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The Air Up There Podcast

Equity in Aerospace

Season 2, Episode 15
Published: Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Aviation is for everyone, and the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) is working to ensure that everyone feels included. During the DAC's last meeting, FAA requested that they explore a potential language change. For example, the technical term for drones is unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS. Unmanned. Now the committee is looking at ways to make that terminology gender-inclusive, because really, so long as a person is flying safely and following the rules, it doesn't matter what their gender is.

In this episode, we're exploring what an equitable aerospace industry looks like. You'll hear from FAA Deputy Administrator Brad Mims, the FAA's Vice President for System Operations Services Ginny Boyle, and Alina George from the FAA's drone office.

You can learn more about the DAC's use of inclusive language in our latest blog post.

Equity in Aerospace

Equity in Aerospace

Transcript

Dominique Gebru:
You're listening to The Air Up There, a podcast about the wide world of aviation and aerospace. I'm Dominique Gebru, and this week I'm joined by the FAA Drone Guy, Kevin Morris.

Kevin Morris:
Hey, everyone. Happy to be here.

Dominique Gebru:
Kevin, I'm really glad that you could join us this week because, not to sound like the narrator of an epic novel or anything, but … our story begins with drones.

Kevin Morris:
That's right, Dominique. And let me provide our listeners with some context here. The FAA regulates the skies, but we don't do that in a vacuum. We call in and we rely on experts from outside the agency that help us serve the public better. And one of those groups is the Drone Advisory Committee, which we usually call the DAC.

Dominique Gebru:
Yeah. And the DAC helps the FAA meet the needs of that fast paced-industry, right?

Kevin Morris:
Absolutely. And I'm glad you used the term fast-paced because it is definitely a fast-paced industry. So, the Drone Advisory Committee or DAC, they hold regular public meetings, and I think that's really key to let everybody know that these meetings are available to watch, and we can talk about that a little bit later, but at the last meeting was really interesting because the FAA has asked the DAC to explore a potential language change. See, the technical term for drones is Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UAS. And there's that first word, unmanned. So, the committee is going to look at ways to make that terminology gender inclusive, because really so long as a person is flying a drone safely and following our rules, it doesn't matter what their gender is.

Dominique Gebru:
Right. And to that point, language matters, especially as the FAA works to build an equitable workforce now and in the future. And I mean, really our vocabulary is dynamic. We used to say stewardess, but now we say flight attendant, and everyone knows what that means, it doesn't cause confusion. Likewise, the word hyphy isn't part of my regular vernacular like it was in high school.

Kevin Morris:
Exactly. And I'll show you how old I am. I had to Google the word hyphy to figure out what you were talking about there. But being from the midwest, we have our own way to speak as well. And I think language is such a key part in everything that we do, and inclusive language helps send the signal that, "Look, this field is for everyone." So, we're recording this podcast here in mid-June, and the DAC is sharing their recommendations for the gender-neutral language in the drone world this week. And today's podcast episode, we're exploring what an equitable aerospace industry looks like.

Dominique Gebru:
There's a lot of great work going on to address equity in our sector, after all, just about 8% of traditional pilots certificated by the FAA are women. That's not enough. Our guests are going to shine some light on that work, but really we're only scratching the surface of this topic today. First up, we're going to hear from FAA Deputy Administrator, Brad Mims. Our colleague, Alison Duquette, interviewed Mr. Mims via Zoom about why equity in aviation matters and what the agency's vision for a more equitable future looks like. Let's hear from Brad.

Alison Duquette:
In your view, what does an equitable aviation sector really look like?

Brad Mims:
I want to make sure that people who are in this industry represent America. And I think here, in the U.S., we must do a better job of removing barriers from recruiting the next generation of aerospace workers, and we want to have the best and brightest and most diverse group of people from all walks of life. And that includes recruiting more women, minorities, people from underserved communities for the aerospace workforce. And as long as I'm here and during my tenure, I'm going to be very pointed about that very issue as we go forward.

Alison Duquette:
We've been talking a lot, within the aerospace community as a whole, about gender-inclusive language. In your view, do words really matter? How important is that?

Brad Mims:
Words matter a lot, and words are either a useful tool or they are a hindrance, if I can put it that way, or a barrier. We want to make sure that, as we go forward, that we do all we can to make everybody comfortable and make everybody want to be a part of the industry. And I associate myself and will be an advocate for doing that very thing. I applaud the groups of women and others who have participated in this effort to bring gender neutrality to the industry.

Alison Duquette:
So, you mentioned earlier that we want the best and the brightest people in the industry. So, how does this translate into recruiting young, talented people?

