Woman Controller

This article was published in The Controller more than twenty years ago.  The situation is very much the same today, there are many operational woman controllers but still some improvement to be done at management level. When looking back at forty years in Air Traffic Control, and can just agree to my last sentence in the article. It has been a great working place, I am so happy I chose to become a Woman Controller!




”When people hear I work shift, nine out of ten ask me if I’m a nurse. The closest I get to that profession is  handwriting like a doctor!

I am an Air Traffic Controller (ATCO), one out of  700 in my country. About 40 % are women, still this area is considered to be a male-dominated occupation. Mainly because the culture and management is based upon a long tradition of men.

The first woman ATCO in Sweden got her rating at Stockholm-Arlanda 1969. Her name is Gabriella Westberg, she now works at Trollhättan Airport in the south of Sweden. In a few years time she will be retired, and her retirement will probably not cause the attention she had when she started to work. Pilots got speech-less when they heard her on radio, some even sneaked into Stockholm ACC to see if she was for real.

Today they can hear women controllers all over Sweden, which is a good thing, as it is well known that female voices are more readable when radio transmitted. The fact that we also can do many things simultaneously, makes one wonder why they recruit men at all!

To be honest one thing that I appreciate about this work is the acceptance for both male and female behaviour. Everyone’s opinion is respected, and it adds an extra dimension to discussions whether they are about staff-planning, human factors or technical matters.

My sons have a mother who doesn’t know a thing about knitting or baking, but knows a lot about aircraft performance and expects everyone to obey her orders. Immediately.

Their father is an air traffic controller too, and it is a real mystery how we can have the most uncontrolled boys in the neighbourhood.

Our youngest son use to tell people that his parents work at the airport, riding the elevator all day long. That is his impression of our work-place, going up in the elevator, spending a few minutes in the tower, then going down in the elevator again. For certain reasons we minimise the time in the tower-cabin for our young ones, when we have to take them with us at shift changes. Too many irresistible buttons and switches to try.

I have to admit that there are days when one dreams about a job as a bell-boy (bell-girl?), but after twenty-four years I still love my work.

All controllers in Sweden work under the same conditions, there are no differences in payment between sexes. That is at operational level, when it comes to management women are as scarce in Swedish CAA as they are in many other countries. But there is a genuine interest to improve this situation, and female candidates for different career-positions are welcomed. Both as specialists and managers.

After six years at management level, I have chosen another career. Now I share my working-hours between being an operational controller, and a part-time position as an international consultant for Swedavia, a subsidiary to Swedish CAA. This has given me a fantastic opportunity to compare the working situation in different countries. Even though I learn a lot from my foreign colleagues, I am very glad every time I return to Sweden. We have a great working environment, both for men and women!”


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