Aviation has long been thought of as a male-dominated industry, and rightfully so. Pilots, air traffic controllers and grounds crew members have been and still are mostly positions held down by men. Even as you work your way up the ladder, men still significantly outnumber women even in the C suite of aviation. So naturally, when I started my company in the aviation sector in 2008, I knew being a woman would definitely come into play and cause obstacles. What I never realized was just how much of an obstacle this would be in my career.
The last 11 years have definitely been some of the most challenging of my life. Funny enough, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. What I learned about business, and more importantly, myself, in this time has helped me grow both professional and personally beyond my wildest imagination. In that time, I’ve worked with mostly men, led teams of men, sadly encountered more cases of sexism and discrimination than I’d care to remember (for the record, many men have been extremely welcoming and treated me with the utmost respect), and still I’m proud to say produced profitable results, a thriving company and have even been called a trailblazer of the industry.
There is so much good information out there about succeeding as an entrepreneur, but not enough solid facts about succeeding as a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned in my career.
Setting boundaries is not bitchiness.
If you want to stand out, you must learn to set boundaries and use the word ‘no.’ Embrace the power in phrases like “no thank you” and “not today.” The words you say define your legacy every bit as much as what earns your yes. Creating these boundaries is not crossing the line to bitchiness. More specifically, if you want to be successful in the things that matter most, you must learn to say no to the things that don’t align with the legacy you are building. You may not have to cut things out completely, but learn how to limit them.
Comparisons will crush you.
Women need other like-minded women in their lives to learn, grow and hold each other accountable. Don’t ever allow yourself to start comparing your life, success, or anything else about you to others. Analysis, assessment and appropriation may help you process information, but it will also make you critical and judgmental of yourself. Even worse, this can push you toward jealousy and insecurity. When women start comparing their lives to the lives of their friends, colleagues and others, it’s a formula for disaster. Do you ever catch yourself thinking things like, “She has it made,” “That is so much more glamorous than what I’m doing,” and “How is she even successful? I have so much more to offer.” You have to stop this line of thinking in its tracks the minute you catch yourself going there. Stay in your own lane, doing the unique things you were wired to do.
Don’t just ‘lean in.’ You must Stand Up!
Women need to take a posture of leadership and readiness, taking ownership of their own development and job advancement. They must stand firm in their purpose and convictions, overcoming fears, failures and hypocrisy along the way. It’s not easy, but if we stand up together, we can go places we’ve never dreamed we would see. And as a bonus? If we’ve pulled a few sisters up along the way, it’s not nearly as lonely at the top. There are so many ways women can stand up. It can be through mentorship, lending an ear when someone is struggling, joining a group that is centered around something you strongly believe in or giving back in some other way.
Don’t let your past rob your future.
Many of us have a checkered past, and some have more checkers than others. Bad choices have a knack for following us, even many years down the road. You have to accept where you are and where you’ve been without letting it determine where you are headed. Stop living with regret, wishing you had acted or reacted to something in a different manner. Remorse, shame and guilt can confine your dreams and expectations like a prison wall. Living in the past, stuck in a world of ‘should haves’ is not what is going to get you to the future. It’s only going to hold you back unable to move ahead.
Business can be tough and even feel overwhelming at times. As women, we certainly have our share of obstacles we must face. Like any endeavor worth fighting, we must continue to stand together, move forward and create our path. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road, especially for women. Getting around other women who are dealing with similar struggles is very important and one of the best things I ever did for my business. If I can make it in the world of aviation, I promise you that you can make it in whatever role you find yourself in.
Rene Banglesdorf is author of “Stand Up: How to Flourish When the Odds Are Stacked Against You“. She is the founder and CEO of Charlie Bravo Aviation. She has overcome a number of life’s obstacles, become a dominant force in a male-driven industry and is a speaker and mentor to women around the world.