Thursday, February 17, 2011

Career advice from a Snowbirds pilot to local birds


Career advice from a Snowbirds pilot to local birds

My interview with L.Col. Maryse Carmichael ( "Top Snowbirds pilot brings success story to Vancouver", Jan. 25) struck a cord with many readers here on the West Coast.

Carmichael, 39, is the remarkable pilot and officer in the Canadian Armed Forces who, in 2000, became the first woman to fly with the elite Canadian Snowbirds military aerobatics team. She is now commanding officer of the Snowbirds, based in Moose Jaw, Sask. - the first woman to lead the squadron in its 40-year history.

And if that wasn't enough, she's also mom to two little girls, age four and 20-months.

We spoke by phone last Friday in advance of her arrival in Vancouver where she is scheduled to speak at a series of private engagements this weekend on the topic of leadership.

She is certainly well-qualified to speak on the subject, and is, of course, a particularly great role-model for young women considering a similar career in what remains a heavily male-dominated profession.

Indeed, things have changed little since Carmichael joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1990. She was, at the time, the 39th woman to join the Canadian Armed Forces as a pilot and only one of two female students in a class of 140 in flight school.

Twenty years ago, about 1.5 per cent of CAF pilots were women. These days, the percentage has only risen slightly to just above two or three per cent, according to Carmichael.

The statistics are similar in the private aviation world, she said, though "there are more and more (women flying) all the time."

"I was away from flying with two pregnancies and when I came back, I really noticed a difference. I hear a lot more ladies on the radio now," she said.

Some of those women are right here in Metro Vancouver. Following Carmichael's story in Tuesday's Vancouver Sun, I heard from quite a few local parents whose daughters are interesting in pursuing a career in the air.

One proud dad, Gary Peare, told me via email that both his daughters are interested in becoming professional pilots. His youngest daughter, 17-year-old Jessica, just successfully completed her first solo flight out at Boundary Bay this weekend and is "working on getting her license as we speak." Older sister Allison will get her pilot's licence this year, he said.

I asked Peare why the numbers of women pilots remain so low in the industry and this is what he had to say:

"I think in the aviation field it is not just women who are not becoming pilots but many of our young folks, both girls and boys. We will eventually have a lack of pilots here in North America. There is no reason in particular as to why there are so few women in aviation today. In fact some of the most famous pilots are indeed women in the past as in the present, names like Amelia Earhart, Patty Wagstaff and all the WASP pilots of WW2 just to name a few.

"Both my daughters have, of course, been hanging around me all their lives,with that they have been flying and messing around with mechanical and electronic things. So really it was not a big stretch for one of them - so far - to become a pilot, and an engineer. No surprise to me of course..."

For anyone considering a career in flying, and in particular thinking of trying for a spot in the highly competitive military flight world, Carmichael had this to say in the way of advice:

"My very first idea is to have that passion of flying. I think it is valid for any other profession. If you love what you do you will put in the hours and you will be dedicated to being the best you can be."

As always, I'm interested in hearing what you think on this or any other workplace topic

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