While progress has been made toward narrowing the gender gap in the aviation industry – Farzaneh Sharafbafi became the first female CEO of Iran Air in July 2017 – the global labour force participation rate for women as of December 2017 was just over 49%, compared to 76% for men, according to the International Labor Organization. The Women in PaxEx series provides insight from women working in the airline passenger experience industry who are flying above the glass ceiling. This installment focuses on the practical steps we can take to break down barriers that prevent gender equality in the aviation industry.

Stacie Lawson, Manager, Operational Services US, Spafax

Stacie is based at the Spafax Costa Mesa office where she manages the operational timelines for content delivery to clients and supervises the operations and metadata teams. She began her career in entertainment as an intern at Warner Bros., where she worked her way up to manager in Production and Broadcast. Music and film inspired her from a young age and she has always loved the way entertainment can bring people together. Stacie has always considered herself as an entertainer and was even part of an all-girl band named Bambi Square!

When she began her career in the entertainment industry, she was one of three women out of a 25-person crew. She always felt that her personality and ability to bring people together afforded her the success she had over the next 16 years at Warner Bros.

How much progress (if any) have you noticed during your career towards narrowing the gender gap in aviation? What still needs to be done?

Though there has been some progress toward narrowing the gender gap in aviation – with initiatives such as Ethiopian Airlines’ all-female flight crew – much more progress is needed. I don’t believe enough is being done to promote and communicate what the aviation industry has to offer by way of careers, especially for women. I would love to see more corporations, brands and associations educating young women on the various roles, like mine, that can leverage their technical and creative talents.

It’s also important to look further than the gender gap and address the disproportionate amount of minorities in aviation which, in turn, could also narrow the gender gap.

‘The best solutions are created when strong communication exists across a diverse group of people within a given industry.” — Stacie Lawson, Spafax

Do solutions come from the top down or the bottom up?

I believe that the best solutions are created when strong communication exists across a diverse group of people within a given industry. We must work from both the top down and the bottom up and provide platforms for open conversations about challenges.

Jolene Verwey, Pilot, Cathay Pacific Airways


Jolene Verwey  is a first officer on the Boeing 777 for Cathay Pacific. She started her flying career at the late age of 27, after a nine year career in the military. She trained at the renowned 43 Air School in South Africa. After graduating, she was employed as a charter pilot on the King Air 200. Initially, she didn’t fly often, so in order to supplement her hours, she became a part-time flight instructor, which she describes as the most rewarding experience of her career to date. She did a short contract for the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the King Air 200, after which she flew night freight flights for DHL on the Beechcraft 1900 in Southern Africa. Jolene then became a  first officer on the Bombardier CRJ200 for South African Express Airways, which she says positioned her to apply for Cathay Pacific Airways.

“There is still a lot of pressure to conform to the old way of thinking: a stable career that would support a ‘normal’ family lifestyle,” –Jolene Verwey, Cathay Pacific Airways

How much progress (if any) have you noticed during your career toward narrowing the gender gap in aviation? What still needs to be done?

I’m a member of the Hong Kong Chapter for Women in Aviation and have had the opportunity to speak to young ladies at career events at schools. Unfortunately, due to the lack of visibility of female aviators, young ladies can’t “see” themselves as aviators, and this career choice is also not supported by their parents. There is still a lot of pressure to conform to the old way of thinking: a stable career that would support a “normal” family lifestyle.

Do solutions come from the top down or the bottom up?

Companies need to actively address gender inequality in aviation. The only way for change to happen is a top-down approach. We need male champions of change who see the value in employing female pilots.

Daphnie Tsui, Captain, Cathay Pacific Airways


Daphnie’s family migrated from Hong Kong to New Zealand when she was six years old. She completed all her education, including a Bachelor in Science majoring in computer science, at Auckland University. During sixth form at high school, she says she was intrigued by Ardmore Flying School’s booth at a career expo and decided to pursue flying for personal interest. Daphnie says her parents have always been keen for her to broaden her horizons and encouraged her to pursue a private pilot’s license, including ground theory, during school holidays. After university, she worked in a couple of administrative and Internet help desk jobs hoping to build up more funds to support her flying, and it was then that she discovered Cathay’s cadet program, which she applied for straight away.

Daphnie says she’s had mentors along the way who encouraged her to continue down the aviation career path, but says her ultimate female role model is her mother, who she describes as “headstrong, fearless and a firm believer in being able to stand on your own two feet, especially as a woman.”

How much progress (if any) have you noticed during your career toward narrowing the gender gap in aviation? What still needs to be done?

I don’t think I viewed it as much of an issue during my early days of flying as it seemed the norm that aviation wasn’t a typical career choice for women. In the past two years or so, I have noticed a lot more emphasis and focus being placed on gender equality in the workforce and airlines are slowly making an effort to address this topic as well. I think the challenge of a growing global need for pilots as a result of the ever-growing demand of air travel around the world are forcing airlines to rethink their approach and that it’s time to push gender bias aside and focus on how to appeal to the other half of the capable workforce as well.

I think more airlines need to address the need for women pilots to balance their work and family life. They need to reach out and acknowledge that there are many talented women out there who are more than capable of doing the job. Strategies need to be put into place in order to take into account the demands of family life that women must meet, as well as their professional demands.

“Schemes such as EasyJet‘s Amy Johnson Initiative are fantastic as they open up opportunities for women to consider aviation as a possible career choice,” –Daphnie Tsui, Cathay Pacific Airways

Do you think schemes to encourage women to take up a career in aviation have been effective?

Schemes such as EasyJet‘s Amy Johnson Initiative are fantastic as they open up opportunities for women to consider aviation as a possible career choice. Air India and Air New Zealand’s celebration of all-female flights are both examples where airlines have reached out to the general public and brought awareness to women in aviation using social media content and media coverage.

I think it is also important that airlines reach out to the general public and bring awareness to aviation through career talks, videos and other social media content and media coverage. The journey of how women have come such a long way and made so many milestones in aviation despite all odds and obstacles and the ever-growing content we can continue adding to that history are all inspiration for our future women aviators.