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Females With Altitude - Why are there so few female drone pilots?

29 Nov 2015 Simon

At Insurance 4 drones we regularly look at demographics when researching whom our potential customers might be. One thing we have noticed is how few female pilots are using drones commercially; in fact approximately 6% of PFAW’s (Permission For Aerial Work) given by the CAA, are to females. We spoke to two female droners, CAA approved pilot Maureen Saunderson of VR Vistas and currently qualifying pilot Charlene L’Aimable of Black Kite Creative, to get their insights into why this is such a male dominated industry and how this might change going forward.

I4D: What’s your background and what made you want to become a drone pilot?

CL: I’d lived near an RC club and since the age of 9 or 10 and this sparked a hobbyist interest. Later in life I had set up a Graphic `Design company which included video production, so aerial photography/videography seemed a natural extension of both my chosen work and my hobby – as a drone enthusiast, I was also getting requests for aerial photography, before I’d enrolled for my theory course with pilot school RUSTA, where I was the only female in the class.

MS: My earlier background was lecturing and training in Maths and Computing, and after that around eight years ago, I set up a Virtual Reality panoramic photography company. In 2012 I was introduced to 360° video at a conference, which sparked my aerial photography interest. I too was the only female in a class of thirteen, when I went to Resource for pilot qualification in 2014.

I4D: What do you think are the reasons there have been so few women who are drone pilots to date?

MS: I believe it’s cultural – for example I recently went to a yoga class which had one male and the rest female – culturally women may be attracted to such classes more naturally than men; but if I look at the motor racing industry, it tends to be a man’s world, and I think it is similar in the drone industry. Men culturally tend to be drawn to more mechanical subjects, as evidenced by numbers of students in engineering courses at colleges and universities. That said, my course teacher at Resource suggested that although I was only the fifth female pilot he’d taught, collectively they had proven to be generally safer and more cautious pilots in his opinion.

CL: For me I think it comes down to the education. Some people just don’t know about drones and there can be negative drone imagery in the press. I believe educating young females about the many practical uses of drones – showing them the available career paths that they could take by training to use drones, could encourage more interest. I also think women are not particularly encouraged to enter the market right now from a marketing perspective – I recently read a statistic that 99% of drone related purchases are by men – therefore all the marketing would be focussed towards men, and women may not associate with this fully.

I4D: Do you think there is currently a gap in the industry for female pilots to particularly market their services uniquely?

CL: I don’t think there is an industry gap for females specifically, but I do think the outlook on females in the industry needs to be modernised. For myself, I would want to gain business not simply because I am a female, but because of the work that I produce.  There are two video production pilots Emma Boswell and Katya Nelhams-Wright who are a massive inspiration to me. “Helicopter Girls” is the name of their company, which in itself has an emphasis on the fact they are female, but they have struck a brilliant balance, as they are proven not by their gender but by their achievement, creativity and tech knowledge within the industry.

MS: I’m also not sure there is a specific gap for females. Ultimately how you market yourself might lead you in a certain direction but that applies to all pilots, whichever gender. The wife of one of the senior people I met at Resource is also a pilot, and she said she has carried out lots of commercial work in the equestrian field, which may possibly naturally be a more feminine business, although I don’t know it well. More recently, I dispersed some ashes out over the sea with a drone for a client, which I guess might be considered a more feminine role if it grows into something that more people elect to do.

I4D: What do you think the industry should do in the future to attract more women to become pilots?

MS: I think the pilot courses could be a little less military in tone, personally speaking it was ex-RAF, hundreds of acronyms, so perhaps it would help if the courses were less daunting to women. For me any business works well that is a mixture of all people, men and women. Now that the industry has moved on from a build your own RC Copter male area, to a much more off the shelf RTF (Ready To Fly) business, I’d like to think more women will want to enter the industry.

CL: I do think as a whole, the industry is changing its outlook on female pilots, but this process seems to be a slow one. The encouragement of gender-balance from the very start in all aspects within the industry, having female-targeted advertising would be a step in the right direction for example. Having more marketing go into the promotion of already established female pilots in the industry, telling their story of successes and career paths could help. Finally, as I mentioned earlier education – especially for females from an earlier age will hopefully demonstrate the massively positive benefits and practical uses of drones….and the fun side too!

With special thanks to our two contributors, Charlene L’Aimable –please visit her at www.blackkitecreative.com and Maureen Saunderson – please visit her at www.vrvistas.com