Misogynistic social practices rooted in its largely patriarchal culture have made India one of the world’s most unsafe places for women. Yet, many of the country’s women are now breaking free from this cruel ground reality and reaching for the skies.
Some of them are literally flying there!
Runam Singh is one such woman.
Born and brought up in Mumbai, she’s not only a social media influencer (with 15.3k followers on Instagram) but also a commercial pilot!
Employed with IndiGo—an airline that is widely known for empowering women and boldly flaunting its ‘Girl Power’—Runam is the “new Indian woman” who is not afraid to overcome any barriers (social or otherwise) to pursue her dreams.
In this interview with EQand.com, Runam gives us insights into working in a largely male-dominated field, the role of emotional intelligence in her career, and much more!
Hi Runam, please tell us about yourself.
I am a 20-something female pilot currently based in Chennai. When I’m not busy flying, I cook, paint, shop, Netflix, Instagram and travel the world with my fellow colleague/pilot husband!
So, what motivated you to become a pilot?
Most of my family members were in the aviation sector for majority of their working lives. They have always encouraged, motivated and supported me in choosing this career. Also, for me personally, being in the cockpit of an airplane has always been very euphoric.
I experienced this feeling on many occasions as a child when pilots showed me around the metal office. It is also what made me resolve to become a pilot when I grew up.
What did you experience while piloting your first commercial flight?
Piloting my first commercial flight was very surreal, as I had experienced a fair share of struggle and wait in landing this job. That’s because the competition in this industry is fierce and it requires tremendous hard work and dedication to get your foot in the door. The realisation of having finally made it was liberating. It was exactly the way I had imagined it would be: MAGICAL!
The Indian aviation minister recently announced that ‘India has the most number of women pilots in the world’. But has being ‘female’ negatively affected your career experience in any way so far?
First, let me say, it makes me immensely happy to look at the percentage of female pilots in India, approximately 12% compared to 5% globally. Women pilots in India are setting world records—from being the youngest to command a Boeing 777 to having an all-woman crew on long-haul flights.
So, we have definitely come a long way in shortening the gender divide in the Aviation sector and shattering myths that this profession belongs only to men.
Even at IndiGo, 44% of our workforce, including a fourth of our leadership team, are women. We also have the highest number of women pilots in the country. In fact, at any given time you can hear many of our women pilots talking to Air Traffic Control over the radio.
However, IndiGo doesn’t hire based on gender but on talent, merit and passion. Of course, the battle of the genders is a never-ending one. But I honestly think gender has nothing to do with one’s capability in any profession.
So, to answer your question, I would have to say: no, being a female in my profession hasn’t negatively impacted my career experience in any way so far.
That being said, yes, there have been few odd instances where men in general (relatives/friends) have smirked at/ridiculed female pilots in a joking way. But that’s mainly on account of the common stereotypes that they have about women. In the cockpit I have always felt like an equal. I am both proud and honoured to be a part of an airline that celebrates girl power!
What do you believe are the key challenges that stop many women from taking up careers that are usually male-dominated?
I think the whole “It’s a man’s world” notion probably has many women from shying away from taking up so called “male-dominated jobs”. Other factors may include gender discrimination, being stereotyped, being judged by male counterparts, safety, comfort level, and social stigma. This is also deeply rooted in almost all cultures of the world. For example, more often than not, parents will buy dolls for their girls and airplanes for their boys—and not the other way round.
Can women do anything to overcome these challenges?
I think if even women got rid of the mental blocks that they may have in their heads of not being taken seriously in a particular male-dominated profession, we could have an increasing number of women in male-populated fields.
I have come to realise that most of our fears always begin with “What if XYZ happens”? But I strongly feel that believing in yourself is getting the job half done.
You will find people everywhere who will have some or the other opinion about you. It may be positive, it may be negative. The key is to remain unperturbed and confidently keep on doing what you do best.
Let’s be honest, we can’t please everyone. Who you can please is yourself by remaining unaffected and as a result, happy.
What, according to you, is the role that emotional intelligence plays in your career?
I think my job as a pilot requires me to have “Excels in Emotional Intelligence” on my resume!
Emotional intelligence is a principal skill required in leadership. So, as an airline captain and commander of an aircraft, it is very important that pilots possesses the capability to control their own as well as their crew’s emotions.
IndiGo does its part by having the words “Flying is a Serious Profession, Do Not Carry Your Worries Beyond this Point” on every cockpit door. This is something that acts as a final reminder for me to enter the cockpit with an open and attentive mind.
Who’s your aviation role model and why?
Without a doubt, my aviation role model has to be Captain JRD Tata. That’s because he is the pioneer of civil aviation In India—the first Indian Pilot License holder and the flag-bearer of our National Carrier! The ever-growing pilot community in India is a result of his clear vision and dedication. I truly believe that all of us owe our seat in the cockpit, in part, to him.
What’s your advice to aspiring female pilots in India?
My advice to aspiring female pilots is to chase their dreams till they become a reality. What worked for me was utter hard work and belief in myself. Don’t ever doubt your capability and definitely don’t pay any attention to naysayers. There is no gender discrimination in this field, so don’t believe in it. Be strong, confident and don’t ever stop being a girl. It’s OK to be a pilot and a girl at the same time.
Remember: not only can a woman drive, she can fly too!
What is your favourite quote?
“Never Start with Diffidence, Always Start with Confidence!” – Captain JRD Tata