Jane Trembath, International Airline Captain, Pioneer in South Africa
Jane Trembath’s conscious-contribution™ has been breaking barriers and the ‘glass ceiling’ for women in aviation is South Africa.
Words of Wisdom: “The fundamental essence of successful leadership is confidence, in yourself and your own personal power.”
Philosophies – Dealing with challenges in a man’s world
What you will learn:
1. Vision to determination
2. Dealing with how to overcome challenges in a man’s world
3. Importance of understanding culture to succeed
4. How to communicate with power while controlling emotion.
Personal insights – How to regain self-belief
What you will learn:
1. Dealing with sexual harassment – confidently
2. How to regain self-belief
3. Celebrating your unique difference
Leadership – Leading from the cockpit
What you will learn:
1. How to be perceived as more assertive vs. aggressive
2. Inner wisdom and its power in leadership
3. Leading from the cockpit & success criteria
Expertise – Becoming a pilot
How to become a pilot
Conscious-Contribution™ – Women in aviation
Blazing the way for other women in aviation.
Jane Trembath, International Airline Captain, Pioneer in South Africa
Jane Trembath has been flying since 1982 and joined a South African airline in 1988, as one of the first lady pilots, into a somewhat skeptical male environment.
She had many proud moments with female firsts in South African aviation, but also made some spectacular mistakes navigating the minefield of being a woman in a man’s world.
Jane had to learn for herself how to overcome the challenges of diversity and leading in a man’s world. She speaks from personal experience; what she learnt is universal and has meaning for everyone.
Professional Aviation Milestones:
- 1993: First lady pilot in South Africa qualified to fly the Boeing 747-400.
- 2001: Commander of first all -female Boeing crew in SA. The flight on a Boeing 737-200 was operated by six women. The commander was Captain Jane Trembath.
- 2002 – 2005: Developer and Chairman of Pilot’s Association Mentorship Programme.
- 2007: Captain on Airbus 340: First woman in South Africa to command long-range international flights.
Jane knows how to fly high and she shares her insights in this interview as well as on the stage.
Jane Trembath, International Airline Captain, Pioneer in South Africa
Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the video version www.wisdomexchangetv.com. We welcome comments on the Wisdom Exchange TV website.
I’m always fascinated when someone has a dream to do something so unique and pioneering. Do you remember the first time you thought you wanted to be a pilot?
Yes, I remember very clearly. I was sixteen years old and I always dreamt about being a fashion designer. I was on a family holiday and I went on an aircraft for the first time. It was so exciting and it struck me that I just have to be a pilot. Changed my whole desire of what I wanted to do in an instant.
When you were sixteen years old, did you start communicating to people “I’m going to be a pilot?”
I started communicating to my parents who were not very conventional people. My parents never said there was anything you can’t do because you are a woman. They, however, were skeptical themselves of my desire. I kept on letting them know that that I was serious, and eventually after a few months they decided that I could go ahead and pursue my pilots license. So when I started back to school I also started flying lessons.
Did you receive any resistance from other social influences?
The girls at school and my teachers were particularly skeptical. They all thought it was a great joke. Now if any of them see me on an aircraft, it appears their attitude has changed.
At that time, how did you respond?
I remained determined to do my dream and didn’t care what anyone thought.
You speak a lot of about the challenges of being a woman in a men’s world? What are some of the biggest challenges you encountered in your career?
- When I became a pilot, I didn’t not know how to conduct myself as a woman. I had no one to guide me. I had no one who has come ahead of you to show you how to be in a particular situation i.e. ‘act like a man,’ or ‘be girly in this situation.’ You have no one to lead you.
- Going into that environment it has its own set of protocols and you really don’t know how to conduct yourself with these men that all come from the Air Force. That was the biggest challenge I had at first, is trying to find my place. Trying to prove myself, which was not the right thing to do. When you try too hard to prove yourself you make mistakes. This was a big challenge and I overcame it by finding out who I was.
What other challenges have you encountered pursuing a career as a pilot and a Captain?