Brad Mims:
Well, I think that we should do our best to make sure that young people, no matter what color, gender, creed they are, economic background, have the ability to participate in learning about this wonderful, wonderful industry.

Kevin Morris:
I really appreciate the way Deputy Administrator calls in the past to talk about inclusivity and equity as we move forward.

Dominique Gebru:
Yeah. And on the topic of moving forward, we want our listeners to hear from another person working to affect change inside the agency. Ginny Boyle is the FAA's Vice President for System Operations Services. That's part of the Air Traffic Organization. Ginny has been with the agency since 1991. So, she's seen a lot of change during her 30-year career here. Let's go to our colleague, Chris Troxell, and Ginny Boyle.

Chris Troxell:
Well, Ginny, thank you so much for being here.

Ginny Boyle:
Thanks for having me, Chris. Yeah, I appreciate it.

Chris Troxell:
Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, how you got into the aviation sector, and ultimately to where you are now as the leader of SysOps?

Ginny Boyle:
Sure. I've been in the agency almost 30 years. I started my aviation career pretty much right out of college. I was one of those fortunate people that actually read the newspaper and learned about air traffic control that way in the olden days, and I was able to write, how to take a test to be an air traffic controller, and that's where I am today. But growing up, my father, he was a lot older. He had left college and he joined — it was the Army Air Corp then — to be a World War II aviator. So, he actually was training to be a fighter pilot. So, it was pretty exciting. We went to air shows, my brothers were always very excited about going to air shows. So, aviation was kind of in our blood.

Chris Troxell:
Ginny, I understand that you lead a women's employee group pushing for inclusive language in the aviation sector, among other equity initiatives.

Ginny Boyle:
So, I became the executive lead for the FAA's Federal Women's Program, May of 2020. So, just last year, and I was honored to be able to take this position. The primary focus of the Federal Women's Program, we have the responsibility really to identify the barriers to hiring and advancement of women, and we work together to ensure both equality and inclusion of employees versus also the public sector. To give you an idea, pre-COVID, women represented a 46% of the national civilian labor workforce, but they're only 23.49% of the FAA workforce. So, the Federal Women's Program is committed to helping increase this number through a lot of our outreach that we have done. And we've been able to identify the careers that are most underrepresented, like air traffic controller, where I started, airway transportation specialist, general engineering, aviation safety inspector, and management program analyst.

Chris Troxell:
I've also heard that you're championing an intern cohort program on inclusive language.

Ginny Boyle:
Yeah. Thanks, Chris. So, what it shows is that really the need for gender inclusion and diversity, especially across the workforce continues throughout today. For me growing up, I knew that my grandmother was an adult woman before she had the right to vote. So, we just passed a hundred years of women's suffrage. And so, what a time to really reflect on how we've evolved over the last hundred years. And so, this is a really significant time about diversity inclusion. And this cohort is very exciting for us because really we're on the cusp of what the next hundred years will bring.

Ginny Boyle:
And I had talked to the cohort and I had explained to them that, "Well, why do you think language is important?" And what I have found personally is, raising some children, that children are very literal. As time has evolved, we're learning that language plays a lot into that. My spouse is in law enforcement, and that they've made a shift even in their language to say what used to be what their strong hand was versus their weak hand, and they've found that the reaction was slower in law enforcement officials. So, now they're switching to dominant hand and support hand, and then I wonder how much that plays into our language that we have every day and what categories we put ourselves in.

Chris Troxell:
That's so interesting. What do you see as some of the biggest barriers to equity in the aerospace sector?

Ginny Boyle:
I think that every day that we're breaking those barriers, I think it's important for girls, young women, get to see themselves and are able to visually see themselves in those roles and that, because we have so many folks out there that are so supportive of diversity inclusion, that we're able to break those barriers down every day. So, I'm very excited about what the aerospace sector has to show for the future.

Chris Troxell:
Do you see the culture at the FAA becoming more inclusive? And if so, how?

Ginny Boyle:
I've been in the agency for 30 years, I've seen quite an evolution. I think the culture is changing every day for the better. The administrator's been welcoming to this gender neutral language and a lot of other changes and evolution that's going out there. And I think the Federal Women's Program, we've had a very robust and successful year so far with the mentoring. We've been working with the employee associations to network and connect and keep the evolution going.

Chris Troxell:
Are there other new initiatives in SysOps or across the FAA that are promoting a culture of inclusiveness?

Ginny Boyle:
The culture of inclusivity is changing and its willingness to have open discussions and dialog about this. We take every opportunity that we can to highlight our evolving times as much as we can, our evolving missions as much as we can. And our team really makes every effort to encourage the newer generations to pursue careers in aviation, no matter what their background is, and to be welcoming to all people.

