In a sea of blue and gray suits (and military uniforms) at the 2023 MRO Americas conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Mary Wanke and the team of A-WING professional volunteers stood out in bright pink and purple. Their captivating smiles and infectious enthusiasm beacons, signaling that something different and disruptive was underway.
Mary is a 30-year aviation veteran whose love for the industry took hold in childhood. In her eighth-grade yearbook, she professed, "I want to be a pilot." And with her license in hand, Mary began her aviation career as a commercial pilot and flight instructor. Very quickly, however, drawn by the challenge of engineering solutions to parts and problems, she moved into the industry's MRO (maintenance, repair, and overhaul) and aftermarket side.
And that is what brings us to today: “I’ve spent most of my career in MRO, and there are no more women here today than there were on the day I entered the industry. In the sunsetting half of my career, I hope to really change those numbers because it can’t stay this way.” Mary’s desire to leave the aviation industry better than she found it led her to co-found Aviation Women Inspiring Next Generation (A-WING), a nonprofit “committed to the education, recognition, advancement, and equality of all female professionals in the aviation industry.”
At the onset, A-WING was primarily a virtual networking group facilitating connections for women across the aviation industry. Membership quickly reached nearly 100 individuals before COVID stunted its growth. “Women were being laid off from their jobs or leaving their jobs to care for children who were now in the home full-time,” Mary remembers. In response, A-WING partnered with Aviation Week/Informa to establish a new space within their MRO conference to convene hiring companies, job seekers, and resources. A-WING named this space jobfAIR.
That first year was during the height of the pandemic, and only four companies participated. However, 2023 saw fifteen companies conducting live interviews throughout the 2.5-day 2023 MRO Americas conference. Spread out across 25 tables, hiring departments from companies including Boeing, Airbus, Safran, Amazon Air, Southwest, and others, spoke with both women and men about careers in aviation.
A-WING conversations focus on the variety of opportunities available beyond being a pilot. While arguably piloting is the most recognizable aviation job, there are roles for all skill sets: engineering, legal, quality control, marketing, human resources, communications, research and development, and many more. A-WING partners with nonprofits like the Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC), EAA WomenVenture, KidVenture, GirlVenture, Women in Aviation International (WAI), and the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) to expose students to aviation career options. A-WING is working on a program for schools and universities that will attend future MRO conferences.
A-WING’s tagline is “creating the tailwind of change.” And, as real change is much harder to achieve alone, the organization emphasizes inclusivity. Men can become members known as “wingmen” and participate in all A-WING events, including jobfAIR. “Creating a diverse workforce and letting all know that they are welcome and that we are looking for the best person for the job is key to successfully creating the team the next generation wishes to work with--the best of the best!” Mary states.
Mary reiterates her appreciation for inclusivity when mentioning her involvement with the Aviation Suppliers Association (ASA). “The ASA board is clearly one of the most diverse boards I’ve ever had the privilege to serve on. It is a fantastic representation of the industry’s appetite to elect the best of the best regardless of skin color, religion, orientation, or gender identity.”
To learn more about ASA, visit their website at https://www.aviationsuppliers.org.
To learn more and join A-WING “in creating the tailwind of change that our industry so desperately needs,” please visit www.a-wing.org.