- Lets start at the beginning. When I joined the airline I had challenges with the protocol and unwritten rules that came from the old guys in the Air force. Things that you and I would probably think are perfectly normal, and yet I was opening my mouth to change feet. For example, one day I went on a trip because I had to be in position the day before. The Captain came the next day; I too would have loved to have another night at home. So I said to him in front of the rest of the crew: “Captain, how did you manage to get the right to come down the next day?” It was a genuine question. After, the other crew members told me: “I shouldn’t have asked that.” It was innocent things like that, but I was putting my foot in it.
- I also had people making snide remarks with prejudice, which I was never expecting. I didn’t know how to deal with that either. I had people picking up the PA system on the aircraft making snide remarks to me to the passengers. You get so dumbstruck you just don’t know how to deal with it at the time.
- I had sexual harassment happen to me. We can’t ignore it. It doesn’t happen to me much any more now being a Captain. I use to think it was because I was getting older, but it is not really for that reason. It is because it is an abuse of power, and people tend to do it to junior people.
Can you help us understand how you overcame each of those challenges?
- Did you stop asking questions?
No I just kept putting my foot in my mouth. Eventually I learnt by default what I should be doing. I had a number of uncomfortable experiences along the way. As a result, as you mention in my bio, I did start an intern program to assist people to understand the culture of the airlines. Every different company and industry has a culture. If someone had just taught me some of that culture nuances it would have helped. My goal is to help others to not go through some of the experiences I had.
You mention that one of the Airline staff said something derogatory to the passengers on the PA system about you as a pilot. In that moment how did you deal with that situation?
In that moment, I dealt with it exactly the wrong way. I was so dumbfounded that I said nothing. This was a situation where the Captain realized he make a mistake. He tried another thing that I see what happens to women in these men’s world. Because the Captain knew he messed up, he wants to prevent anything further from happening, he launches a preemptive strike.
I was trying to be nice to him, thinking if I was nice to him maybe he will be nice in return. I think that is a common mistake women make. The Captain actually told people after the flight that I had done certain things, all which were completely false. It could have damaged my career.
Now days I would deal with this situation very differently. I would speak up. I love to talk about powerful communication, because women don’t talk back, because we don’t know how to do it properly. This is something I have made it my business to learn about assertion and how to communicate powerfully in such a way you can get your point across, but not upset anybody.
What would you do if the Captain said something derogatory to you today?
- First you need to decide, how important is it to take it on.
- If it is important, than I would have addressed what he said immediately. “Captain, that remark you just said is not appropriate and I found it offensive.”
- As women it is not good to talk too much about our feels, as it makes us sound too emotional. I try to stick your communications to the actual behavior and make a comment on it, rather then how you feel about it.
- This would give the Captain a chance to apologize to me; I could forgive him and move on.
You are striking a cord. Often when someone says something derogatory about someone else, they are doing disserve to themselves. Not to mention, in the role that you have, which is in charge of all the passengers’ safety, derogatory comments about the pilot would be very concerning for me as a passenger. It would be important for the pilots to respect one another. Often when people make derogatory comments they just don’t realize the perception they are creating of themselves.
It is a very bad reflection on you. It shows that you are an insecure person and that you are trying to put someone down to make yourself feel better. Eventually I realized that was what was going on with this Captain.
There was another pilot on the flight that said: “You must not be upset by that.” Which as a woman we feel now ‘that we are wrong.’ We put ourselves down, because we are told we are wrong to have these feelings. For example when someone say: “You are too sensitive.” Automatically, someone else has done something wrong, and we are ‘wrong’ for feeling upset. That was one of the biggest things that I have learnt, to address my feelings and know that I’m entitled to those feelings. I have to address them privately, not to bring those emotions to the flight deck. I guess you can call it emotional intelligence.
I have my system for doing it:
- Expressing it in my journal
- Or some other way of expressing it to myself. Gain insight to myself by asking the question: “Why did I react and how could I be better next time?”
