Globally, civil aviation has been a sector in which women have traditionally been marginalized and in some countries, even prohibited from entering. Yet in the Cayman Islands, quite anomalously, this does not appear to be the case at all. Take, for example, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands (CAACI), the technical and economic aviation regulator for the Cayman aviation industry. Almost half of the staff the CAACI consist of women, several of whom are in leadership and technical positions.
“The CAACI is committed to gender equality in recruitment and retention practices and is pleased that we have an almost even split of men and women within the Authority,” says Director-General of the CAACI, P. H. Richard Smith. “CAACI staff members contribute equally in bringing creativity, dedication and commitment, as they strive for excellence in the workplace.”
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which represents 290 airlines globally, only 3 per cent of women hold C-level roles, while only 2.4 per cent hold technical roles. Across the sector, even in liberal countries such as Canada, women represent only 30 per cent of aviation jobs across all categories, despite comprising more than half of the national workforce.
A limited work-life balance in the industry has been highlighted as one of the main reasons why women tend not to seek employment within the sector. One would imagine that this would also be the case in the Cayman Islands, particularly during the past three years as the Cayman Islands Aircraft Register recorded exponential growth, and with the stresses of the pandemic.
But the women of the CAACI appear to be happier and more fulfilled than ever.
So what is the secret of the CAACI, which not only boasts women in top leadership positions, and technical roles as well as throughout the authority who are motivated, dedicated– and all Caymanians?
Nicoela (Nikki) McCoy, Deputy Director-General, Economic Regulation & Administration of the CAACI, describes the culture of the CAACI as nurturing and “strives for gender equality and inclusion, values employees’ personal lives and strives to help employees create work-life balance.”
Ms. McCoy, who has approximately 20 years of experience in the aviation industry and more than 25 years of experience of combined aviation and tourism, air transport experience, is one of several women at the Authority who hold senior positions and in 2017, she became the first woman from the Cayman Islands to be accepted to the International Aviation Women’s Association (IAWA).
“I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had over the past 20 years to grow at the CAACI. While a demanding job role, the Authority offers a positive corporate culture which includes rich diversification of professional experiences and training for continual professional and personal growth,” says Ms. McCoy.
Roles such as Accounts Supervisor, Air Carrier Licensing Officer, Human Resources and Office Administrator, Statistician, Technical Officers, Business Development & Marketing and Administrative staff posts are held by Caymanian women from a diversity of backgrounds, a large proportion of whom have provided years and, in some cases, decades, of longstanding service.
This is contrary to the global trend of high attrition across the aviation sector. According to a report from CNN, “women [typically] leave [the aviation industry] within five years because of lack of advancement or desire to achieve work-life balance, indicating this is a problem not just for the flight deck but for the entire aviation and aerospace industries.”
But at the CAACI, the trend appears to be going in the opposite direction.
Yvonne Gray-Tomlinson, HR/ Office Administrator, who is the most longstanding female member of staff at CAACI, with more than forty years on staff says, “As a woman working for the CAACI for over forty years, I have been offered many job opportunities to grow within the organisation and the flexibility to attend to my personal affairs. I could not ask for a more caring and family-oriented organisation.”
CAACI’s Director of Finance & Compliance, also a typically male role, is held by Jane Panton who has been a member of the team for more than a decade and a half. Panton considers the gender balanced environment at CAACI as a positive contributor to the Authority’s nurturing environment and overall positive morale.
“These ladies represent almost half of the staff complement which provides a balance of varying perspectives of attitude, focus and the need to get the job done to the highest standard possible,” says Panton. “As women we help the people around us not lose sight of the softer things in life and cherish the intrinsic treasures that sometimes are easy to ignore, such as where we live and our freedoms (there are many).”
Accounts Supervisor, Joni Wood agrees.
Ms. Wood, who started her career with the CAACI almost 18 years ago as an Accounts Officer with no prior experience in the aviation industry, says that the CAACI has nurtured and supported her educational goals, training, and growth in the fields of Accounting, Compliance and Aviation in addition to providing her with experience and opportunities.
“Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create, and I am proud to be a part of a team that creates that environment for its employees,” says Ms. Wood. “As a mother of two young boys with very demanding schedules, and someone who has experienced many personal challenges, including the sickness and loss of close family members, I understand this all too well. The management team at the CAACI have been my mentors and a great example of the importance of delivering the highest level of service to our customers, whilst also providing a flexible working environment that allows for the team to prioritize family and personal matters.”
Christine Savage, Technical Officer, Oversight Planning who holds a Bachelor of Engineering with a concentration in Aerospace Engineering and a Masters in Gas Turbine Engineering– an area of aviation that consists of more than 97 per cent men– also values the work-life balance at the CAACI.
Savage says that the company’s balanced culture stood up to the test during the lockdown and homeschooling periods, when families were blindsided by the sudden need to care and protect themselves both physically and mentally.
“The CAACI gave us the space to find our balance again,” says Ms. Savage. “And in “the new norm” they adapted again to allow us the flexibility to manage the fluctuating restrictions and requirements.”
Globally, in 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) sent out a strong message to the aviation sector in favor of gender equality, by adopting the A39-30 resolution comprising a program of tangible gender equality measures, with Christine Ourmieres-Widener, ex-CEO of UK airline, Flybe, recommending that the workplace must be “more flexible about how and where work is performed.”
It is evident that work-life balance and a culture that supports career advancement have been key contributing factors towards the gender-balance and high morale at the Cayman Islands Airport Authority, particularly during COVID-19.
“Emerging into this new world of opening borders and reconnecting families, we have found ourselves stronger, built on our recent experiences with new processes to allow us to be mobile and efficient, and trust in each other like never before,” confirms Christine Savage, who credits the culture at the Authority for allowing her to fulfill her many roles, both personally and professionally.
“In the years that I have worked at the CAACI, they have become a second family to me: nurturing my career, while also appreciating my personal role as a mother, wife, sister and daughter.”
Women’s History Month, celebrated every March, strives to recognize the accomplishments of women who have worked to #breakthebias throughout history.
As Women’s History Month draws to a close, we give a round of applause to the women of the Civil Aviation Authority who have certainly broken the bias, creating pathways today for further inclusiveness both in the Cayman Islands and the aviation industry around the world.