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Beyond pink: marketing to womenbeyond pink

Women consistently represent 6 percent of the aviation community, 5 percent at the commercial level. Other male-dominated activities—hunting comes to mind—have taken special efforts to include and encourage women, but aviation seems to lag behind. Note, for example, the lack of Mother’s Day catalogs in aviation, while Father’s Day marketing has long been established.

A poll of female aviators yielded a wealth of responses regarding marketing to women. What do women want? Here are their own words about marketing aviation education and products.

“Women are 50 percent of the human population, with 50 percent of discretionary funds, but advertising does not represent us 50 percent of the time. Maybe [women] would spend more on aviation if they felt included. A recent ad featured two male pilots and the only female is the soft, sexy voice at the end.”

“I’d like to get aviation marketing to the 90 percent [of women] who don’t even have flight on their radar, who don't even see it as a possibility. I'd love to see more women enjoy the thrill and beauty of flight.”

Women want a safe, clean, nonintimidating environment without sexual overtones. While most men are polite and professional, fringes of the population either want to intimidate women in the aviation field, or pursue intimacy simply because they are women. Neither is appropriate in a professional environment.

Women need attractive role models to show one does not have to be manly to fly. One flight instructor said she intentionally dresses simply to avoid jealousy from her male clients’ wives. But others said they dress well to convey that one does not have to set aside femininity to be an aviatrix.

Women want a safe learning experience. Women tend to hear better than their male counterparts in all phases of life, according to Dr. Leonard Sax, author of Why Gender Matters. Women want a clear explanation before hopping into a noisy airplane. Female support and encouragement to try activities that may seem risky is an asset.

Throughout all phases of an aviation career, women pilots want respect and acknowledgement that they have worked as hard as their male counterparts to earn their position. “It irritates me to see women being portrayed in subordinate roles in advertising—always the first officer, always the student, always the flight attendant.”

Women want aviation products that work, that fit, and that are stylish in presentation. If the only women’s clothing for sale at your FBO consist of the provocative “Remove Before Flight” T-shirts common in aviation catalogs, reevaluate the emotional atmosphere in your flight school.

Likewise, coloring items pink (like headsets) is not an automatic seller of products. “Product designers seem to think that making something pink is the ultimate answer. This ‘answer’ lacks creativity and depth.” “Marketing to women is important and must be done carefully, otherwise it comes across wrong like when a very girly product is listed as ‘For Women,’ implying we need something different.”

“Here's what will sell: real women, really wearing the clothes, doing stuff real women do.”

What do women want? Respect and recognition for their contributions on a level playing field with products, personnel, and programs that work.

“These responses show pretty clearly that there isn’t one answer. Being born with certain body parts doesn't dictate values, preferences, or personal character. The normalization of women in all roles emphasizes the variation rather than pigeonholing us. Overalls? Dresses? Pink headsets? Serious? Laid back? It's all OK.”

One contributor summed it up: “How about marketing to people? Men and women are interested by the same stuff. Especially a group full of pilots.”

Peg Ballou is a certificated flight instructor and owner of Ballou Skies Aviation in Bucyrus, Ohio.