That is key for me to ask: “How I can do it better for next time?” When you are doing something knew you don’t always get it right the first time. By asking myself that question, I am taking charge and I feel like I’m back in control of my feelings and my life. The next time it does come around, I can deal with it in the best possible way.
You journal in order to communicate with yourself your honest feels so you can get the emotion out of it so you can get the behavior?
Yes, but also to get the insights. When you have all that emotions that have taken charge of you, it is challenging to see the insights. I can’t see anything that I’ve done that may have led to that outcome. I need to evaluate the situation from two perspectives:
- Get rid of my emotion so I can see the truth of the situation and how can I learn for next time.
- What have I done to perpetuate the situation?
This affects all forms of communications. For example, when dealing with a challenging situation through email, it is recommended that you write your response then park it. Revisit the email later before sending it. This will help take the emotion out of it and limit the impact in the future.
I can extend that philosophy; when you are under some kind of stress, you are fatigued. I don’t make big decisions or do emotional things. I definitely don’t send emails when I have just got back from a long flight and I’m fatigued. If you can detect you are under any type of stress you should ensure that you don’t do anything like press that send button. Save it in draft folder. Also don’t make phone calls under stress.
You also mentioned the sexual harassment piece, which is a huge issue for a lot of women, and some men. Do you have any insight how someone should deal with a sexual harassment issue?
I think it is something that just doesn’t get talked enough about. It is such an unpopular topic to discuss amongst men. I think men believe that if you don’t talk about it, it will just go away. The reality is that harassment has a terrible affect on women.
I think your own confidence level has a lot to do with how you deal with harassment on the spot. For instance there was one men I know that was harassing younger girls. Two of them told me how they dealt with it individually. One, very young girl came to me for advice. I told her she was entitled to say “no,” and I recommended to her how to actually say “no.” Women don’t know how to say “no,” we often apologize when we say no. They often say “I’m sorry but…” You just have to say “NO,” kindly and politely. Don’t apologize or make excuses.
I taught her how to say “no.” If it carried on, I advice her:
- To either write him a note,
- Or to ask someone she trusted stand with her while she said her piece to that man in the form of assertion: “I don’t like what you are doing, and I want you stop it.”
The other girl who dealt with harassment, who was much older then the first said: “Oh, don’t be silly.” And that was it. She didn’t have another problem.
The other element is your own confidence level, and your own sense of power in yourself. The more confidant you are, the more you will be able to brush it off and not worry about the consequences.
The young girl was worries about him being vindictive towards her.
The wrong way to dealing with it is allowing it to continue out of fear. These girls don’t want to take it to management because it gets blown up. I can understand why, because I went through that experience with management and it was nasty. I had put into writing as I was requested to do and then Captain I complained about phoned me and screamed abuse at me over the phone.
That is why it is far better to deal with it on your own by using assertion by
- Directly speaking to him
- Writing a note
- Or asking someone to go with you to address the issue.
From the time you became a pilot to building the confidence to deal with challenging sessions, can you share what you did to gain that confidence?
I was making mistakes along the way. I thought that when I became Captain people would respect me because of the rank, but that did not happen. I still had people being insubordinate. I carried on trying to prove myself. I made the mistake of trying too hard to prove myself, and that is when I started looking within. I realized I had lost belief in myself over the years. That is actually how abuse works, when people are telling them they are useless the whole time they start to believe they are useless.
You can equate that prejudice to a type of abuse. When I realized that I lost my own self-belief, I had to get it back. I knew I had to get it back. I felt powerless without that self-belief, that confidence in myself. That is when I started my journey to redefining my belief – who I was, learn how to love myself again and appreciate who I was as an individual. Also respecting myself. We give our power away and we often don’t know how to stand-up for ourselves. We don’t take enough responsibility for our lives, or we take too much responsibility in other areas. Also we don’t live with integrity and stay true to ourselves all of that is abusing our self-respect. I had to gain that back. That is also when I started getting my confidence.
Last year I had to know where I was going in life. Without a view of that big picture and understanding what you are doing here, you don’t know your direction. That is how the journey evolved. I no longer felt like a woman in a man’s world, I just felt like a human being.
