How Hera Aviation Group Began
I founded Hera Aviation Group when I received a phone call that forever changed the course of my life. I might not have realized it right at that moment. But after I ended the call, a genesis for this organization, and a movement to cultivate change in my industry, had already left the gate.
My story began at twelve years old, on the wing of a P3 Orion, surrounded by its crew, proudly watching the Blue Angels thunder by overhead. I could feel the afterburners rumble inside my body. I had arrived, and aviation was going to be my forever love.
In the years following, I chased my dream across many countries. I worked at several fixed-base operators both in America and the United Kingdom in various capacities to be close to aviation and any potential opportunities. I studied at airports and cleaned airplanes for flight time, which funded my pilot's licenses.
In England, I completed an ATPL ground school course, which led to employment at a flight school. I worked in an air charter department that operated Citations and Hawkers in Cambridge, United Kingdom, to gain international experience. While living overseas, I also co-piloted a Chiefton, delivering passengers and cargo across Europe, as well as flying medevac flights when helicopters could not accommodate.
When I came home, I went back to college and graduated with high honors. I became a flight instructor, a flight team coach, an adjunct faculty member, and eventually a multi-type-rated jet pilot. These experiences were hard-fought. I gained valuable international exposure operating in dynamic and challenging flight conditions.
But in the quiet moments, when I reflected, I noticed a difference. I was different. As one of the only women around the FBO, people mistook me for cabin crew. Not the pilot who I was. The pilot I had worked so hard to become.
The pilots' lounge was a dark room filled with sleeping guys and sports on TV. They shared jokes that were either overtly sexist or hidden when I walked into the room. They treated me differently. It didn't feel that good.
And yes, I have experienced the gut-wrenching occurrence of listening to a keyed mic declaring "Empty Kitchen!" after responding to ATC on the radio at FL410.
I‘ve also met amazing women and men who taught me and mentored me, and made me feel normal. They treated me with respect, and I had the absolute pleasure to fly with them. I learned a lot about flying as the years passed.
But throughout my journey, I kept coming up against this THING. I didn't even know what to call it? How do we name this thing? It's subversive, hard to catch in parts of conversations, and no one wants to talk about it. I didn't either.
Then it happened. I had my first child. I was slated for upgrade to captain at one of the companies I contracted for, so I got back to work as soon as humanly possible. I took any trips I was asked to, I worked harder than hard. I hadn't gotten a class date yet but assured I was next.
Then the day came.
I was flying with one of my favorite people in the world, who happened to be one of my training captains. We talked about the upgrade, and his face squinted like he wanted to say something but probably shouldn't. I forced the thought out of his brain, and then I heard it.
"They're not going to upgrade you, Jess. You should talk with them."
I couldn't breathe. Did I do something wrong? I got through the days flying, got home, and looked at the data. I never called in sick. I was flying as many trips as my colleagues, more than some—excellent relationships with my crew. No incidents. Stellar training records. Happy passengers. It was my turn. So, after some time, I thought about how I wanted to approach this sensitive issue. I picked up the thousand-pound phone.
"Well, you see Jess, you're great, but we just can't take the risk. You have a son at home who needs you, and you're a mom now."
I'd love to tell you I championed that conversation. That I eloquently defended myself. I don't even remember much of what happened after that, like trying to recall what Charlie Brown's teacher said. I reminded them of the facts, their promise to me, and asked if they would reconsider. But they would not.
For some time after that conversation, I cried. And I cried. I was humiliated. I had been exposed to a truth I didn't even know was mine. How could having a child change my career path without me choosing? I didn't even know this happened in my industry. But it does. Just not usually so overtly.
Thinking back to that call, where I had all my doubts, worries, and suspicions confirmed, I knew I had to create the change.
I started researching and asking and listening. I found thousands of caregivers, minorities, and women living shared experiences from different walks of life experiencing similar outcomes. The more I listened, the more I questioned.
With encouragement from my tribe and friends in the industry, I founded Hera three years later.
Hera Aviation Group works within three spheres to cultivate change: The individual, the business, and the industry. All three need support to create a true cultural shift.
With the individual, we provide mentoring and support. Hera has a mentorship program to assist caregivers in navigating our industry and growing in their professions. Caregivers can network with each other through Hera's mentorship program. We also provide initiatives to source funding for career maintenance and growth.
With businesses, we offer guidance and programming to transition cultural foundations from platform awareness to engagement. We provide solutions for globally thinking companies to pivot their leadership philosophies from espoused to enacted value, thus creating a harmonized team of valuable perspectives.
Within the industry, we are actively speaking out! We work with various organizations and industry leaders, using our collective voices to create awareness and conversation. We reshaped our industry before with the implementation of crew resource management; which increased safety. We can reshape it again! We can't change what we can't name.
When we are describing various positions in our industry: Women who serve in the United States Armed Forces, airline pilots, corporate pilots, flight instructors, why is it that when the word mother is added to their title, it creates a new meaning? Mother, as in “home, not flying but credentialed.” That can’t be the only narrative of motherhood.
Granted, many of those positions include caregiving, but not to define it as a category of qualified but unemployed caregivers. What about those caregivers who require our collective support to create their journey? What about those that choose to define their roles the way they see them?
The voice that speaks out to unveil implicit bias, racism, and ableism, and sexism in our industry- shouldn't stand alone. There is also a caregiver bias. A full-time female pilot should not be the only acceptable working option for women in our industry. It cannot stand at the exclusion of all other female or underrepresented experiences.
Shouldn't all pilots be protected and included regardless of their choices of terms of employment? We are valuable. Choice involvement cannot equate to Otherism. Don't we all deserve equality and protection, no matter our personal choices or circumstances?
It feels deferential to oppressive norms.
That to protect the diversity and inclusivity in our industry, we are not silencing and excluding caregivers to fit inside one narrative; that we are not using some of the tools of the autocrat that we and you and all have spent so much time fighting.
Are we going to silence them to maintain that one collective narrative?
After listening to so many journeys, I realized this:
Doing the right thing doesn’t have to be diametrically opposing in financial value versus social constructs. It can be homogenous!
We can restructure our thinking of value or contribution and offer supports for caregivers in their efforts to grow.
Often, the initiatives implemented for caregivers are for full-time employment. There's a large population of unique perspectives that companies are missing out of because the worker's intention isn't to commit to a full-time schedule. As a result, businesses are not seeing as diverse a group as they would if offering diverse employment options. The data shows that diverse people create diverse perspectives and those perspectives equate to a safer flight department.
We can support not only diverse individuals but also diverse collaborative positions of hire.
We can consider those that are currently unable to attach to a traditional work environment. And create a new one! If we truly believe in diversity equity and inclusion, we should be looking at all the population, not just those at the forefront of this movement.
It's harder than ever to have honest, vulnerable conversations about difficult, nuanced things. And it's easier to stay quiet, but I think this is a fascinating and essential conversation.
I have spent much time learning how to say things and disagree with a level of respect and kindness. I offer that to other people and require that for myself.
I hope that after reading a small part about the soul of the Hera Aviation Group, you will endeavor to walk with us: to empower individuals, cultivate change and transform our industry.
Please also know that if you ever need help along the way, Hera is here for you.
Founder & President