Women's Wednesday: Meet our Flight Ops ladies

We embark on a Women’s Wednesday series, in which we put our Avy ladies in the spotlight through to find out about their experience when it comes to being a woman in the drone and tech industry. We take off the series with Renee and Sara from our flight ops team.

Avy VTOL drone pilots with flight drone cases

Meet our Flight Ops ladies

With International Women’s Day  approaching,  we have decided to put our Avy ladies in the spotlight through a series of interviews, to find out about their experience when it comes to being a woman in the drone and tech industry. It’s no secret that we find ourselves in a male clustered industry,  where women still don’t always receive the recognition and credit they deserve, as well as equal opportunities and at times equal pay. According to Eurostat, there are only 17% of women working in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering & Maths), and only 5% of them hold leadership positions. Reports from big tech companies such as Google and Apple show they pay their female employees less than their male counterparts. For all these reasons and more, we believe it’s important to raise awareness about the current state of the tech industry and find a way to motivate women to join the workforce, while celebrating women that we know. And where is a better place to start than right at home. Read on to find out how these Avy wonder women are navigating through what sometimes appears to be a man’s world. 

We take off the first edition of our Women’s Wednesday Theme Month with our Flight operations team! We talked to Renee, flight operations team lead, and Sara, our compliance officer. Sara and Renee are part of the flight ops team together with four pilots. We sat down with them to see what their views are on women in the drone industry, what brought them to their role at Avy, and the challenges along the way. 

What is your role at Avy and how does your typical day look like? 

Renee: I am a flight operations team lead. My main responsibilities are ensuring alignment between different teams which includes daily meetings with the other team leads as well as planning of flights for the team of pilots. I spend a significant amount of time interviewing potential candidates, and then there is always long-term planning and goal setting that needs to be done. As of recently, I am also the safety monitor manager.

Sara: I work as a compliance officer, making sure that Avy and the flight operations team follow national and European regulations when it comes to operations. My typical day at Avy includes lots of meetings, answering questions about different regulations, as well as helping Renee with the interviews. A big part of the work I do now is learning and reading as well as staying updated with ever-changing drone industry regulations.

Flight crew with Avy Aera VTOL drone
Renee and Sara in the Flight Ops area
Avy VTOL drone flight operations
Renee, bossing it out

What is your background and what attracted you to the drone industry? What was your dream job when you were a kid?

Sara: I studied history and did my PhD in the history of the European Union and aerospace cooperation. While studying how the aerospace industry in Europe came together and learning about the evolution of aviation, space race, and cooperation in the EU, I realised that the drone sector is going to be the next big step for European integration. Therefore, working in the drone industry seemed like a relevant continuation of what I have studied in the past.

As a kid I wanted to be an Egyptologist. I started reading books about ancient Egypt when I was 7 years old and ended up starting a bachelor in Egyptology, but eventually got a degree in Oriental Philology, so I kind of did follow my childhood dreams!

Renee: I have done my studies in aerospace engineering and stumbled upon Avy when I was looking for a new job. After reading about its mission and purpose which aligned with my beliefs, I applied for a job. Funny story is that when I came to Avy for my job interview, everyone in the office was in the middle of doing a daily 7-minute workout, running around, doing jumping jacks and push ups, even inviting me to join them, but as I was dressed up I skipped it. However, that experience made me want to work at Avy even more. So you could say that Avy attracted me to the drone industry!

Growing up, me, my brother and sister dreamed of being doctors, but think that was probably the influence of TV shows such as ER and Grey’s Anatomy. In the end, none of us became a doctor…

Have you faced challenges as a woman working in the drone industry which is known to be men clustered?

Renee: I would say that in the aerospace industry I did encounter some challenges, but in the drone industry not as much. The latter could be because I got a bit older and felt more secure in my capabilities. When I started my studies I was 18 and seeing such a small percentage of women in the aerospace industry felt different and weird.

While studying, but also when I just started working, I often had the feeling that people would underestimate my capabilities. That they would be surprised that I studied aerodynamics, and even more that I was actually succeeding at it. I think that as a woman you need to stand your ground more in order to be treated the same.

Luckily for me I was always very chatty and vocal, so I handled it pretty well and in a way I learned to use it as an advantage. For example there are less women in the industry so the clients I work with remember me more often. It definitely became easier with experience and years, but I think we still need to see more women in the industry.

Sara: I’ve been working for less than a year, so with COVID I didn’t have as many interactions outside of Avy. However the majority of people I have encountered so far in the drone industry are men, and I very often find myself and Renee being the only women. Still, having her by my side gives me a sense of balance and security. Not to sound biased but I believe women can understand each other better, and can help each other cope with insecurities that hailed from being a minority in this industry. Coming from human science studies where there was a majority of women, I could feel the difference when I started my PhD in aerospace cooperation which was a men clustered field. As Renee has already shared, there was always a sense of surprise when they would hear what my PhD is about.

Once, I had a colleague ask me why I picked such a male research topic and regularly tested my knowledge about it. However, I do feel hopeful about the future as I see that the new generations are developing awareness and understanding of the importance of gender equality early on.
Avy VTOL drone copilot in Rwanda
Renee acting as remote pilot during Lake Kivu Challenge, Rwanda
Avy VTOL drone flight crew in field
Sara, out in the field look for her safety checklist

How important it is for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?

Renee: I think it’s really important, but I do need to make myself aware of it as well. When you are used to being one of the few women in the industry, your survival instinct always kicks in first, so it’s easy to lose sight of the other women struggling to find their place to fit in. However, once I think about it I know I want to uplift those women and the rest comes naturally to me. I encourage them to speak up and put themselves in the spotlight. Fortunately, I had a great mentor who taught me to be unapologetic and believe in myself, so I hope to pass it on to the women I meet along the way.

Sara: I think it’s quite essential. I like the idea of women empowering each other, it’s an amazing tool for bonding and creating respect between women, like a sort of sisterhood you build together. It’s important to avoid the cycle of gossiping and bringing each other down. I believe that we can learn a lot from the older, more experienced, generations, as Renee pointed out, but that they can also learn a lot from us when it comes to getting out of the comfort zone, and challenging the status quo.

Which badass woman do you admire and look up to? How does she inspire you?

Renee: Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I admire them because of their values which are based on honesty, justice and equality. Both of them are going after their goals and don’t care much what other people think. They are also expressing themselves quite freely, for example when Greta Thunberg made jokes on Trump’s account, and AOC publicly criticised fellow politicians for calling her names. There is purity in how they approach their jobs and you can see it’s their purpose and mission.

Sara: A friend of mine, Christina, a university professor of European law. She is probably one of the strongest women I’ve met. She seems to always go after her ideals without a care about the consequences and reacts to every injustice she can. I feel like women are often put in a position to choose between career and family, and that is another reason I admire her so much, because while being extremely accomplished she also finds time for her family. I really respect her as a woman fighting for what she thinks is right.

We want to thank our Flight Ops ladies for sharing their experience. Don’t miss out on the next edition with our Tech ladies and find out who the famous tech person Karin had the pleasure of meeting and why Pippi Longstocking is an inspiration to our intern Johanna.

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