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HindustanTimes Thu,24 Apr 2014

Shattering the glass ceiling

Usmeet Kaur , Hindustan Times   January 10, 2013
First Published: 11:08 IST(10/1/2013) | Last Updated: 11:13 IST(10/1/2013)

Saloni Handa made quite a leap — from being a student at an all-girls school to working in Canada in a ‘male-dominated’ workplace. But Saloni, who claims to be the first Punjabi woman to work in Air Canada, Toronto, has faced and overcome many challanges in her life.

The 25-year-old, whose family is based in Chandigarh, talks about her journey from City Beautiful to Canada, where she is a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer.

Always fascinated by airplanes, Saloni says she had initially wanted to be a pilot. “My dream was to become a pilot, but unfortunately, the course was too expensive for me. So, I decided to get a job in the aviation sector and pay for my pilot training myself. At that time, I thought a start in aviation would be a stepping-stone to being a pilot,” she says.

Now, Saloni no longer wants to be a pilot, having found her true calling. “I found that working with
aircrafts provides me with a sense of satisfaction, especially when I see these huge machines soar in the sky after I work on them,” she adds. She has been in Canada since 2005, where she pursued a two-year diploma course in avionics maintenance programme to be an aviation technician, from Centennial College, Toronto. “When I landed in Canada, I was homesick and lonely.

After all, I was only 17 then. Apart from the initial culture shock, I went from being a student at an all-girls school (Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School, Chandigarh) to a class where I was only one of the two girl students,” Saloni recalls.

But the girl slugged with grit, learning maintenance, repair and troubleshooting of modern-day aircrafts’ electrical and electronic systems. Saloni confesses to being doubtful of her abilities even when she started working. “At times, it can be very intimidating to work with men. I started from scratch, learning the use of a tool as basic as a screwdriver. But there is nothing that girls can’t do, right?” she asks confidently.

Talking about her work environment, Saloni hints at being subjected to pre-conceived prejudices. “My profession is highly male-dominated, but in the past five years, I think I have survived well without cracking under pressure. Once a colleague remarked, “Don’t think you won’t have to work hard just because you are a girl.” But anyone who tried to demoralise me only helped me become thick-skinned.”

Saloni’s job profile includes ensuring that all the electrical and electronic systems of an aircraft work properly. “I am like an electrician for the airplanes. When a plane lands at the airport, it is towed to a hangar, after which scheduled maintenance is performed to make sure it is airworthy for its next flight. Sometimes, pilots record faults or system failures during flights that need to be looked after. So, the main focus of my job concerns electrical distribution, navigation, flight instrumentation and communications,” she explains.

Working in a team, Saloni says she works in a night shift that starts at 8pm and ends at 7am. Ask her if she thinks her profession is suited to men, as many prefer to think, and she replies: “I don’t think a technical job is male-specific. Women can handle it just as well, if not better than men. It is the perception of the society that points at anything involving heave machinery not being a woman’s cup of tea. Men are physically strong, but there are other aspects of this trade, such as those that require the use of one’s
brain and a sense of responsibility.”

Having proved most stereotypes wrong, Saloni laughs when she reveals she is still in the minority at work. “We are just two women on the shift that I work on. Amongst the 10-12 women working in the company, I am the only Punjabi lady,” she seems to smile over the telephone.

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