Chris Troxell:
Can you tell us how this ties into the workforce of the future? And do you see this being tied into STEM outreach as well?

Ginny Boyle:
Absolutely. I am a big advocate and a promoter of STEM outreach. The Federal Women's Program is reaching out to our current workforce, but we're also trying to help develop our future workforce through STEM, the Women in Aviation advisory board, Women in Aviation Month, there's Girls in Aviation Day and all the STEM outreach that everybody is doing because they're excited about their career fields. That's the part that really has us excited about the future and really tearing down those barriers. And there's so many career paths for young people today in science, technology, engineering, air traffic, technical field, so much more in the FAA and to meet our mission. I'm excited for what the future holds for all of us. All of us love our career and want to share that knowledge. Spread that as far as you can. Sprinkle those crumbs so people can find their way to the FAA, because this has been more than I ever dreamed it would be and I hope that other people can dream a dream even bigger than mine.

Dominique Gebru:
Okay. If I can repeat myself a little bit, a lot's changed in 30 years.

Kevin Morris:
Definitely, Dominique. And it's great to hear from folks like Ginny, who have that long range perspective, but as you know, drones are the fastest growing segment of the aviation sector. And there are a lot of young people climbing on board, and we want to make sure that that perspective is included too.

Dominique Gebru:
On that note, I got to talk with someone who helped us incorporate that perspective. Alina George, she works in the FAA's drone office. Alina has been with the agency since 2019, and I asked her about her start in the aerospace world. [music transition] Alina, Thank you so much for joining us on our podcast today. We're really excited to talk with you.

Alina George:
Thank you so much for having me. I am thrilled to be here.

Dominique Gebru:
All right. Let's start with the basics. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do here at the FAA?

Alina George:
Sure. I'd be happy to. So, I work in the UAS Integration Office. A step down from that, we've got the Safety and Integration office, which is AUS-400. And then my actual team is the Outreach and Support team. What we do is make connections, we do a lot of public outreach and we work on increasing the trust and public acceptance of drones. So, we've got a lot of really interesting programs happening, including the UAS Collegiate Training Initiative, where we work with schools, higher education. So, two-, four-year, and technical colleges, and we also have a really great other program, it's called Connected by Drones, where we work with local governments as they build and maintain their own drone programs.

Dominique Gebru:
Wow. That's a really broad portfolio. It sounds like lots of really interesting facets.

Alina George:
It's a lot of fun. It's a lot of talking to people, which I enjoy doing.

Dominique Gebru:
Me too. Go figure. When did you first know that you were interested in the aerospace world?

Alina George:
Oh gosh, I must've been about five.

Dominique Gebru:
Wow.

Alina George:
I blame my dad, and it's not really blame. My dad was a huge Star Wars fan, is a huge Star Wars fan and he passed it off to me, and I just started reading science fiction voraciously and have always been interested in flight and flying and anything that's futuristic technology. So, I'm here.

Dominique Gebru:
Awesome. Oh my gosh. I feel like so many people's origin stories start with Star Wars.

Alina George:
Because it's wonderful.

Dominique Gebru:
Yeah. Let's talk about equity in the sector. Anecdotally, have you noticed any demographic gaps in the drone world? Who isn't at the table, and what do you think the barriers are?

Alina George:
Absolutely. I have definitely noticed that there are demographic gaps. You will often see, and we'll be real here, white men, lots and lots of white men. You will occasionally see white women, but seeing people of color at the table is harder. It's not something that you see as often. So, what we're really missing here is outreach to BIPOC. And so, for those of you who don't know that acronym, that is Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. As a woman of color, it's a little disheartening sometimes, but we are doing a lot these days to make sure that we are getting people of color and BIPOC to that table.

Dominique Gebru:
So, I know you mentioned some of the collegiate outreach work that you all do. How does that work help feed into creating more equity in the pipeline?

Alina George:
I think for a lot of people, aviation in general, it's a matter of not knowing that those opportunities are available. So, with the UAS CTI, what we have done very specifically is reach out to HBCUs, Hispanic Serving Institutions, as well as tribal colleges and universities, because these are really underrepresented communities in aviation. So, making sure that they know that there are careers available and that there is room at the table for them in aviation is really, really important. As much as I loved aerospace and aviation, it never really occurred to me that this was a career opportunity, and here I am, I finally made it. So, I think it is really important, and it's very important to me to make sure that I'm holding that door open for others who want to come in.

Dominique Gebru:
Yeah. I think it's super important for folks to see themselves represented at the table. Right.

Alina George:
Representation is so important. Yes. 100%. And you can see that there have been many studies done with girls, with people of color, where if they don't see themselves, or rather if they do see themselves represented in something, then all of a sudden they imagine, "Oh yeah, I could be a doctor or an astronaut or whatever else it is."