This is relevant to race, religion, colour, self-belief is critical. Is there any other pieces of advise you can provide beyond being a “human being” rather then labeling yourself.
It is really about being you. We all have a unique place in the world. We have our own niche that we can fulfill. We are all unique. You could almost say that God has put us here to do that individual job on earth that only we can do, our unique personalities and the way we are made.
I had felt inadequate because I believed that I had these personality traits that got me into trouble. When I realized those perceived ‘weaknesses’ are actually ‘strengths’ when I use them in the right way. Being able to be the best version of who I was. We have to appreciate our uniqueness because we are built the way we are to fulfill our unique niche on earth.
I learnt to ask questions about what I don’t like about myself. Also I would ask myself: “What are people saying about me that I don’t like hearing.” If you don’t want to see something you have to recognize it.
People would say that I was aggressive. I would say: “They just don’t understand me.” That is a form of denial. Soon as I realized if I use that aggression properly, that is what gives me my fighting spirit. Without it I would have not got over all the obstacles to get this far. I had to learn that just to realize what was negative and use it in a positive way.
You use the word aggression. I’ve had several conversations with women about that word. Women get called “aggressive” and men get called “assertive.” One has a positive connotation and one has a negative. Sometimes don’t you think that when people call someone else aggressive it is their view of the world that they are imposing on to you? If someone else was to do the same thing, they may not perceive it as aggressive?
It comes back to communication we were talking about. Women often don’t know how to put it across. When you get challenged at first you may try not to say anything and eventually someone pushes and pushes and then you snap back. That is aggression.
When women learn to be properly assertive they can deal with it before their frustration builds up. This idea that aggression is not suitable for women, it is something we have to have within ourselves because there are times that we have to use it.
I think times in my personal life (not flying) when aggression was the only thing that got the right results for the entire environment. I tried assertion and it didn’t work, so I had to use aggression. We have to know these things should be part of our toolbox and used in the correct circumstance.
Interesting what you are saying. It is like making a conscious unemotional decision to be aggressive because that is what the situation requires. I work with communication styles, and there is a certain type of personality style that will sit idle while they are being pushed into a corner. Eventually that person will explode. That is not effective use of aggression. What I understand you are saying is you choose to use aggression rationally.
This happens because the person was taking it on and they didn’t stop it with assertion by saying I’m going to address your behavior here. I did learn aggression vs. assertion it is the way in which you address the issue. If you are addressing the person’s behavior it is something they can change. If you say: “You are rude,” that is who he is. He can’t change who he is, but he can change what he does. It is learning to address the behaviors and not the person. It is a fine distinction. Once you are aware of that and alter accordingly, you will be perceived as more assertive and not aggressive.
As women we do ourselves a disservices because we haven’t been taught the proper ways of communication. It is just verbal habits. We learn how to use them with groups of women, but when we are in a business situation we are perceived as powerless because we are using the wrong verbal contribution.
As a Captain you are also a leader of a crew, yet you are also very operational, how do you lead from the cockpit?
My challenge is that on every flight you have a different situation.
- You have different crew. Some you have never met before.
- You might have difficult passengers
- You might have bad weather
You just have to deal with everything as it comes. Of course with our technical elements of the job we have a very defined structure. If a system goes wrong, there is a checklist that must be followed in a specific order.
When things go wrong in a different situation, unruly passenger or crew members that get into an argument, that is when I have to access my inner wisdom.
If a passenger is unruly, what is the protocol? Does the crew deal with it and then inform you?
That is the way it is meant to happen. I find that sometimes the crew doesn’t deal with it in a proper way. I had a flight awhile back where I had been resting; we carry extra crew on long- range flights so people can rest. I had come back from my rest and the co-pilot went to the back of the plane because the crew called him to help with a drunken passenger. You don’t do that, because if the drunken passenger lashes at the cockpit crew then it is a safety risk. The crew is taught how to deal with this situation; they just hadn’t followed the procedure. That was on one leg of the flight. On the first leg of the flight where there was a different cabin crew. They also had an unruly passenger and they dealt with this guy brilliantly.
