turn of our industry. We needed to help each other. As AWAM president, I tried to make sure there were as many ways as possible to support our members and I was supporting myself as well."
Many AWAM programs have grown directly out of the realization of members' needs. Due to a member saying she couldn't apply for scholarship training because of travel and hotel accommodations, AWAM created what it calls a complete scholarship packet that includes hotel and where possible transportation costs. "It was when I faced relocation," Lamar says, "that AWAM pushed to have quick e-mail connection so that members could network with people in different cities and get help in that tough transition period."
As with any career, having a mentor in the industry to offer advice along the way is a benefit. It could be a teacher, co-worker, or an owner of an airplane.
"When I started," Lamar says, "I had never seen a woman doing this work and I didn't really work with any other women mechanics. Several men have been very important mentors for me, and 18 years later they are still important in my development. I learned that I could be accepted and how the system worked with the help of men who dared to stand up for my rights. They helped me realize that it's by doing the job, and doing it well that you get accepted."