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Vision and Credibility

Patti Wilson

September 1, 2015

In this “Direct from You,” Patti Wilson speaks about her experiences as a woman working in the largely male environment of air traffic control. She approaches the topic from the point of view of president of the Professional Women Controllers Association (PWC). Wilson joined PWC in 2006, and worked her way up the ladder. She was elected the president this year at PWC’s 2015 Annual Training Conference in Kansas City, Mo. She is on detail to FAA Headquarters in the Terminal section of Air Traffic Procedures. Her facility of record is the North California TRACON, where she is a front line manager.

My initial journey with the PWC never really started in the first place.

I was hired in 1998 at Bay TRACON (O90). Part of the way through my training I was asked to join PWC by another member, Diana Eldridge. I immediately responded, “Why do I need a women’s organization to make it in the FAA?” She told me about the PWC, but I didn’t believe it had anything to offer me, so I did not join. An interesting fact about this is that Diana happens to be my long-time best friend, and she was my first trainer as an air traffic controller in the U.S. Air Force in 1989 at Yokota Air Base in Japan. And I still did not join!

It wasn’t until 2006 - when then - PWC Western-Pacific Region Director Robin Rush came to NCT to host a training event - that I finally joined the organization. What happened in between 1998 and 2006 that made me reconsider and join?

I changed.

I was now looking for development opportunities, but I was not interested in management. PWC provided me the opportunity to hold a leadership position and develop professional skills, and it still does.

Our organization is unique because we are not a coalition or a union. We do not lobby or advocate for political figures or individual employees. We are about developing our members both professionally and personally. Our organization recognizes that the leadership skills you learn through PWC are applicable everywhere, no matter what position you hold within the ATO/FAA.

The rest is history. I was the Western-Pacific Regional director for five years, and then vice president for four years. I was also the 2007 National Training Conference co-chairperson for the San Francisco conference. I was elected president this year.

Patti WilsonBut beyond personal development, the PWC plays another important role as an official FAA employee group.

I was once told that you do not appreciate diversity until it is not there. I have found that to be very true. When I started my career, I did not understand the issues facing women in the FAA. In fact, I am lucky enough to be from Northern California TRACON (NCT), where diversity is so common that people frequently ask, “Why do we need PWC, when there is diversity all around?”

But even with the highly diverse workforce at the center, I have heard these statements in the workplace that make me believe there is still more work to be done in the area of diversity:

“I can’t believe this area is unmanned” (i.e., I can’t believe that there are only women working in this area);

“You can’t put any more females in the area because you know that many females can’t get along”;

“Why are there no females in Area XX? Maybe it’s too hard.”

I recognize this is not limited to air traffic control. I have also heard this on airlines: “I am happy to announce the aircraft is unmanned.” What they were saying was that the entire flight crew was female. I heard this announcement on a flight and I told the flight attendant that one day that will be the norm and not unusual. She agreed!

One of the FAA’s strategic mission statements reads: “People are our strength. Our success depends on the respect, diversity, collaboration, and commitment of our workforce.”

These are strong words with a strong message and a priority within the FAA vision of a values-based approach to succeed.

PWC has participated in improving diversity within the FAA, with our focus on women and minorities. Fact: Women currently make up 16.34 percent of air traffic controllers (2152s) in the FAA, and fewer than 19 percent of all employees across the agency. Not only is this number low, it is down from last year. The FAA is not alone in falling short of diversity alignment.

And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women fall short not only in total employment, but in wage earnings, as well, and are less likely to find a new job if displaced. There is a lot of work to do to reach a point where women make up 50 percent of the air traffic controller workforce.

My first board of directors meeting was last month, where I discussed my expectations for the board and my vision for the organization. We, as the board of directors, must hold ourselves accountable to our membership and to the FAA. Accountability to our members means if the minimum requirements of the position are not met, then the individual will not be funded by the organization to attend our national training conference. Accountability to the FAA means promoting the agency’s strategic initiatives and helping create a workforce that feels valued and wants to continue to help employees develop themselves in whatever position they hold.

The board also reviewed all program manager positions to verify they are still needed. As a result, we eliminated one position and are in the process of combining two others. All positions will be reviewed annually to verify they are needed.

My vision for the organization is to increase our visibility and credibility at all levels. That means when people hear “PWC,” they know we are providing training and development opportunities that are valuable to their employees and managers. It means managers will encourage and support all employees (male and female) to participate in leadership and training opportunities available through PWC.

Sometimes we forget the certified professional controller (CPC) does not always want to go into management, but they still want to gain experience outside the role of the CPC. Giving them the opportunity to challenge themselves outside the controller role will build their view of the “big picture” and give them insight into the workings of the FAA. I believe these types of women and men make a more happy and productive employee.

Each year, PWC hosts a national training conference. It is our marquee event, and, without doubt, an amazing training and networking opportunity. We will be at the Embassy Suites Phoenix-Scottsdale from April 25 to 28, 2016 and we will be in Portland, Me., in 2017. Everyone is welcome to attend, and that includes men as well as women and men. (Some 25 percent of our members are male.) PWC is an organization that welcomes everyone interested in air traffic control. Please visit our website at for more information.

The Purpose of PWC: Encourage women to enter the air traffic control profession; assist in professional and personal development; maintain accountability, responsibility, and professionalism; and promote a better understanding, cooperation and coordination among individuals toward the continual improvement of aviation safety.

PWC Vision: Our vision is to achieve a balanced workforce that reflects the demographics of society and creates a safe environment where all air traffic professionals have passion for their career, can excel, and feel a sense of community at work.

PWC Mission: Professional Women Controllers, Inc. (PWC) is a resource that provides support, training, encouragement, and camaraderie for all air traffic professionals. PWC advocates balancing work and family life, recruiting and retaining excellent employees, developing people, enjoying work, and maintaining a positive sense of community.