Dominique Gebru:
Start that dream early and keep it going. What advice would you give to someone who has interest in the field, but also has their reservations about it?

Alina George:
That's a great question. And I would say go for it. Nobody can stop you. Things may get difficult, but pursue what you love, and nothing should stop you at that.

Dominique Gebru:
So, Alina, in talking with folks for the podcast and for other things that we do here at the FAA, one common thing that I hear pretty often is folks will share that becoming a pilot is really expensive, and that can be a huge barrier, but that same barrier doesn't really exist in the drone world. Can you talk a little bit more about why drones specifically provide additional opportunities to the folks who aren't represented in more traditional aviation spaces?

Alina George:
I like to think of drones as a great equalizer. They are more accessible, both in cost and availability, right? They are often sold in places that you can find very easily, unlike airplanes, traditional aviation, which are … You have to go to an airport to fly a plane, whereas with drones, you can … I'm not going to say, do that everywhere, but you can many more places than just at an airport. In fact, you shouldn't fly them in airports at all.

Dominique Gebru:
No.

Alina George:
Cost is a huge thing, but also learning curve. Drones are fun and exciting and new. And I think that really draws a lot of people in. And then there's a whole lot of work being done right now on making sure that drones are accessible to people with disabilities. And it gives them the kind of freedom that they wouldn't really be able to fly an airplane with. So, you can put on FPV goggles and really truly be flying. Oh, right, first-person view is a type of drone flying that you can do, and you literally put the goggles on your head, and it is better than a virtual reality because you are flying, you are the drone, that's what you're seeing. And it's an incredible sense of freedom.

Dominique Gebru:
Ah! Alina, is there anything else you'd like to add for someone who, let's say women or people of color who are interested in the field, but feel intimidated because they don't see themselves represented there so much?

Alina George:
It is definitely intimidating to be one of the first, but know that as one of the first, you are opening up the doors for those after you. So, you're not going to be the only one. I think that's really important as we move into industries that are historically white and male, we have to make some headway, and the only way to do that is to get into it. And on that note, drones are a lot of fun, and I think that anybody going into the industry is going to fall in love with it.

Dominique Gebru:
All right, Alina. Thank you so much for being here with us today. We really appreciate the time.

Alina George:
Thanks so much, Dominique.

Dominique Gebru:
I think if our listeners were to take just one thing away from this episode today, it's what Alina said: drones are the great equalizer. And I know that's definitely going to be ruminating around my brain for the rest of the day.

Kevin Morris:
Yeah. Absolutely, Dominique. It was really nice to hear all the perspectives we had today on the podcast because this industry is wide-ranging and it is very inclusive just by its very nature. So, having all these different perspectives come on board and talking about how we're trying to make sure that we're inclusive and equitable, and opening our arms to the wide demographic that is the drone community is just really exciting.

Dominique Gebru:
Kevin, I want to circle back to something really quick that you mentioned at the top of our episode today, the DAC meetings are publicly available. Can you tell our listeners how they can tune into those?

Kevin Morris:
Yes, absolutely. And again, this is a really exciting part about this segment of how we're trying to move forward, and that the Drone Advisory Committee meetings are streamed live for anyone to watch for free. Their information is also available on our website, but if you have access to a computer or a smartphone or a tablet and you can look on Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook, we will live stream those Drone Advisory Committee meetings as they happen. So, you'll see these in real time. And it's very exciting to watch the conversation that happens. And quite honestly, you might recognize a few of those faces as being from your neck of the woods. And maybe you can reach out to those individuals on that committee to voice some of your concerns to be brought up to the FAA.

Dominique Gebru:
That's awesome. So, like, regular people actually have the opportunity to not just be a fly on the wall in the meeting, but to really take action afterwards.

Kevin Morris:
Yes. Absolutely, Dominique. And I think drones is one of the very first segments where we can have that type of engagement with our community. And I always like to say, you talk and we listen, and it's very, very true with the drone community. There are so many different avenues that we've opened up, the DAC meeting live stream, our social media accounts, where you can just really have direct engagement with the FAA. And that's a wonderful thing.

Dominique Gebru:
Wow. That's Kevin, the FAA Drone Guy, everyone. Thanks again, Kevin.

Kevin Morris:
Thank you.

Dominique Gebru:
The Air Up There is a podcast from the Federal Aviation Administration. If you like today's episode, I have a favor to ask you. Will you please write us a review on Apple Podcasts? Your feedback helps us understand how we're doing. Thanks in advance. You can stay up to date with the latest from the FAA on social media. We're @FAA on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And @FAANews on Twitter and YouTube.

Kevin Morris:
Thanks for listening.