You’ve perhaps seen the #WomenInDrones hashtag before. It’s intended to highlight women working or involved with the field – and encourage others to consider entering what is a male-dominated sector. What better day than International Women’s Day to support this ongoing initiative?

If you’ve ever been to a major drone gathering, you’ll notice that nearly all the attendees are male. I’ve attended the AUVSI XPONENTIAL conference, as well as multiple Unmanned Systems Canada/Systèmes Télécommandés Canada conferences, and the huge gender disparity was always apparent. And yet, as Mao Zedong once proclaimed: “Women hold up half the sky.” Some of the brilliant women engineers I’ve worked with proved that day in and day out.

So let’s look at one example of an initiative created to focus on the message.

Skydio

Skydio is a rapidly growing company. But it’s not so focused on product that it forgets about its people. Recently, Skydio announced an initiative to encourage its female employees to get their Part 107 licenses. As you likely know, that involves a bit of heavy lifting, learning about airspace regulations, aerodynamics, weather – and even how to read those complicated METARS forecasts.

For many of the women at Skydio, this would be new knowledge. Some employees had not yet even flown a drone before. But, for many, that changed last week.

Kickoff to internal Part 107 course

As a way to launch that Part 107 course that Skydio is offering internally to female employees, it took the logical first step: It held the “Skydio Women Take Flight Day.”

“The event was held in honor of Women’s History Month to kind of commemorate and encourage the study of aviation, and just, in general, the vital role of women in American history,” explains Nicole Bonk, head of flight testing at Skydio.

“So 24 of us, we all went out, we brought our Skydio 2 drones and we all just took off and flew. It kind of gave the women of Skydio a chance to fly in a group and community help ensure success. And it’s kind of part of the efforts to help bridge the gender gap and help with diversity,” she added in an interview with DroneDJ.

Skydio’s Nicole Bonk holds up a Skydio 2 drone. Photo: Skydio

Nicole Bonk

If you thought you recognized Nicole, that’s quite possible. Part of her job as head of Flight Testing is as the instructor with Skydio’s Flight School. She hosts a whole series of videos, from the basics of getting your Skydio drone in the air to more advanced operations:

Nicole is also the Skydio Flight School instructor… and a lot of fun

But let’s be clear. Nicole wasn’t hired because she’s telegenic. She has a BSc degree in Unmanned Aircraft Systems from the prestigious Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, and is also a commercial pilot with multi-engine rating and instrument landing. So she knows her stuff.

And she agrees, there’s a huge disparity in the drone world. And while she agrees that industry initiatives can help, she says it comes down to desire, drive and networking. If you’re a woman who wants to pursue a career in the drone world, go for it.

Photo from the socially distanced Women Take Flight event, held for Skydio employees

“I think honestly the barrier is within yourself [for some women],” she says “You have to have the courage within yourself and the drive to be successful in a male-dominated career.”

Skydio also acknowledged the day, and the movement, on social media:

Bonk also recommends these resources for women (or men) interested in learning more:

Check ’em out.

Onward

With the Flight Day over, many of the women of Skydio will now take the next step by attending four internal courses to prepare them for the Part 107 testing. It’s a great company initiative, and one we’d encourage other drone companies or aviation/enterprise workplaces to consider adopting as well.

And – based on this – Nicole’s workplace might consider slightly customizing that famous saying from Mao to: “Women hold up half the Skydio.”

Great initiative, and a model for others.

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