Double The Attendance At Every Chapter Event
By Cyndy Newman, EAA Chapter 34
At our last annual chapter campout, a male Chapter Member asked me, "Why won't she come?" The question of course referred to his wife. We proceeded to have a lengthy conversation about this, but it got me to thinking about the bigger picture. If you take a look at the "real world" you will find some pretty amazing facts. If you look at the other recreational industries that we are in competition with-boating, motorcycling, camping, tennis, golf, etc.-you will see far more women participating than in aviation. They have figured out something that we have not. They are more aware of and sensitive to who is responsible for making decisions regarding lifestyle.
In America today, over 65% of the people who bring their cars in for service are women. When surveyed, auto mechanics reported that women ask more questions and want to know more about the service performed. Women have an appeal or veto role in over 80% of all car purchases today. In the world of motorcycles, the number of women cyclists increased 97% between 1991 and 1995. During the same time, the number of male cyclists increased only 25%. More women than men purchased sleeping bags and tents in recent years.
So why don't we see more women pilots or even more women active in our Chapters?
Most EAA Members have spouses and children at home, but how often do we see them? Wouldn't it be more satisfying to feel the support of our loved ones in the activity we enjoy most? Wouldn't it be easier to participate in many activities if our families were with us? Many times Chapter Members feel they must limit involvement or say they feel guilty if they spend too much time away from family. We all know that being involved with the EAA, and flying in general, offers many great opportunities to learn new things, meet people, and just have good, clean fun. All of us would like to share this with our families.
As Chapter Leaders, you are in a unique position to facilitate this.
So how do we do this?: It won't take a miracle to increase the interest of the women and families in your chapters. It will take a little planning and the cooperation of your Members.
A first suggestion is to look at your meetings. Are they visitor friendly? At our meetings in Chapter 34, we have a business portion and a program portion. In between is a "social time," when we share refreshments and fellowship. Try to be sure that the only reason that a family member feels welcome is not because she brought the cookies. Ask some personal questions-even if it is only to ask if she enjoys flying with her spouse. Many times, family members who come to meetings are overwhelmed by the technical talk and exclusion of any topic that is not flying related.
What kind of speakers do you have at your meetings?
Do you ever include programs that cover the more esoteric side of flying? Maybe a Chapter Member who has made an interesting trip could share slides and stories of their adventure. For a change, everyone occasionally enjoys hearing a speaker on a topic of general interest; for example, a motivational speaker. If you know that a certain speaker has a reputation for being "tough" on women, look for someone else.
Encourage women in your Chapter to take on leadership roles.
Everyone likes to feel they can contribute something of real value. In addition, when "new" women come to visit with your chapter and see other women participating, it makes it much easier to feel a part of the group. First impressions are often key to future decisions.
Offer a "Flying Partners" course.
We did this when we hosted the national convention of the SWPC here at Texoma. No pilots were allowed in the room. It was a huge success. It went well past its allotted time and we got a lot of positive feedback from the participants. Without their pilot spouse in the room they felt comfortable to ask all those "stupid questions" they had been afraid to ask. Along the same line, you could offer an opportunity for non-flying spouses to fly with someone else in the Chapter other than their pilot spouse. This allows the freedom to ask questions and express concerns that they might not feel comfortable doing with their spouse. It is much less threatening or embarrassing.
Have you considered any activities directed at the kids?
This is a way to encourage the whole family to participate and for the mom, whose excuse is that she is always too busy with the kids to come to an EAA meeting, you have provided the perfect solution. There are many aviation activities for kids-Young Eagles, Boy and Girl Scouts, Campfire, etc. You might even consider an event that focused on girls since they are less likely to get this type of technical exposure. Doing things with kids also shows that your Chapter has a "softer side"-that you are willing to make the effort to make sharing your love of flying a priority.
You can always just ask.
Try sending a survey to your members. Ask if their spouses and/or families participate. If they don't-ask why not, what could we do to make them feel more welcome? You might be surprised at the answers you get.
The Chapter Leader's role is absolutely crucial to this effort. Example is always the best tool. In Chapter 34, our officers have typically been "family men." Because family was a priority in their everyday lives, it naturally spilled over into everything they did in our Chapter. I know from my own personal experience that I would never have gotten as involved as I did if that first president I met had not made me feel that I could be an important part of the Chapter.
In summary, the most important thing that you can do as a Chapter Leader is to make wives and family members feel welcome. Asking personal questions, looking beyond the airplane, helping them to feel comfortable with something that is undoubtedly very unfamiliar to them will go a long way to making sure that they want to come back. Once you can become familiar with something it is easier to be involved.