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  • Shirley Phillips, DPT, Non-Profit Mentor

Breaking with Tradition

I was working as a ground instructor at an airline when I was singled out for a reprimand. I had asked for permission to work from my daughter’s hospital room where she was recovering from pneumonia. I knew some articles needed to be written for our training manuals on a short deadline, and I wrote three articles while at my daughter’s bedside using a laptop I bought at my own expense. During this same time, my colleague wrote only one article, but he did it while sitting at his desk. I was told that I needed to be in the office to show that I was committed to my job–no matter the results I produced.

Over two decades ago, this was the way that things had always been done and the notion that a ground instructor could work remotely because they needed to be with their child was not up for discussion. This was in spite of the fact that, shortly before I was hired, my nearly all male colleagues had managed to negotiate a shortened work week of 32 hours instead of a pay raise. Although I knew that most of these instructors were fathers of young children, and that spending time with their families was a big motivation for their work arrangement, their appeal to management had been presented as a more widely accepted desire for a long, leisurely weekend.

Today this airline has nearly all of those same instructors working remotely full-time. It’s cost effective and all the employees prefer having the flexibility that remote work brings. Everyone benefits from the arrangement, but why was it such a contentious issue when I proposed it as a way to balance caregiving and work? Why did fathers have to make a shortened work week more palatable to management by concealing the caregiving aspects of their lives? Just like how curb cutouts that help wheelchair users often help parents with strollers, something intended to benefit one sector of society leads to improvements for a broader group.

My wish for this holiday season is that we each get what we truly want and need, not what tradition says we should desire. I want the aviation industry to welcome innovative ideas in the coming year on how to make flying more compatible with caring for our loved ones. And although traditions have their place, especially this time of year, I also welcome an openness to doing things differently. Imagine what would have been lost if two brothers building bicycles were told they weren’t committed to bike making because they also wanted to build a flying machine.

Dr. Shirley Phillips was a professor of aeronautical science and human factors and is an airline transport rated pilot and flight instructor with a type rating on the Airbus A320. She has a MA in science writing from Johns Hopkins University and is currently writing a book about her flying experiences.


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