Captain Mary L. Larson of Atlanta and First Officer Erin Cole of New York in a Delta Air Lines Boeing 717.

As my family and I sat at the boarding gate for Delta Air Lines in Detroit on Aug. 5, I noticed something that I had never paid attention to before, maybe because it had never been so apparent as it was at that moment, given I had been planning our special women’s issue for the last few months, or it was simply unusual, but our pilot was a woman, Capt. Mary L. Larson. As we entered the plane, I became even more aware of how unique this whole situation was: the copilot, Erin Cole, was also a woman. According to Mireille Goyer, founder of Women of Aviation Worldwide Week, as reported in “Five decades of female pilots statistics in the United States. How did we do?” women represent only 5.15 percent of the pilots holding a for-hire pilot certificate while the U.S. Department of Labor showed that only 4.3 percent of the population that reports making a living as a pilot or flight engineer is female.

I found that I was both excited and worried about this highly unusual occurrence. First, I was excited to see women at the helm but I was also worried something bad would happen because they were at the helm and that moment would be invalidated. I wrestled with being so stupidly nitpicky about any rather normal disturbances during the flight that otherwise would not have bothered me had I remained indifferent to who was piloting the plane. But here I was a woman worried about women in charge.

Pondering these feelings, it became clear that they were based in a message that has been ingrained deep in American culture to doubt and foment anxiety over women in “traditional” male jobs, or jobs in general that require special focus. I wrestled with this anxiety to the point of frustration because I too have suffered from doubt in my professional career. But time and time again, despite the odds stacked against women, unbalanced representation in all industries and professional fields, disparity in pay, especially for women of color, and doubt ingrained into our psyche, nevertheless, we persist.

“In 10 years of flying at Delta I’ve flown only four times with women. And two, one of which is Erin, in one week. The number of women have definitely increased since I’ve been flying professionally for 19 years; it was less than 2 percent when I started,” said Capt. Mary L. Larson, 41, based in Atlanta, Georgia, who has been flying since she was 16 and started flying for a regional airline right after she graduated from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University; pilots must have a four year degree to fly a major airline. First Officer Erin Cole, 36, based in New York, has been flying since she was 18. Larson and Cole flew a Boeing 717 together on Aug. 5, from Detroit to Philadelphia.

With the Women’s March seven months in our rear view, this week, we feature women in Ventura County who have dedicated their lives to professional goals and careers, ones that have exponential reach in our community and beyond. While it seemed as though there would be a rather easy way to feature a fair representation of women, spanning countywide with regard to age and race, the number was much bigger than expected. For those who felt they were overlooked, know that simply this project was much more overwhelming than imagined. This was our best shot at it — at least for this first attempt.  

For consideration in a future women’s issue, email michael@vcreporter.com

Click the links in the names to read the interviews.

Yissel Barajas

Chief human resources officer
Reiter Affiliated Companies of Oxnard, the world’s largest fresh multi-berry producer

 

Erika Beck

President, California State University, Channel Islands

 

Michele M. Castillo

Superior Court Judge, Ventura County

 

 Andrea Jensen

Co-owner of Camarillo’s Sun Kissed Yoga 

 

Jacqui Irwin

Assemblywoman District 44, Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village
Engineer

Karen Evenden and Peggy Russell 

Cofounders of the Ojai Women’s Fund, established January 2016