Interview of Maria Angeles Martin Prats, Associate Professor at University of Seville
Prof. Maria Angeles Martin Prats gives her opinion on challenges and barriers women in aviation and aerospace industry face.
Q1: It is difficult to believe that in the 21st century, with so much emphasis on gender equality in the workplace, women are still appreciably under-represented in the aviation and aerospace sectors. Why do you think there is such a gender gap? What kinds of challenges or barriers exist?.
Aviation and aerospace sectors have been traditionally areas of men, where the number of women is really low. During the last years, institutions, governments and companies try to improve the current situation in gender with quotas or other recommendations without a real and relevant success. During the last years, more women are found on basic works but only a few of them get to the top as general director or CEOs of companies, Rectors, Directors of Department at Universities.
The main problems are the stereotypes and the idea that we transmit to the girls at home and since they are at the primary school. So, it is very convenient to change the mind of the children and the society in order to achieve equal opportunities for men and women.
The problem is that, nowadays, the relevant positions in companies or Universities are chosen by men. We should try to give more visibility to women in aerospace in order to attract young women to this sector. Once female students see that they can do the work equally to men and at the same to have a balanced professional and familiar life, the number of women in the industry will increase.
Q2: What do you think could be done to address this gender imbalance? Are you optimistic that the so-called "glass ceiling", i.e. the invisible fences blocking women from entering and advancing up within the aviation industry, will eventually be tackled?
I am convinced that the glass ceiling exists and that we should do something to solve the problem. More than quotas, I support the trend of implementing new actions oriented to change the status of women in the aerospace sector. When a woman gets a relevant position at companies or Universities, more will follow. So, it is important to have women in all positions and roles in the society, just like men.
Q3: Throughout your career, have you experienced any discrimination because of your gender or been treated differentially in the work place in comparison to men? Do you think it was harder for you to succeed in this industry because you are a woman?
I work at the University and the discrimination is not so evident because the salary is fixed by law. But it is true that for women the treatment is different to men. However, the situation in companies is different in practice and perhaps worse because in most of the cases men are those who distribute the roles.
Q4: Part of the "gender gap" problem is down to the lack of visible role models. In an effort to inform, motivate and intrigue young girls to consider the aviation sector as an attractive and fascinating work option, can you share with us what has been the most memorable working experience or person you met, during the course of your career?
I teach aerospace engineering (the only female associate professor out of 54 male professors in my department) and I noticed that many times the girls do not decide to study engineering due to lack of information and the absence of raw models. I teach, I do research, I have created a Spin Off, I have three kids and I am really happy working on aeronautics!
Thanks to my intense and dedicated work and contacts with industry and international universities, I encourage women to study engineering and to change the perceived role of women in the society. We have to contribute to a balanced family and professional life without renouncing our right to high professional positions. The main objective is to have the same professional opportunities.
In order to achieve this objective, I organize seminars, technical courses, international meetings and I show the labs where traditionally only men have been working. Also, and in the middle of a deep economic crisis, I transmit positive attitude to the young people for reaching high academic level, for being more competitive and for going abroad to open their minds and enrich the society and themselves.
In the specific area of aeronautics, I promote, search, I create and launch different international programs for exchange students in undergraduate, Master and PhD levels, not only in Universities but also in companies.
I give seminars at schools and show my experience as a woman working in a world traditionally dominated by men. I show students that they can improve and change the world with their work, living in their own country or in another country where they can find new opportunities for professional growth.
Thanks to women working on engineering we have a very active network made up of women of different countries, religions, culture and races. Every year we organize a global meeting in a different country where each representative (chair) woman of each country explains the situation of women in engineering in her country. This allows us to exchange ideas and to take decisions as a group. This is the best, interesting and fruitful meeting that we have once per year. Then, each chair is the person in charge to transfer and fulfill the ideas of improving to each country (universities and companies).
Q5: Have you always wanted to follow a career in the Aviation sector? Was this a childhood dream of yours and what has been your greatest motivation for choosing this profession?
I love aviation since I was a child because my father was a military pilot and I wanted to also become one. However, I finally decided to teach at the University trying to balance my family and professional life and I really enjoy my work.
Q6: Having succeeded in this "male dominated" sector, what would you like to say to the young girls considering to follow a career in Aeronautics? Do you have any words of advice?
We need to increase women in aerospace sector, so we should encourage them to study aerospace engineering. Women are complementary to men and all of us can contribute to a better world. They can have everything if they want to without renouncing their right to success in aerospace and in their life.