Abstract: (see Poster Gallery) Highlighting the Barriers Black Females Face When Pursuing Naval Aviation (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

151P (see Poster Gallery) Highlighting the Barriers Black Females Face When Pursuing Naval Aviation

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Emily Elliot, Student, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Jamie Cage, PhD, Assistant Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Background and Purpose: Black females assigned to Commander, Naval Air Forces, Pacific (CNAP), the larger of the two aviation fleets, are underrepresented in naval aviation. Currently, there are only 26 active Black female aviators out of over 12,000 CNAP aviators. This underrepresentation is seemingly absent in academic literature, leaving scant evidence on the supports or impediments impacting Black females. This study sought to understand the barriers Black females experience as they pursue a career in Naval Aviation. Such information is necessary to expand knowledge of the supports Black females need to succeed in this field and identify the roadblocks they face.

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.