Women make up just a fraction of the aviation industry—less than 7 percent of pilots are women. And when it comes to drones, the number of women hitting the skies is even less.
But one Illinois woman has set out to prove that drone enthusiasts aren’t just a boys club. After becoming interested in the drone sector in 2015, Sharon Rossmark soon noticed the glaring lack of women at drone conferences she attended. So, Rossmark decided in May 2017 to start Women and Drones, a platform that highlights women working with drones in various industries around the world and provides drone educational tools.
“I was at a drone conference just last summer and I had on my Women and Drones shirt, and a gentleman walked up to me and said, ‘Gee, I didn’t even know women flew drones,’” Rossmark said. “That became a beat of the drum that we’re on the right track.”
To date, the site has published more than 80 stories about women using drones in their professions around the world and began offering drone education toolkits last week. In March, the platform will launch its second Women to Watch in UAS honorees, which features women in the U.S. and abroad who have made great achievements in the space. She was also one of 12 recipients of the 2018 Governor’s Difference Makers Awards, which recognized individuals “for helping make a difference in their communities and throughout Illinois.”
For women working in the drone space, the site has become a place for them to gain exposure for their own drone projects, connect with one another and share drone-related information and resources.
“You may be in a certain segment in the industry and think you’re the only one,” Rossmark said. “Not only do they get collaborations, they get business opportunities.”
“I didn’t get a chance to fly back then, but I’m flying now.”
Beyond highlighting women in the drone space, Rossmark is working toward educating youth about the emerging sector. In addition to the recent release of the drone kit, she plans to release a STEM-related children’s book.
For now, Rossmark runs the site on her own, but Wendy Erikson, a St. Louis-based broadcast journalist, hosts the Women and Drones podcast. Rossmark declined to detail the site’s business model. The platform lists companies and organizations including YWCA Chicago, Women in Aviation International, Drone Girl, She Flies, Fly Like a Girl and Verifly as partners.
While growing up in East St. Louis, Illinois across the river from St. Louis, Rossmark and her father would watch airplanes take off at the St. Louis Lambert International Airport. But she never saw working in aviation as a viable career path until after she spent her career working in insurance and financial services.
“I was fascinated by this when you think about the era in which I was growing up, that was a long time ago, and there weren’t a lot of options for kids who looked like me,” Rossmark said. “I didn’t get a chance to fly back then, but I’m flying now.”