Addressing the Diversity Gap in Aviation Technical Careers

Geanovea West (back left) with youth from East St. Louis, Illinois touring local aircraft hangars.
Credit: Minorities In Aviation/Geanovea West

A newly launched nonprofit in the U.S. is aiming to close the diversity gap in aviation technical industries by providing minority youths with opportunities to discover potential career paths.

The nonprofit, called Minorities In Aviation, was founded by Geanovea West, a Marines Corps veteran who gained experience working as an electrician on helicopters during her military service before pursuing an aviation technical career. She became more aware of the lack of diversity in the industry while obtaining a degree in aeronautics and her A&P license.

“It was really hard not to notice how few people looked like me. I was almost always the only female, and if I wasn’t the only female, I was definitely the only minority,” she says. “That has been a trend throughout basically every organization or company that I’ve worked for.”

West, who has now been in the aviation industry for approximately 15 years, did not initially have the resources or guidance on how to break into aviation, despite a passion that was sparked at an early age by an essay contest she won that gave her the opportunity to fly a Cessna.

“I went through a lot of traumatic things as a child and, coming back home [to East St. Louis, Illinois], I realized that these kids are still going through the same thing,” she says. “If I can do my part to give them some type of inspiration or hope that life does get better and there’s a much bigger world out there than what they’re experiencing, then that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”

West points out that awareness of potential aviation careers is not the only obstacle for children growing up in circumstances similar to hers. “I’ve seen kids who are performing poorly in school, but it’s not because they’re not intelligent—it’s because of the environmental stresses they have to deal with,” she says. “There are so many factors that come into play that have contributed to the gap in the number of minorities in aviation, and I just want to address them, fix them and close the gap.”

With the help of the U.S. Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles program, West held Minorities In Aviation’s first event in August. The nonprofit brought a group of children from East St. Louis to St. Louis Regional Airport, where they were able to tour a general aviation aircraft hangar and a helicopter hangar before getting the opportunity to fly aircraft.

Minorities In Aviation is now working to ramp up its efforts. The nonprofit is holding its second event at St. Louis Regional Airport on Oct. 2 and West says she is working to plan more future events. The nonprofit is also working to set up tours with major airlines in the area and secure donations, such as an electronics troubleshooting box recently donated by the Aircraft Electronics Association.

West’s eventual goal is to expose as many kids to aviation careers as possible. She hopes to gain enough funding and support to help area youth pursue pilot licenses, A&P licenses or training for other aviation technical careers.

West also wants to work against the systemic racism she has experienced in the aviation industry by building a larger network of white allies. “I want to shake up this industry,” she says. “If I keep trying to elevate my voice to the white community, I sincerely believe I will find even more white allies that will help me close the gap on the number of minorities in aviation by addressing the reasons there is a gap in the first place.”

“Long story short, diversity adds value,” stresses West. “When you come into contact with different people, that adds value to yourself and it adds value to an organization. It gives opportunities and levels the playing field for people who don’t have access to the same resources.”

Lindsay Bjerregaard

Lindsay Bjerregaard is managing editor for Aviation Week’s MRO portfolio. Her coverage focuses on MRO technology, workforce, and product and service news for, Aviation Week Marketplace and Inside MRO.