Methods: Five, semi-structured interviews were conducted with current Black female aviators. CNAP emailed eligible participants to recruit and instructed willing participants to log in to a Sign-Up Genius to self-schedule their interviews. Due to the extremely small participant pool, the researcher required participants to use a pseudonym to ensure that neither the researcher nor naval leadership could identify participants. Of the 32 (26 current and six veteran aviators) possible participants, seven individuals scheduled interviews. One participant did not attend the appointment. Prior to conducting the five study interviews, one pilot interview was conducted with a Black female aviator to ensure that the researchers had formulated appropriate contextual questions. The interview protocol was adjusted based on feedback from the pilot interview. Interviews were video recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using thematic analyses techniques to identify common barriers across participants.
Findings: Analyses revealed several important barriers. First, participants identified hair standards as a barrier, as the hair regulations seem to specifically target Black hair. Second, participants stated that they have had to filter their body language, alter their accents, or conceal their true personalities to fit into flight school and the Naval community. Third, participants identified that Black people were more likely to be in swim remediation at commissioning sources and flight school, discussing historical swim access and racialized opinions about swimming as barriers to Black females passing naval aviation swim tests. Fourth, participants discussed how overwhelming it is to be in Naval Aviation during times of racially charged strife in the country. The participants were dismayed, discouraged, and mentally stressed after significant events but often had no outlet to discuss their experiences. Lastly, participants discussed the differential treatment white males received, noting white male students would fail exercises, activities, and/or examinations but still pass. However, if a female candidate failed these same exercises, they would not complete flight school.
Conclusion and Implications: Findings highlight that the larger societal issues around racism and sexism are prevalent barriers for Black females in Naval Aviation; providing evidence for an intersectional lens when addressing experiences in Naval Aviation. While some of these challenges or barriers may have relatively straightforward solutions, some run more deeply and will require engagement at every level of command to address adequately to improve Black females' experiences. Understanding these results can lead to potential solutions within Naval aviation to address the disparity in Black female representation.