In a further effort to increase gender diversity and level the playing field for women in the airline industry, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is launching a new initiative designed to increase the number of women in the sector.

On Thursday, IATA launched the “25by2025 campaign”, which asks its 290 members for a voluntary commitment to increase the number of women in senior positions and under-represented areas by either 25% against currently reported metrics or to a minimum representation of 25% by 2025. In addition, it requests airlines report key diversity and inclusion metrics annually.

IATA member companies that already signed up to the 25by2025 campaign include China Eastern Airlines, Lufthansa Group and Qatar Airways.

“Airlines understand the value that a diverse and gender-balanced workforce delivers,” says Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and chief executive in a statement on 26 September. “The 25by2025 Campaign provides a global context and encouragement for the many initiatives our members are already taking to address the gender imbalance.”

While there is currently no comprehensive airline industry-wide metric, IATA estimates women currently represent approximately 5% of the global pilot population and only 3% of CEOs in the industry, showing a clear gender imbalance.

IATA itself is also committing to these targets.

The organisation aims to increase the representation of women in IATA’s senior management (directors and above) from the current 19% to at least 25% by 2025. It also says it will work with members to increase the number of women appointed to IATA governance roles and ensure women are better represented at IATA conferences in prominent speaking roles. IATA aims to create a forum for sharing diversity and inclusion initiatives, best practices across the industry as well as publish annual industry statistics on gender diversity.

“The issue of gender diversity in the air transport industry (as well as in our own organisation) remains very much a work-in-progress,” the organisation states. Improving gender diversity, it says, is not just “the right thing to do”, but it also makes business sense. IATA cites the McKinsey & Company report “Women Matter”, first published in 2008, which determined companies where women are most-strongly represented at board or top-management level are also the companies that perform best.

The US Department of Transportation is also looking for ways to attract future personnel from a dwindling pool of students entering aerospace careers, but is making slow progress on increasing the role of women in that sector. Congress last October passed the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, tasking the department to form a Women in Aviation Advisory Board “to promote organisations and programs that provide education, training, mentorship, outreach and recruitment of women into the aviation industry”.

The department is three months behind a congressional deadline to appoint board members, but the paperwork is nearly done to form the advisory board, Joel Szabat, DOT acting undersecretary for policy said on 26 September during a hearing of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“We can expect to see an announcement that the task force has been formed within days,” Szabat said.

Encouraging women to join aerospace could be vital to address a potential worldwide pilot shortage of 790,000 by 2037, US Federal Aviation Administration deputy administrator Dan Elwell told the committee.

“It’s not just pilots, it’s all of the technical fields in our sector,” Elwell says of the emerging shortage of aerospace workers. “Women are woefully underrepresented in our sector.”

Earlier this year, a FlightGlobal survey of carriers and groups that feature in FlightGlobal’s top 100 World Airline Rankings by 2018 revenue-passenger-kilometres suggested that it may be well into the century before women achieve parity with men in senior executive positions in the aviation industry.

Overall, of the 600 senior executive roles surveyed in June 2019 – covering CEO, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, chief commercial officer, chief information officer and HR director, or equivalents – some 76, or 13%, were taken by women. This compares with 72, or 12%, at the same point in 2018; and 65, or 11%, at the same point in 2017.

At this rate, extrapolating the average growth in female incumbents since 2017 – at six of the 600 surveyed roles per year – it could be around 2057 before gender parity is achieved, illustrating the scale of the challenge ahead to address this imbalance.

The survey showed that across the top 100 airlines, none have a majority of female incumbents in the surveyed positions. Only three airlines achieve a 50:50 split: Air Canada, South African Airways and VietJet Air.

“Our work will not be done in 2025, in fact, this is only the beginning,” IATA’s de Juniac adds. “Our ultimate aim is of course for a 50-50 gender split with equal opportunities for everyone in every part of our industry.”

Additional reporting by Cirium Dashboard reporter Tom Risen.