Who is she?
Deborah Lawrie is the first woman to become a pilot for a major Australian airline, after she won a landmark sex discrimination case against Ansett.
Deborah was a high school maths teacher who obtained her commercial pilot’s license in 1973. She applied to Ansett for two years, but was rejected every time. She was finally interviewed in 1978, but was still turned down.
Deborah launched a discrimination case against the airline, during which Ansett claimed that women couldn’t be pilots because a) pilots need physical strength; b) women’s menstrual cycles made them unsuitable (yep this was in the 1970s, not the 1670s); and c) pregnancy and childbirth would disrupt a woman’s career and cost the company.
She won and Ansett was ordered to hire her, but they later attempted to sack her after a near-miss incident – even though the other pilot was proved to be at fault. She finished her training, but was not progressed by the airline. Later, when Rupert Murdoch took over the airline (with Peter Abeles), he insisted she be treated the same as male pilot candidates.
Deborah flew with KLM and today is the Line Training Captain for Tigerair Australia.
Why should we thank her?
For standing up to clearly discriminatory hiring practices in an almost entirely male-dominated industry. Deborah’s case went all the way to the High Court and it is still used as a precedent today, so in a way, we should all thank her for protecting our rights in the workplace.
Although female pilots are still rare, they do exist and Deborah is one of the pioneers of the industry who made it possible for women today to aspire to be pilots.
“When they told me women couldn’t become airline pilots, I just thought that was ridiculous and I kept going and I kept trying.”