A Predominantly White-Male Dominated Industry – Megan Yaa Amoako

 

I got to know Megan through a mutual friend called Kweku Yamoah who highly believes in encouraging STEM among young girls in Africa. Here is our interview about Megan’s STEM story:

Hi Megan, it is wonderful to speak with you today. I welcome you to Words That Count; thank you for joining us.
Hi Winnie, thank you for inviting me. I have read through your work and I really like what you do because sometimes it’s hard to find someone who does something outside the obvious STEM careers of say, medicine, engineering, teaching… I feel great to be sharing my story with you, haha.

Kindly introduce yourself please
Thank you! I am Megan Yaa Amoako from Ghana. I have another name, Asomaningwaa, which I like very much but it’s not on any of my official documents, haha. Both my parents are Ghanaian and I have an older sibling who is into pharmacy. I love Mathematics, Geography and Physics. I am currently a student pilot working on my private pilot license with the end goal of getting my commercial license in probably the next year or year and a half, and my Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate in 2 to 3 years, God willing! This will help me get private jobs with airlines.

What I am doing right now is basically similar to acquiring a driver’s license; you can fly on your own but are not allowed to fly higher. And then another term – instrument – helps you to fly when the visibility is really bad, say, in the night or when it is cloudy or stormy. Commercial is when you need to start making money and lastly commercial multi-engine is just commercial with an add-on. It’s not really required but my school adds it in order to give us an added advantage in the job market. Most airline companies use multi-engines because they are faster. Now ATP is when you need to work in major airlines. It’s what shows that you have passed through all these other stages.

This is the first time I am interviewing a Pilot, haha! How did you join the aviation world?
I did all my basic and senior high education in Ghana. I attended Alsyd Academy for 10 years, and Ghana Christian International High School (GCIHS) for 3 years, where I did General Science. I always knew I wanted to do something in the STEM field, but I wasn’t sure what exactly it was. The first thing I ever said I wanted to be was a scientist; a general scientist, then an architect, mechanical engineer, and aerospace engineer. There is even a time I wanted to be a model, haha! It’s surprising that I wanted to try out all these different jobs but never went into medicine! You know medicine is like the typical African go-to-job for anyone in the science world.

My career choices kept changing as I grew up but when I got to Class Six, I made up my mind that I wanted to be a pilot and an architect. I concentrated on Aviation once I joined high school. My grandfather also always wanted me to be a pilot, and since that aligned my goal, I was even more motivated to pursue it.

Aviation is not a realistic African child’s aspiration. What steps did you take to bring that dream to life?
The first thing I did was to research about top-ranked aeronautical universities globally and the estimated cost of becoming a pilot. I also researched about salaries in that field. One thing I couldn’t leave out was looking for African female pilots! I realised that when they say, “black pilots”, they mean black from any part of the world, not only Africa and we are like 1%. Narrow that down to only Africans and it will get less. Now imagine female African, haha! I wanted to get mentally ready and be very sure Aviation was actually worth all the work I was about to put in.

Although I was in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) system, I studied A level Mathematics by myself in order to up my grades and help me get into a good aeronautical university. I also had a good support system. My teachers and friends always believed I could do it which was really helpful. Aviation is expensive, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

You talked about getting support from family members and close friend. Did you get any guidance from mentors or women role models in Aviation?
Before starting this journey, I didn’t have any mentors! Outside my family, the only guidance I had was from my teachers, like Mr. Yamoah, who knew how passionate I was about Aviation and could align that with my grades. I remember when in high school, I learned about this female Ghanaian pilot called Audrey Esi Swatson. I stand to be corrected but she is currently Ghana’s youngest female pilot; she became a commercial pilot at 21 years of age. I found out that she was a former student at my high school. I was like, “wow! My school is now producing pilots I guess, haha”. She is the one person who motivated me, not mentored me, but her being there made me feel like I could actually be there too. I mean, we had gone through the same education system, haha.

What are the biggest challenges you face as a female African pilot?
The aviation industry is mainly white-male dominated. So being an African or black woman, making up less than 1% of pilots or people training to be pilots is really something! I remember when I had started flighting, there was only 1 other black girl by the sideline every time, so we became friends. The beginning was very hard for me, I felt like I wasn’t heading anywhere. The process was almost discouraging!

Flying is a hard thing to do because it is something you have never done before. Now for me it was even harder because I don’t know how to drive a car or ride a bicycle! I had no experience in controlling any moving machine! I had a lot of difficulties with movements.

With Aviation, you just have to keep encouraging and motivating yourself! If you keep trying and put your mind fully in it, it pays off.

What has inspired you to push through these challenges?
My mum was my biggest inspiration when it came to working to be a pilot, flight school and flight training. She has always been so encouraging because it’s not as easy as it looks. Sometimes it’s really stressful and sometimes you feel like you don’t deserve to be here when you compare yourself to other people and the majority of the faces in this industry. Seeing other black female pilots thrive has always motivated me and kept me going when it felt very hard.

There is an organisation called Women Aviation International; I think there’s even a chapter in Ghana. I went to one of their conferences; the club I was part of in school was sponsored to attend that conference. That’s where I met a female mentor who is a captain with one of the original airlines here. I would talk to her every time and she kept making me believe that it was all possible. I also have a friend who stays in Ghana but did his flight training in Lithuania. He was also part of my encouraging team. Family members are there to encourage you but it’s better to have someone who has been in the same situation like you.

Please tell us about some of your prestigious moments on this journey
Hmmm, since I started flight training not long ago, I can’t think of anything in particular. But being able to master my landing has been a very prestigious thing for me. It makes me so happy every time I do it perfectly because landing is the most crucial part of flying. If one can’t do it well then we have a serious problem, haha!

Also in high school, I was actively involved in a number of Mathematics competitions, and qualified into an international Mathematics competition for girls, but that didn’t happen due to the pandemic.

What do you enjoy doing outside work?
Outside work and school, I like to read, watch and listen to podcasts on mythology. I’m obsessed with mythology, especially Greek, North and West-African mythology. I am even taking a course right now on mythology, haha.. I also love hanging out and chatting with my friends. I can add my recent activity – going to the gym. I have realised that it makes one find their balance in life. So I have added that to the list.

What is your favourite quote?
Do not compare yourself to anyone, just compare yourself to yourself; always try to find the better version of yourself.” ~ Unknown. Everyone has their own journey and issues to deal with. Just work on yourself.

Slow progress is still progress” ~ Frederick Douglass. This speaks so much to me and my journey in learning. There are many times I have felt like I was going at a very slow pace but I am reminded that I am still going.

How would you encourage a young girl who wants to join the Aviation industry?
To anyone who wants to be in the aviation industry or try flying, you should definitely go for it. It may be challenging and you may feel like you don’t deserve to be there, especially when you see many white-male faces. This is true because that’s the predominant face in the aviation industry. But just know that you can do it. You have as much potential as they have; as long as you also work hard like they do. If you can’t find pilots around you, there are blogs about how pilots feel on a daily basis, thankfully! That can help you get a proper feel of how things are, and what you are getting into.

Thank you, Megan! It was such an honour to host a pilot! You have made me realise another possibility within the STEM field. Thank you for changing the narrative and we wish you all the best.

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