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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Emirati women challenge stereotypes in airline industry

Engineers, pilots, managers  say they are ambitious, independent and want to be role models for young girls

Salma al Baloushi, Etihad’s first female pilot, talks to new recruits. Reem Mohammed / The National
Salma al Baloushi, Etihad’s first female pilot, talks to new recruits. Reem Mohammed / The National

From working on engines in aircraft hangers to flying planes, Emirati women have spoken of the challenges they have faced in knocking down traditional views and overcoming society’s opinions of the appropriate job for a woman.

A group of women from pilots, engineers and airport managers met at the Etihad Training Academy on Tuesday as part of celebrations toward the third annual Emirati Women’s Day on August 28.

“I have to work hard to change people’s viewpoint if they don’t have confidence in me as a trainee because I’m a woman. In the beginning there are challenges but you cannot let fear rule you and stop you from working on an engine. I realized I have to have a strong will and slowly people will change their viewpoint,” said technical engineer Mariam Al Obaidli’s who joined the Etihad Airways Technical Engineer Programme four years ago as part of the airline’s decision to encourage local talent.

Salma al Baloushi, centre, Etihad’s first woman pilot, and Mariam Al Obaidli, right, technical engineer. Reem Mohammed / The National
Salma al Baloushi, centre, Etihad’s first woman pilot, and Mariam Al Obaidli, right, technical engineer. Reem Mohammed / The National

She is one of 42 Emirati women completing a two-year training programme to obtain a GCAA aircraft engineering license.

Speaking about initially feeling like an ‘outsider’ since she was often the only woman working on an aircraft, Ms Al Obaidli said she has had to assert herself to gain experience working on engines.

“Working in the hanger is not your typical job. There is a pattern I saw that basically every girl would be sent to the cabin. And what do you do when you go to the cabin? You basically check the seat, the appearance, it’s not a hardcore job.

So the next time I went up and said, ‘Listen I’m going to work on the landing gear, engine or wing. You can choose one of the three and I’m not even going to say cabin.’ I just have to prove myself.”

She soon realized that the obstacles were not only UAE-centric but that women globally in the aviation sector are also being tested.

Mariam Al Obaidli is a technical engineer at Etihad. Reem Mohammed / The National
Mariam Al Obaidli is a technical engineer at Etihad. Reem Mohammed / The National

“It’s not because I’m Emirati or because we are in a conservative society. At a women’s aviation conference in Florida, I realized it’s international. Everyone was sharing stories and it was similar.”

Etihad Aviation Group said women comprise 36 per cent of the nearly 26,000-strong workforce and work in traditionally male professions such as engineering, the flight deck and cargo.

Historical insight for Tuesday's discussions was provided by Fathiya al Nadhari, head of the Abu Dhabi Women’s Association which was established in 1975.

She recalled traveling by small planes and boats to border regions following Sheikh Zayed’s decision to set up schools for women and children.

“Imagine, in the same place we had lessons for ladies and children, all studying together. It was Sheikh Zayed’s decision that education should be for everyone. Sheikha Fatima introduced the British curriculum in private schools, these were the inspiring models for us,” said Ms Nadhari.”

“It was the foresight of Sheikh Zayed and Sheikha Fatima that opened up the path for the women of today.”

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Read more:

Etihad sets good example for promoting careers of UAE women

Sky is no longer the limit for young Emirati women

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Like women across the world, Emirati women have been voicing their ambitions to dismiss preconceived notions.

In many conservative families, allowing a woman to take a job in another emirate was considered unsuitable.

Moza Al Balooshi broke the news to her family the day before she travelled from Dubai to Abu Dhabi for a job with Etihad and the element of surprise worked.

“I didn’t tell my family at first because they were anxious about me travelling, they had fears about the nature of my job. But I told my mother that I want to be independent, I’m ambitious and please give me a chance to be a role model for other girls.”

The assistant airport manager has since worked overseas in Dublin and is readying for a posting in Bangkok.

Following her experiences working both in the country and abroad, Ms Balooshi had a word of advice for young girls.

“Erase the word 'impossible' from your dictionary and add the word 'success.'”