Becoming a Pilot: Inspiring Woman Sets Her Sights High

When many of us board our flights, we normally hear the voice of a male pilot welcoming us aboard. Not thinking much of it, we sit back and relax for take off. It would not be surprising if you did not wonder or notice that you may have never heard a female voice from the cockpit welcoming you to your flight.

When looking at the statistics, around three percent of pilots worldwide are women, that’s 4,000 out of 130,000 pilots and out of all those women who take to the air, only 450 are captains.

There is no clear explanation as to why there are few female pilots, but some polls suggest that when women are asked if they would consider  becoming a pilot as a career option, they mostly look the other way due to the lack of visible role models. Another reason, which is sadly heard of too often, is that a pilot position is a “man’s job.”

I asked Shaneeka Bartlett, 26, who from the age of five has dreamt of becoming a commercial pilot, why she believed there were so few female pilots.

“I believe there are only 4% of female pilots worldwide because the Aviation Industry has been male dominated for so long, women don’t believe they are good enough to be Pilots. Majority of young girls and women I have spoken to about becoming a Pilot did not even know women were allowed to be Pilots. Imagine that! In this day and age.”

Bartlett, who graduated with a first class degree in business management, travel and tourism,  is close to fulfilling that dream and has been accepted to a school in the United States.

Shaneeka Bartlett
Shaneeka Bartlett

You had told me previously that whenever you traveled, you had never seen a female pilot. How did that make you feel throughout your life and determination to become a pilot?

After traveling a minimum of twice a year from the age of five and not ever seeing a female Pilot, it led me to believe ‘girls were not allowed’. This made me feel as though women were not smart enough to do such an important and fascinating job. I believed men were more capable and this was why women were not allowed. Little did I know this was just a male dominated industry at the time. Because of this I began to think of other important jobs I could do when I got older and I decided on Law. I remember watching films and television programmes where Lawyers seemed to be important, well dressed and well paid. I wanted to have a job where I was making a difference in people’s lives. For almost 10 years becoming a Lawyer was my new dream career, until I was sitting in my University class one day thinking ‘I’m bored’. I didn’t want to have a career where I wake up not excited and rearing to go. So that adventure was over.

Can you go into more detail on how your passion grew over the years and when it just hit you, that this was it?

At the age of 20 I found a new job and it just so happened to be at the airport working as a Passenger Services agent based at Virgin Atlantic Airways check in. It was like a new chapter in my life. It was fun, exciting and I loved the uniform. That’s when I realized I definitely wanted to stay in the travel industry. So I went back to university and studied Business Management with Travel and Tourism degree. I still had not thought about my childhood dream of becoming a Pilot at this point. My mum always taught me education is the key. Going to University gives you a good study and work ethic. And I wanted to ensure I had a better understanding of the business world.

You attended university and received a first class degree in business management, travel and tourism. Is that normal for individuals who wish to become a pilot?

After being at the airport part time for 2 years while studying I observed and met a lot of people. Watching the cabin crew, Captains and First Officers check in and jet off day in and day out I thought, maybe I could do that one day. Still not believing in myself 100% at this point I began to investigate how I would go about becoming a Pilot. After realizing it would cost over £90,000 I thought, maybe it wasn’t possible. Then I saw the British Airways Pilot scholarship programme advertisement so I applied. After waiting anxiously for 6 weeks I finally got an email stating I had not been accepted. After applying to all of the other Pilot scholarships available at the time and still being unsuccessful I was devastated! That is when it hit me how much I really wanted to become a Pilot! It’s like it smacked me right in the face.

I had asked you previously on why there are so few female pilots. You said that a major reason is that there is so few because of self doubt in a male dominated industry. Are there other factors that you have seen along the way that would add to that self doubt for other aspiring female pilots?

After speaking to my mum about it and looking for some alternatives I found a School in the USA for a third of the cost of studying in the UK. I emailed them and found out some more information and what I would need to do to be able to attend the School. After receiving positive feedback and information, I was so excited and determined more than ever. Most Pilots study aviation before pursuing there career but I found out that this was not a requirement. But having my Business degree sets me apart from other Pilots and I like to be different and maybe when I get to the stage of applying to Airlines who knows, it may help me to stand out from the other Applicants.

Growing up traveling, attending university and now going forward to become a pilot, what have you learned and hope for other young women who are scared to take that initial step, in becoming a pilot?

Growing up traveling, attending University and now beginning my journey to become a Pilot I have learned that believing in yourself is more important than people realize. If you are lucky enough to have a close net of supportive family, friends and fiancé as I do. Having them believe in you pushes you even more to be the best you can be. Realizing that anything is possible if you just believe is the first step to making any dream not just becoming a Pilot come true. PMA (Positive Mental Attitude)

Where there any challenges that you have had to overcome or that you faced?

The major challenges I have had to face are financial. Working 7 days a week for the last 3 years to save enough to pay for my course. But with the help of my parents and kind donations from friends, family and strangers through I am almost there. My last hurdle is receiving my visa from the US embassy which I am currently waiting for. Fingers crossed it will be approved shortly, so I can be on my way to making my childhood dream of becoming a Pilot a reality.

What are three words of advice that you could give other aspiring pilots and other women who are going into male dominated professions?

Three words is difficult. But I would say to:
Dream, Believe and Pursue

Bartlett started a crowdfunding page to help cover the cost of tuition – please see the link below:

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