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FemLovin Learns How to Aim for Success and Manage Stress from Aviation Pro Lynsey Howell

Jun 14, 2023

Breaking into a field where women are in the minority can be stressful and challenging. Nobody knows that better than FemLovin guest, TEDx speaker Lynsey Howell.

As a First Officer with United Airlines on the B-737, a flight instructor, and a consultant to other pilots hoping to advance their careers, Lynsey has dealt with everything from performance anxiety to direct discrimination from men in her field. 

At FemLovin’s most recent event, Lynsey discussed her journey into aviation, challenges she faced as she advanced in her career, and how she’s working to inspire more female pilots through coaching and mentorship.

See Lynsey’s recent TEDTalk, How to inspire girls to walk with confidence and reach for the sky.

Facts on women in aviation

Lynsey shared that while many traditionally male-dominated fields have achieved a more balanced gender distribution over the past 20 years, aviation, and specifically piloting, remains a particularly challenging field for women to break into. “Based on my research,” she said, “every other male-dominated field has seen an increase in [woman pilots], except for aviation.” 

Lynsey shared some facts about women in aviation to underscore how skewed the gender distribution is:

  • Only 8% of pilots with a commercial pilot license are female-identified.
  • Only 5% of female-identified pilots have an airline transport pilot (ATP) rating, the highest level achievable.
  • Only 2% of female-identified ATP-rated pilots are captains. 
  • However, 79% of flight attendants are female-identified.

“I’d like to say that the 8% has been increasing over the years. Unfortunately… it’s only increased 1%  in the past couple of years,” she added.

Lynsey attributes the imbalance to the demanding travel schedules combined with ongoing discrimination woman pilots face in the industry and the challenges of balancing family life with the high-pressure, high-stakes work of being a pilot. 

She also noted that roughly 1 in 7 women who have biological children will deal with postpartum depression, and getting diagnosed in order to get the help they need blocks them from flying until they are no longer symptomatic, because they cannot pass their FAA medical exams due to FAA rules about mental illness. 

Lynsey knows this all too well: she dealt with postpartum depression in her own career journey, and had to take time off to focus on her family and mental health before returning to her work as a pilot.

Tips for dealing with high-pressure situations and staying confident

Due to the high-pressure nature of flying, the demanding schedules, and the discrimination she faced as she advanced in her career, Lynsey is a powerhouse of guidance for managing anxiety and boosting confidence.

“There’s a lot of tips and tricks that I’ve learned along the way that have helped me when things got really hard and I wanted to quit, or when I’m overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed,” she noted. 

Here are some of her favorites:

  • Belly breathing: Also known as diaphragm breathing, this technique “basically turns off your fight, flight, or freeze response in your body.” It can also lower your blood pressure and heart rate, which helps manage stress. To practice belly breathing, simply take deep breaths, pulling air down to your abdomen instead of your upper chest.
  • Box breathing: This technique uses a special breathing pattern where you inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds. And it’s well-vetted, noted Lynsey: “US Navy Seals use this technique to increase concentration and focus.”
  • Mantras: Repeating a phrase helps increase confidence and focus. “I researched and found out that they work better in the first-person present tense, such as ‘I am smart. I am confident. I am wonderful. I got this.’” said Lynsey. “I tell my 7 year old that a lot. I tell her, ‘You can do hard things. You know how I know? Because you come from me. And I’ve learned how to do hard things.”
  • Wonder Woman pose: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your hands on your hips to increase confidence and be more comfortable taking risks. Poses like this can help “During those social threat times, such as before public speaking, interviews, test flights.” Lynsey noted that studies have shown when we do ‘high power poses’ like the Wonder Woman pose for as little as 2 minutes, we’re 86% more likely to make a high-risk decision like gambling. Our testosterone also increases, while our cortisol (a biochemical marker of stress) decreases.
  • Wiggling your toes: “When I was a new flight instructor teaching other people how to fly … I would wiggle my toes in my shoes because I figured it was the nervous tick I could do that wouldn’t let that new student pilot know I was nervous,” shared Lynsey. She later learned this is a common technique for practicing mindfulness, which can help us manage stress by grounding us and keeping our focus in the present moment.

Concluding thoughts

Asked who she turns to for inspiration, Lynsey said it’s hard to choose just one because she has so many. In particular, she thinks fondly of the 50 woman pilots she interviewed in her research on women in aviation. 

“They all really inspired me to keep going in my career, to get my medical [certification] back, to go to the big airlines, to really achieve my dreams,” she said.

In her final remarks, Lynsey left attendees with a rousing call to action: “Don’t quit. Dream big,” she said. “The sky is not the limit. It’s just my office.”

About FemLovin

FemLovin is an employee resource group (ERG) started by AppLovin CMO Katie Jansen to bring together the people of AppLovin to connect and learn from strong female leaders in tech on wide range of topics and issues that women are faced with today. While the events feature female-identified guests, AppLovin employees of all genders are encouraged to attend. 

Want to see more content like this? Check out our other blogs on other FemLovin events.

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