March 15, 2013
By Benét J. Wilson
The Professional Women Controllers Inc. (PWC) used the Women in Aviation International convention in Nashville, Tenn., March 14 through 16 as a platform to push its mission: create environments and opportunities to grow the female air traffic controller population.
PWC was born after two co-founding members, Sue Townsend and Jacque Smith, met during ATC training in 1978. “They were the only females in the class. After training, they maintained a close relationship,” said Robin Rush, the organization’s president and manager of California’s Torrance Air Traffic Control Tower. “They discussed the issues about being the only females in a male-dominated profession. And they started talking about how other women had the same issues and feelings in other parts of country.”
The nonprofit organization, which boasts 600 members, was created to be support, network, and improve the work environment for female air traffic controllers, said Rush. “We offer support, training, and camaraderie,” she said. “We also offer a scholarship program for females pursuing ATC careers, and include members of their immediate families. We gave away $12,000 in scholarships in 2012.”
PWC membership is open to any ATC specialist, but the bulk of members are employed by the FAA, said Rush. “Twenty-five percent of our members are male because they believe in our vision—achieve a balanced workforce that reflects the demographics of society and creates a safe environment where all air traffic professionals can have passion for their career and can excel,” she said.
When Rush joined the FAA in 1996, she noted that the air traffic operation profession was only 10 percent female. “We are now at 16.9 percent,” she said.
PWC advocates for a fair workplace for females in ATC and encourages women to enter the profession, said Rush. “We go to organizations including high schools, colleges and universities, the Girl Scouts, and career fairs to spread the word,” she said. “We also mentor and coach students interested in pursuing the career field. We’re all over the country, but there’s always a member to speak with women about what it takes to be an air traffic controller.”
PWC is in the final phase of preparation for its thirty-fifth annual conference, scheduled for April 8 through 11 in Philadelphia. “We provide technical and soft-skills training, motivational keynote speeches, and updates and briefings from FAA executives,” said Rush.
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