What does it take to make a girl’s dream fly?

On International Women’s Day 2021, Relocate Global’s Think Women community caught up with trailblazing pilot Carrie Clark a year on from when she first addressed guests at our Institute of Directors event.

Around the world, females represent just 3% of airline pilots. In the UK, this figure is 5%, with only around 1,000 women in the UK holding a flight-crew licence. Visibility of women among this 5% and their stories of how they made it are vital for showing it is possible to rebalance this statistic.To mark International Women’s Day, this webinar explores the lived reality of these statistics for girls and young women determined to take their seat at the very front of the plane. And how parents, teachers and supporters can walk alongside young women on their chosen paths.
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Shifting the dial on representation

For Carrie Clark, now a fully qualified commercial airline pilot in the first few weeks of her professional career, occupying this coveted space means over a decade of determination, resilience and indomitable spirit, as well as the unwavering support of coaches, fellow aviators and family.“Since I was little girl, I’ve always wanted to be an airline pilot,” said Carrie Clark, explaining where her journey started to broadcaster Jayne Constantinis and Relocate Global’s Managing Editor Fiona Murchie in one of a series of four Think Women webinars to celebrate International Women’s Day 2021. “I used to stand in the terminal and look out at these huge aircraft and think that the two people up the front were the coolest people on the planet.”Understandably, becoming qualified to pilot commercial planes is not easy for anyone, let alone if you have happen to be female. Training can cost up to £130,000, much of which now must be self-funded upfront.When the odds are already stacked against you – whether your socio-economic background means this would be impossible, or you are in a minority, meaning you are always the “only one” in the room – breaking through these high barriers to entry is harder.Brian Strutton, General Secretary of BALPA, the representative body for British pilots, acknowledges how training costs and financial concerns are putting talented would-be pilots off joining the profession. For women and young girls, he also pointed out how low female representation could also be a factor.“So often we’re shown men as pilots and women as cabin crew,” said Brian Strutton. “This could be sending a message to young girls that if they want to work in aviation, it can’t be as a pilot. We do believe the only thing that should matter in realising your dream and securing a job as a pilot should be your ability, not your background, financial situation or gender.”

What it takes to break through the clouds

Despite some aviation sector initiatives, the reality for people like Carrie Clark is that following that path to piloting remains challenging. “There’s been a lot of tears and stress along the way,” she says. “It’s taken everything I have to make it happen.”As Carrie Clark explains in the webinar, self-funding meant leaving school at 17 to work and save for her training. Most recently, 12 years on, this has been a stint as an Amazon delivery driver during the Covid pandemic, which put everything on hold, and proved to be Carrie Clark’s final obstacle just as her goal was in touching distance.Yet Covid was simply another obstacle in a series that started even before Carrie Clark started her training. “There were a couple of teachers at school who were very helpful and encouraging,” reflects Carrie Clark. “But there were also situations when I was younger, I’m 30 this year, that when I said I wanted to be an airline pilot there were a few comments of ‘that’s not really for girls’ or ‘that’s very expensive, maybe look at something else.’”On the question of how much harder it has been because of her gender, Carrie Clark says the journey has been different to the norm, but one where you can’t let being in a minority override everything.“I would say that the industry has come on hugely from back in the day when you would get some very, very inappropriate comments,” she says. “I couldn’t even imagine a world now back how it used to be. But there are still some old-fashioned views in there.“You have to be strong in character to be able to stick up for yourself sometimes. I think it also takes a strength of character to not let that determine your journey. You are standing there, shoulder-to-shoulder, either way. I think if I wasn’t so stubborn, there were many opportunities where I could have given up.”

The importance of self-belief and the belief of others

As the statistics show, Carrie Clark’s journey is exceptional in many ways. Beating the odds to become someone she looked up to as a child has fuelled her journey. But this could not have happened without the mindset instilled in her since childhood and a strong community of women and men around her who believed her dream was possible.“It’s harder to achieve because we are in the minority, but that almost gave me the extra push that there’s no way I’ve giving up on this – I’m going to do this,” says Carrie Clark. “I think it’s how you are brought up and have supportive and motivated, inspirational women around you. There were a lot of strong beliefs pushed upon me. But my family and the people who brought me up corrected those along the way and made sure I didn’t believe them.“I’ve always had a fantastic role model. My mum is independent, very strong and from a very young age has always taught me I can achieve anything if I’m willing to put the work in. There is a way. That belief has served me ten-fold over this journey.“I think that builds you into a woman with strength who wants to go and prove everyone wrong. This journey now means that any problem that comes to me I’m like, ‘ok, yep, no problem.’ It’s almost like resilience is a muscle. You start to get a belief in yourself that I’m not going to give up. There’s got to be a way I can find to get around this.“There have been many obstacles that could have knocked me off my path, but it’s just been pure stubbornness, resilience and the motivation that I wanted to live up to everything for the people who believed in me,” Carrie Clark continued. “It’s those times when you’re struggling to believe in yourself – and we all have those moments – that when other people believe in you, it just gives you that extra push to get back on your feet and believe in yourself again.”“I think it’s a trait that still to this day I’m battling Imposter Syndrome and how am I here? So you have to push through to show other women and girls that it is possible, but also to stand as a team with other women on that journey who know it is difficult too. There’s a lovely community of flying women. It gives you that extra willpower to say I’ve got to do this to help others. You feel like you are serving a multitude of people by achieving it.”

Empowering women with belief

As well as the pressure of financing and overcoming the extra hurdles of being a woman in a man’s world, Carrie Clark and women like her who are breaking down barriers often report feeling additional demands because of this. Coaching and mentorship have made a difference here.“An incredible group of women have been so pivotal in my journey – to have such a strong group of women telling me that they believe I can, want me to believe I can and telling me that I need to look after myself rather than worrying about everybody along the way first.“It’s a massive generalisation, but as women, I think we always want to give, give, give. I’m not saying don’t do that, but we also have to do that to ourselves. My personal growth, the love and appreciation of me and what I’ve achieved because I’ve worked hard has been a journey on its own.“Right the way from the beginning when I first got into flight school my concern was how can I show other people they can get into flight school? They need to know they can. I’ve been coached the whole way through by other women to look after myself. To give back when I can rather than constantly.”Asked for her advice on how men and women can support girls at school now to achieve their dreams, no matter what they might be, Carrie Clark says: “I think a key thing I’ve tried to instil with anyone who wants to support and empower young women is that often when we care for someone, we want to see them safe and secure. But sometimes going for your dream and for something that people see typically as out of reach doesn’t seem like the safe, secure option.“When you are looking after and looking out for them, you have to focus on both sides of that. One, looking after their security, their financial security, their future, where they are hedging their bets. But two, you also have to look after the heart and soul of that young girl. All she really wants in that moment from anyone looking after her or behind her is that you believe, no matter what, she can do it if she puts the work in and that you will be there along the way.“I guess what I’m saying is, don’t impose your own fears on someone else’s dream. We don’t realise how heavy that can be when we’re having those days when things aren’t going as they necessarily should. It’s not necessarily how it’s intended, but how it’s read, by women who are going for something slightly out of reach."Read more about Carrie Clark’s journey: Young female pilot aims to help open up career opportunities for all Follow Carrie Clark on social media via Instagram

Watch additional Think Women video replays

Why is Purpose so Important for Women Now? with Sarah Rozenthuler
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Ripples of Change for Women in the Post Pandemic World with Vlatka Hlupic
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Why supporting women to realise their aspirations matters
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If you want to learn more about Think Women and future activities and workshops please email Fiona Murchie via

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