In the first situation, I had conducted a debrief with the crew after the flight, which did include some lessons on assertion, and I remind them of their responsibilities. You talk about leading from the cockpit, it is not always comfortable, but I did it through by conducting a debrief so that we don’t have that situation in the future.
In this case the entire crew was female.
- I went through the procedure they are meant to go through.
- I tried to emphasis that they are in charge. The members of the crew see me as the leader. But what they don’t understand is that passengers see them as leaders as well. Co-pilots are also seen as leaders by the crew.
- I had to emphasis that they have to take the lead and what is required of them.
Even if you are not the CEO of the company, you are still a leader in one way or another. Leadership skills are important no matter what is your position.
Can you share with us what they should have done?
- First, warn the passenger verbally. “You need to stop…”
- Then, you have a form that you have to get passenger to sign.
- Then if it still persists, they let them know that we have handcuffs on board.
- Lastly, we can have them arrested on the other end.
Part of my duties as a leader is to support the crew in discipline while on board. You are over the ocean and the nearest landing is three-hours a way, so if you have a problem on board, you need to deal with it on board. You have to take command. You can’t just take them to the nearest airport and offload them.
My bigger picture is to keep the overall safety of everyone on board.
How would you define leadership?
Being able to come up with a solution in a tough situation and be able to implement that solution, then to get buy-in to the solution. There are many ways to get buy-in from delegating to dictating and everything between. What is appropriate for the situation?
What criteria do you perceive an effective leader should have? Either it a Captain, co-pilot or crew member?
A leader must have personal wisdom. Know who you are. One of my favourite quotes is:
“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment. ” Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu
- Know yourself so you can access that personal wisdom.
- Credibility – Know how much responsibility to take and everything you do has consequences and know how to balance that.
- Knowing how to deal with mistakes. Know how to take charge and deal with difficult things and situations.
- A leader must have integrity. That is the most important thing to get credibility. People need to have faith in you and know they can trust you.
- You will also do that by being true to yourself.
- A leader also has to have vision, see that big picture and know where to go. It all starts at a personal level and then apply the vision globally.
What do you think is the most difficult leadership criteria to continuously deliver on?
Probably standing up and dealing with difficult situations. It is uncomfortable for everybody. Every time it happens, you question: “How am I going to deal with this?” I find soon as I ask myself that question of how I’m going to deal with this? I am accessing my higher wisdom. Sometimes women are confronted with challenging situations; they may say, “I don’t know what to do.” You are sending yourself a negative message. But when you ask: “How am I going to deal with this situation?” You need to give it time; the answers then just pop into your head.
I had as situation where two crew that got into an argument. One was a cabin crew member, and one was from the cockpit. It was just before landing, I was sitting there and the co-pilot asked to go back to the galley and then next thing these two came in shouting at each other.
The first thing I did was take charge of the situation, as it is a safety risk. I told them to be quite we will deal with this on the ground. I made them shut up. Then I just asked myself: “How will I deal with this situation?” I had to come up with an approach prior to landing.
Once we landed I called the crew together to have the discussion, my inner voice produced the right words and the right approach. It was a combination of experience and gut feel. The two of them together produced the right result, which was best for everybody.
If I wanted to become a pilot, can you give me a list of what I should do?
- When at school you need to choose the right subjects
- Geography / Meteorology
- Understanding of maps
- When you leave school, then you have to find someone who will sponsor you. Do you have someone who can provide the money for you? Will you join the air force? Will you enter a cadet program?
It is a very expensive business to train to be a pilot; you need the means to do it.
How much money would it cost?
In South Africa it would be about 500,000R (approx. 45,000US), although I’m not sure, as it has been quite some time.
Airtime cost per hour.
Now I know how to fly, now how do I go about getting a job?
Now this becomes a problem. No one wants to hire someone young and inexperienced. That is question of building up hours when you can and staying determined. Don’t give up. Don’t loose your focus.
