Girls in Aviation – It’s all about changing the narrative

Watching a group of fierce young women, on the cusp of adulthood, and a career of their choice, discover one of the lesser explored career options for women is both rewarding and inspiring.

That was the feeling at the first Girls in Aviation Day on Sept 17, where graduates from McAuly House School in Johannesburg were invited for a high tea at Fireblade Aviation’s precinct. The scholars toured the facilities, and networked with local industry role models.

First image: Njabulo Khama | Siphesihle Vilakazi | Erin McKay Second image: Renée Smith Third image: Lindelwa Ndhlovu

Amongst the speakers was the Girls in Aviation programme driving force in South Africa, Renee Smith, an aviation designer for the Netherlands Airports Consultants (NACO), and Graduate of McAuly House. “I wish I had mentorship when I started in this industry… But now I can be someone who makes a difference in the world by inspiring and exposing young women to the industry I work in. I have been lucky because I can combine my passion with my career, and I believe in paying it forward.

The group included 18-year-old Siphesihle Vilakazi, who wants to be an animator, looking at a giant aircraft and telling her peers how a course for young women to introduce her to the possibilities of the aviation industry opened her eyes. “It’s a whole new world, and its very inspiring.

And, Lindelwa Ndhlovu (17) who wants to be an architect, after attending the Girls in Aviation programme, wants to take her architecture dreams into aviation. “I have been waiting for this day for weeks! It has broadened my horizons and I am now learning how I can incorporate the aviation industry into my career.

Leigh Kretzschmar, finance executive at Fireblade Aviation, and mother of two young girls found herself immersed in the aviation industry through her job at Fireblade Aviation. Her excitement was as palpable as that of the young graduates. “I brought my youngest daughter with me today, so that she can see what the opportunities are.

Left-right, back – front: Dedre Piekaar (Airlink) | Saranee Padayachee | Valerie Joseph | Letlotlo Matsimbi (Airlink prize winner) | Neo Mathamela | Nicole Njenga | Bonolo Molebats | Zita Jurgens | Jody Appollis | Lindokuhle Tshuma | Snenhlanhla Khumalo | Dr Kenneth Chavunduka | Lerato Matia (Airlink) | Ryan Williams (Fireblade Aviation) | Leigh Kretzschmar (Fireblade Aviation) | Nathan Brits (Fireblade Aviation) | Beverley Chengiah (Fireblade Aviation)

Fireblade’s involvement in this global initiative came after FBO Executive Bradley Stalls started talking to Renee about the initiative. “We invited the NACO staff to a tour of our facilities and we got talking about issues around sustainability. The Girls in Aviation initiative intrigued me, and I felt we could support it in a meaningful way,” he explains.

The aviation industry has been a predominantly male space, and we want that to change. We want change to happen at the grassroots-level to build and nurture a passion for the aviation industry.

By focusing on young people, particularly girls, Fireblade hopes to inspire and upskill the next generation of aviation industry workers, while promoting diversity in the industry.

For Leigh, changing this part of the industry is crucial, and long overdue. Creating a more inclusive and diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for business. A diverse and inclusive workforce is a key differentiator in any successful business, a diversity of ideas and people come up with different and better solutions.

However, the reality is that in aviation a diverse workforce does not really exist. We want to change that narrative.
The sky simply can’t be the limit.

First image: Onke Jele Second image: Roxanne Scott‐Williams (Airlink) Third image: Letlotlo Matsimbi Fourth image: Maria Maerman (Airlink) Fifth image: Lindokuhle Tshuma | Jody Appollis Sixth image: Dinah Ntuli (Apron Assistant)


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