Q&A with Joy Parker Blackwood

Skies Magazine: What is the Northern Lights Aero Foundation (NLAF)?

Joy Parker Blackwood, middle, seen here with NLAF director Lesley Page, left, and Capt Judy Cameron, right, one of the NLAF's directors. NLAF Photo
Joy Parker Blackwood, middle, seen here with NLAF director Lesley Page, left, and Capt Judy Cameron, right, another one of the NLAF’s directors. NLAF Photo
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Joy Parker Blackwood: NLAF is the pinnacle Canadian organization dedicated to inspiring, supporting and promoting women in aviation and aerospace. Our mission is to encourage women to succeed in these careers.

Skies: Who are your members?

JPB: We have four classes of membership: Founding, Regular, Partner and Honorary. These include all past and present NLAF directors, key corporate partners and individuals. All our past award winners are honorary members. There is no membership fee.

Skies: What are the Elsie awards and why are they so named?

JPB: The Elsie MacGill Northern Lights Awards program is our annual recognition gala. It was named after Elsie Gregory MacGill, a Canadian who is acknowledged to have been the first female aeronautical engineer in the world. Nominations for awards are open to anyone who wishes to apply on behalf of an outstanding female candidate. The application period opens in January and closes on March 31, with winners selected in April. There are seven award categories: Business, Government, Flight Operations, Engineering, Education, Pioneer and Rising Star.

Skies: Why is this an exciting time for women in aviation and aerospace?

JPB: The industry is crying for more hires across all sectors, including minorities and Indigenous communities. They know women represent almost half of the potential talent pool. Many companies are providing in-house training, scholarships and mentorship to encourage more women to get into the industry and put them on track to obtain higher ratings and certifications.

Skies: How does NLAF promote these opportunities?

JPB: We attend tradeshows, conferences, fundraising activities and host our annual Elsie awards gala. We are also active on social media. NLAF works closely with industry leaders and government bodies and offers organizations access to expert speakers.

Skies: What are the biggest barriers for women to conquer when pursuing aviation and aerospace careers?

JPB: There are very few women in leadership positions (i.e. the C-suite). Role models at the top inspire other women to succeed and advance. Women still face challenges associated with gender bias and enduring stereotypes. The cost of training can also be a barrier.

Skies: Do you have scholarships or bursaries for young women in aviation and aerospace?

JPB: Yes. They include the Air Canada Judy Cameron Scholarship and the Northern Lights Pinnacle Scholarship.

Pictured here (R to L): Dr. Suzanne Kearns, Education, Maj Alexia Hannam, RCAF, Flight Operations, Kathrine Stewart, Government, Taylor Williams, accepting the Business Award for mother Wendy Taylor, Lyndsey Poynter, Engineering, Capt Mary Cameron-Kelly, RCAF, Pioneer, Lauren Egglestone, Rising Star, Dr. Joelle Thorgrimson, Rising Star, Joy Parker Blackwood, President, Elsie MacGill Northern Lights at the gala event on the evening of Sept. 28. Andy Cline Photo
The winners of the 2019 Elsie Awards seen here on the night of the gala. Andy Cline Photo

Skies: Can you discuss mentorship and what NLAF is doing in this area?

JPB: NLAF and Porter Airlines have partnered to create a mentorship program that connects both aspiring and experienced professionals in the industry. No matter where you are in your aviation career, there’s an opportunity for you to help or be helped. As a mentee, you will get practical advice, encouragement and support, as well as increase your social and academic confidence. As a mentor, you will have the opportunity to help more junior women in aviation and aerospace. You can enhance your interpersonal, leadership and communication skills while building new professional relationships and sharing your knowledge.

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Skies: What would you consider to be the group’s biggest accomplishments over the past year or so?

JPB: We’ve really boosted awareness of what we do through our digital media sites. We also made our website bilingual, adding French to provide equal access to NLAF information. The Foundation is also attracting more major sponsors who are recognizing the value we offer in promoting women, diversity and inclusivity. Lastly, we’ve increased awareness with government bodies, both provincial and federal.

Skies: What are NLAF’s goals for 2020?

JPB: We are aiming to increase funding to cover administrative costs, outreach events, improvements to the annual Elsie awards gala, communications, marketing and brand awareness.

Skies: How will you move forward?

JPB: We aim to raise funds through government programs focused on women and diversity; increase participation in outreach events outside of Ontario; and expand our media relations through all available platforms. We also want to collaborate with other Canadian associations whose missions are focused on women and diversity in the industry, in an effort to identify our commonalities and where our different focuses can be driven in a coordinated way.

Skies: Where do you still need help and how can people get involved?

JPB: We always welcome volunteers to help with outreach events, administration, the Elsie gala, creating social media content or participating as speakers and mentors. We are also looking to connect with educational institutions and hoping to find those with other talents such as marketing, fundraising and IT.

Visit www.northernlightsaerofoundation.com for more information and to get involved!

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