See her fly

Virgin Atlantic pilot holding a Virgin Atlantic pilot Barbie
Image from Virgin Atlantic
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 6 December 2019

From the moment I heard about Virgin Atlantic’s See Her Fly campaign, I knew they were onto something important.

The campaign was created to inspire girls to pursue their dream careers, overcome self-doubt and tackle gender stereotypes when it comes to roles in STEM and aviation.

Holly Branson smiling, holding a Barbie doll dressed in a pilot's uniform
Image from Holly Branson

I was concerned (but not overly surprised) to hear the statistics  that women only make up 12 per cent of the UK engineering workforce, and only 4.3 per cent of pilots are women. It’s a big missed opportunity for the entire industry.

Virgin Atlantic decided to address these statistics while also tackling the Dream Gap - which describes how girls start to develop limiting self-beliefs and doubt their full potential from the age of five. As a mother of two young girls under the age of five, this research really hit home. It also resonated with what we do at Big Change in re-shaping the education sector so young people from all backgrounds are given the best possible start in life.

A Virgin Atlantic female engineer holds a Barbie dressed as a Virgin Atlantic engineer
Image from Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic knew that to take on the issue at its core, they needed to reach girls at a really young age and partner with someone who had influence over the audience. The result has been a wonderful partnership with Mattel and the design of three different Barbie’s that each represent an exciting role available to women in the industry: an engineer, a pilot and a member of cabin crew.

As Elisa Bovill, a Virgin Atlantic aircraft maintenance supervisor put it: “I believe that you can’t be what you can’t see.” By bringing Barbie on board, it gives girls a visual and physical reminder that that the sky is truly the limit when it comes to their careers.

Another clever part of the campaign was inspired by the fact that the woman pilot emoji is one of the most underused on the keyboard. Virgin Atlantic highlighted this statistic so we start to challenge our assumptions and make active choices to break unconscious stereotypes.

While we can’t change these things overnight, I’m so glad Virgin Atlantic is getting creative and looking ahead to inspire the next generation. What are some other creative ways we can break down career barriers for young girls? I would love to hear your thoughts!