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Kendra Kincade recalls meeting John Bright, her first mentor, when she was training to become an air traffic controller in the terminal specialty at Edmonton International Airport in 2003.
Bright was a specialized controller in the terminal’s high-pressure, fast-paced environment, and Kincade was struggling to keep up.
A car accident had left her with a severe concussion, leading to a two-and-a-half-year absence from work. When she returned she was overwhelmed, but Bright helped Kincade find her footing.
“Back then the success rate was only seven per cent,” said Kincade. “And when they were talking about letting me go, John Bright said, ‘Let me take her.’ ”
Bright helped with the skills required to do the job, but he also convinced Kincade to believe in herself.
“That helped me believe I deserved to be an air traffic controller, and I could sit there with the big boys and work alongside them and not feel intimidated,” she said.
“He really did that for me.”
Kincade went on to thrive as an air traffic controller, spending 19 years with Nav Canada, the nation’s civil aviation services provider. But the road wasn’t easy.
Kincade left home at age 13 and spent time living on the street, as well as in foster care, she said. Those weren’t the kinds of environments that bred confidence, self-esteem or financial security.
“When I became successful in air traffic control, I found a financial freedom that I was able to support myself … and support my children,” she said.
“It’s my personal passion to go out and find women and do whatever we can to do bring awareness to women in aviation.”
That’s why Kincade created Elevate Aviation, an Edmonton-based charity aimed at bridging the gender gap in Canadian aviation and helping women thrive within it.
Elevate launched in 2015, but it began hitting its stride earlier this year, when it received more than $426,000 in federal funding for a project aimed at helping women find economic security through aviation.
The three-year initiative will examine why many women don’t consider aviation as a career option, and will collect data to develop recommendations for aviation companies, according to the Elevate website.
Long-term goals include attracting more women to the industry and relieving the pressure caused by aviation’s global labour shortage.
The project will have four phases, the first of which involves interviews with girls/ women across Canada to identify barriers and get a sense of how to attract, retain and promote women within the industry.
Elevate plans to consult with elementary, high school and post-secondary students, but also to conduct interviews and focus groups at aviation companies to gauge their work environments.
“We’re saying that we want to bring more women into aviation, but are we bringing them into a good environment?” said Kincade. “That’s a question that we want to answer.”
The second phase will involve an action plan with recommendations companies can follow to attract women to the industry.
Phase 3 will monitor how companies partnering in the study implement the recommendations. Nav Canada, Porter Airlines, North Cariboo Air and the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) have all signed on.
“We’re really excited to be working with them,” said Kincade. “We’re thrilled that they believe in us, and that we have their support.”
The project’s final phase will assess the action plan’s effectiveness and determine what else needs to be done.
“We really don’t want to do this three-year project and then stop moving forward,” said Kincade. “We want this to be a stepping stone in years to come of making change.”
Elevate Aviation has hired a staff member dedicated to this study, and Carleton University has also signed on as a partner, said Kincade. But more partners are being sought, both from industry and from education.
“We are booking interviews and focus groups now,” said Kincade. “So if any of the readers would like to have interviews or focus groups done inside their companies–which, of course, are completely confidential–they can contact us.”
Based on her own experience, Kincade believes most girls and young women simply aren’t exposed to aviation careers.
When they are exposed, many engage with the idea of being a pilot, an air traffic controller, an aircraft maintenance engineer, or a flight attendant.
“It opens their eyes to career possibilities that are exciting that they have never thought of before,” she said.
“So I really think there needs to be more exposure out there about aviation careers, and then we’ll start seeing a change–and more women in the roles.”
For more information about Elevate Aviation, or to partner in the study, visit elevateaviation.ca