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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Etihad’s first woman pilot says family support helped her wear down naysayers

Salma Al Baloushi learnt not to argue or try to convince people but let her work do the talking

Salma Al Baloushi, Etihad’s first woman pilot, speaks during a panel at Etihad Training Academy on Tuesday. Reem Mohammed / The National
Salma Al Baloushi, Etihad’s first woman pilot, speaks during a panel at Etihad Training Academy on Tuesday. Reem Mohammed / The National

“What will you do when you get married?” was the first question Salma Al Baloushi was asked a decade ago during a job interview to become a pilot.

That question stings Etihad’s first female pilot to this day.

Ms Al Baloushi spoke of her struggles at the Etihad Training Academy on Tuesday as part of celebrations toward the third annual Emirati Women’s Day on August 28.

She said it was family support that helped her wear down the naysayers who disapproved when she travelled from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi to apply for a pilot’s position that she saw in a magazine.

“My mother was worried but she supported me even though some people cut off relations with me because they thought the job was not appropriate for a woman. Now their girls are engineers and wear the same dress that I’m wearing and they realise they were wrong."

Ms Baloushi graduated as first officer in 2012.

Like most women, she has learnt to juggle career, home and acknowledges that her husband’s involvement in caring for their two children has helped her devote time to work.

“People felt I would have to choose between my career and family. But I love both my work and my family and it is support at home, from my husband, my family and from my batch mates that have helped me focus on my job.”

Colleagues encouraged her to tune out any negative comments she heard from men who said she should not be a pilot.

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Read more:

Emirati women challenge stereotypes in airline industry

Etihad sets good example for promoting careers of UAE women

Sky is no longer the limit for young Emirati women

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“It has been almost 10 years and I remember a journey of ups and downs. I have been surrounded by really great batch mates and they said I should not worry about comments but just work towards my goal. They told me not to argue or try to convince people, but to let my actions and achievements talk and that people would admit they were wrong. And it’s true some people have told me that they did not think I would reach this far.”

Another Emirati pilot Huda Al Musallami spoke of how being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field meant she was always under scrutiny.

“When we started, this was very new for everyone. It was a big shock for the society as well as the family and at the beginning not everyone accepted us,” said Ms Musallami, who began as a pilot with Emirates and now works with Etihad.

“It was a time for society’s perspectives of Emirati women to change. It was very tough because although the company was open to it, we had to prove that an Emirati woman could join the field. We had to prove to the world that a woman can handle stressful situations specially flying an airplane.”

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