One of the ways I support women is through this podcast. My job as host is to introduce you to women who are making an impact in the world without letting burnout slow them down. This episode’s guest is no exception. Back in April, the idea for this podcast came to me while I was plunked at the airport. I was wondering about what some of the most stressful jobs for women were. Bam! I immediately thought of air traffic controllers. Trying to track down a female professional controller was no easy feat. (Turns out, women are less than 20% of that workforce.) After several months of research, connecting, planning, and FAA approval - I am so excited to introduce you to this week’s guest, Patti Wilson!
Patti Wilson has been in the air traffic control industry for the past 29 years. She’s the Operations Manager at Northern California Terminal Radar Approach Control, and is currently in her second term as President of Professional Women Controllers. If that wasn’t enough, she’s also very involved in nonprofit work with Zonta International. She’s also a pistol deeply committed to pulling up a seat for more women at the aviation table.
Patti brings both a breadth and depth of experience and wisdom to our conversation. She paints a picture of what being an air traffic controller is like (the good, the stressful and the invisible to us non-controller folks). She also talks about the difference between communication at work versus everyday conversations (like the risk of talking to people in bullet points and commands outside of work). We also cover staying humble, handling stress, and giving/receiving feedback.
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Quotes + selected highlights from the episode
All of this wisdom is from Patti herself (with some minor edits for readability).
[00:06:09] We are not the person with two flashlights waving them around in the air so the pilots can see them. That's what most people think of when they think of air traffic controllers. We are the voice behind getting you from your departure airport to your destination airport.
[00:13:44] We are people who are used to immediate gratification in our career field. If I say Southwest 1452 descend and maintain 5000. We typically don’t hear, No, in return.
[00:15:48] I have to check myself when I get in environments that aren't with controllers and really concentrate on how I communicate. As air traffic controllers, we live in a world where we interrupt people. We are interrupted on a regular basis too. At work; you stop, you address it, and you go back to what you were doing a second ago. For me to have an actual conversation with somebody who is not a controller, I've got to consciously get myself to shut up so they can finish their sentence.
[00:17:03] I truly think if I could talk in bullet statements with people, I could get a lot more done. Don't give me the fluff. I just want the facts, give me what I need to know and let’s move on. I say personally for me, being a controller works really well. I have to really check myself on the softer parts of communication.
[00:36:26] I think sometimes we need to be reminded about what we're doing and why we're doing it. I think that gets lost a little bit sometimes in the shuffle.
[00:36:50] One of the things I always try to communicate is: Never forget where you came from, and don't ever forget those are people on those planes.
[01:06:58] I think the most stressful points of my life are the moments where I have no control. If I have control over what's happening, I'm actually pretty content. When I don’t have control, that’s when stuff really starts to piss me off.
[01:27:10] One of the two hardest things for me to learn how to do is learning to say no. The second is learning how to delegate. That's extremely hard for somebody who wants to be in control of everything.
[01:27:41] If you've got somebody you trust to get feedback from, someone who will actually give you no Bravo Sierra feedback, cultivate that relationship and have that grow. You've got to be able to trust those people that you're giving feedback to.
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