During the IATA Media Day in Geneva today, we took an opportunity to ask Tony Tyler, who will retire as Director General and CEO of the International Air Transport Association next year, for his thoughts on gender diversity at airlines and in the aviation industry.

Tyler said IATA, as an association, cannot drive change in this regard because ensuring diversity is a corporate governance issue, but argued that fair and equitable human resources practices in corporations would go a long way to resolve the matter.

“The industry is made up, of course, of a number of a lot of different companies. Companies need to have policies that don’t stop the best people getting the job. If everyone acts on that basis, we should see more women getting to more senior positions,” he said.

Women have played a key role in aviation from the beginning–from flying planes to building them–but the top jobs have been elusive (see “Women Account for Fewer Than 5% of Airline CEOs Around the World”). Further, the roles open to women in the industry have often shifted according to the convenience of the men. When war ended, Rosie the Riveter was expected to go home and bake a cake. There are many highly qualified women working in the industry waiting for opportunities to rise up the ladder.

In some ways, as Tyler says, the lack of gender diversity of aviation mirrors that in a number of other industries, but recognizing the problem is the first step to solving it.

Tyler, who had referred to a future replacement as “he or she” earlier in the day, does see this lopsided representation as a problem.

“I agree that it’s a pity in this industry that the senior officers tend to have a disproportionate number of men versus women,” he said. “There are few very successful female CEOs in the industry. Carolyn McCall from easyJet–not one of our members, but an excellent airline, and she’s been very successful. Claudia Sender, at TAM Brazil, which is one of our airline members, she’s been very successful as well. But, unfortunately these examples are too few and far between. There are others, but I think we would like to see more women in a senior position.”

Photo Credit: EasyJet CEO Carolyn McCall speaking at an event. EasyJet