It is the hardest part. It took me several months to find my first flying job after I qualified. That was in the 1980s. I was young and I was a woman. I was turned down simply because I was a woman. Back then, people would just tell you: “I can’t hire you because you are a woman.” It took me awhile to find that first job.
My mother said you might have to do something else, like be a secretary. All I could think is: “I can’t. I can’t.” Something did eventually come along.
I would imagine today if someone said: “I can’t hire you because you are a woman,” there is so much women empowerment in South Africa that would no longer be tolerated.
Yes, it is illegal.
We have rules in South Africa that make up the numbers. There are a lot of women who are trained to be pilots. I don’t think it is a problem any more to get hired as a woman or as a person of colour. You need to present yourself with confidence and it makes you look attractive to a potential employer.
Well I can say that I want my pilot to be very confident.
What do you feel is the most significant impact that you have made in your career so far?
I hope that I have opened the eyes to people of women in aviation. As you mentioned in my bio when we did the first all women flight on a Boeing, it was something that just happened. I found out the day before that we were going to be on an all female crew. The right people heard about it and it made the TV news. I had really felt that I, and the crew made a statement for women. The entire crew can be proud of what we achieved.
It meant women can operate this aircraft and we didn’t need men to operate it. More then that, it was the impact it had on other women. I went into an office and a woman recognized me and said: “She was so proud to be a woman that day.” So many people have acknowledged that women have taken their place in aviation.
For me that was very significant, it helped others realize the sense of their power as well.
If there were one thing you would attribute your success to, what would it be?
I wasn’t going to give up. There where times when things were rough and I could have given up. I knew I had to hang in there, not only for myself, but also for other women.
I had been through something particularly rough and I was discussing it with a male pilot. I said that I had to hang in there for the girls. He said: “It is not just for the girls, it is for all of us.”
That quality of determination and refusing to give up was the greatest contributor to my success.
What was the most challenging aspect of your career?
Probably getting over the mistakes that I made. One of the problems being a woman in a man’s world is that there are few of you so when you make a mistake you are visible. The people that don’t want women there, and some of them do think women should be behind a kitchen sink. So when you do make a mistake, there is no mercy.
Getting over my mistakes has been the most challenging.
Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of yourself discovered when you push the edge of your comfort zone). What is something that you are uncomfortable doing, but you need to continue to do, in order to make you as successful as you are?
My most uncomfortable moments is looking into myself and realize I could be wrong. Having to find the truth. It is so easy when things have gone wrong to blame the outside world and to make excuses for you. Sure the outside world may have been wrong, but I had to look inside myself and see what I had done that could have contributed to it. The truth is not comfortable. Ignoring the truth could lead to disaster.
So looking inside myself to see where I could have been wrong is the most uncomfortable thing. It is something I have to continue doing for the rest of my life.
What does success mean to you?
Taking on a challenge and looking back on it and saying that you have done a good job. It could be a small or big thing.
What pieces of leadership advice would provide to others who are leading a team or project?
- Find your own style. Who you are. Don’t look to others, find your own style as a person or you wont be successful. Be an authentic leader.
- Trust your gut feel. You get advice to do something, but you really need to listen to your inner voice. It is your own personal power speaking to you.
- Learn the skills of assertion and powerful communication. Creating verbal habits. We can learn these skills to be powerful communicators.
- Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. You can overcome them. It is not so much the mistake that happens it is how you deal with it. In a crisis you can show who you are. It may show you, as more capable then would have been perceived if you hadn’t made that mistake.
Q. What advice would you give to your 10yr. old daughter?
She just has to be herself. Find out who she is so she can appreciate herself and she doesn’t have to be like anyone else.
Q. What advice do you wish you received at 10yrs old?
I was good enough as I was.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I wish I were more aware sooner to ask more questions. That being said, everything has lead me to where I am today.
What is next for you?
I would like to write a book. I also enjoy sharing what I have learnt in my speaking engagements. Lets hope that goes from strength to strength.
Words of Wisdom for African women
The fundamental essence of successful leadership is confidence, in yourself and your own personal power. The qualities of confidence are the qualities of excellence in leadership.