“Somewhere along the lines we made little girls feel as though they are more likely to become a princess, than a successful doctor or astronaut.”
As a little girl, inspired by her mother’s career, Ashlee Tanner had her sights set on becoming a surgeon, but in high school quickly learned that she didn’t exactly have a strong aptitude for biology. Instead she found herself succeeding in math and other sciences. Around this time, Ashlee’s father, previously a pilot for the US Airforce, signed her up for an astronaut training experience at the Kennedy Space Center. This was Ashlee’s first interaction with the world of aviation and space and she quickly fell in love, so much so that a few years later she would obtain an Aerospace Engineering degree from Ryerson University in Toronto.
Today, Ashlee is the Manager of Fleet Engineering at WestJet with a successful ten-year career in aviation under her belt.
We sat down with Ashlee and asked her a few questions about her experience as a woman in aviation, how far the industry has come and how much further it still needs to go and her advice to young women entering the industry.
How has aviation changed since you first entered the industry?
In the last 10 years I have seen a very gradual and slight change. Working in the technical operations side of aviation, there has always been a lack of female representation. When I first started my career and I attended industry conferences and technical steering committees, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be the only woman in the room. Today, female representation is increasing, and I will typically be one of a dozen women in the room. As more women enter this industry, our presence becomes increasingly more normalized and respected.
Have you felt supported in your career?
I was lucky to have mentors that supported me and pushed me to succeed. When I joined WestJet three years ago, not only did I have a female leader that supported and motivated me, but for the first time in my career I knew that I was working for a company that valued my voice equally among my male counterparts. At WestJet I don’t just have my leader rooting for me, I have an entire organization.
What would you like to see change within the aviation industry?
We need more visibility of women succeeding in various roles within the industry. The aviation industry is diverse in opportunities and we need to do a better job of reflecting that.
What advice would you give to young girls and women who are interested in the industry?
In high school, I told my guidance counselor that I wanted to go to post-secondary to get an aerospace engineering degree and her response was that I wouldn’t be successful. Fortunately, I didn’t listen and proved her wrong.
Entering into any job and feeling like you stand out because of your identity is incredibly intimidating. So, my advice is to be confident. Your voice is valuable and worthy so speak up, stand tall and latch on to any mentors who is willing to help and push you beyond what you thought you were capable of.
To learn more, visit westjet.com/womeninaviation.