Women and Drones: who are they, where are they and what motivates them?

Women aren’t seen a great deal in the UAV world, though their numbers are increasing. Here at ARPAS-UK, we have been extremely fortunate to benefit from Dr Sue Wolfe’s many years of industry expertise, though sadly she has now stepped down. We currently have one woman on a Committee of eight, our Finance Director Anne-Lise Scaillierez of The Drone Office, and our admin team are both highly capable, professional women. To tie in with International Women’s Day in Engineering and the Royal Aeronautical’s named Women in Aviation Lecture (RAeS, June 28th at 6pm), I was inspired to find out more about a variety of women working within the UAV industry.

In March 2017, only 3% of pilots worldwide were women, in the UK the figure was 6%. What it is for UAV operators is hard to ascertain as these figures aren’t yet kept, though this will change with the new legislation just introduced by Elena Lynch. In her area of the Department for Transport, the split is 50:50 – an ideal standard, though with this being the Civil Service maybe more achievable as the technicalities are administrative and not STEM related. But is STEM knowledge the barrier?

Names that stand out in the UK UAV world are Elena Lynch, Head of Drones Policy & Legislative Delivery at the Department for Transport, and Sophie O’Sullivan, Head of UAVs at the Civil Aviation Authority. Along with Anne-Lise, Stefanie Williams of AerialworxGail Orenstein a drone journalist, Caroline Bailey of Pix4D and Janneke Rozendaal of DJI, Elena and Sophie have kindly agreed to be interviewed. There aren’t many women in aviation and this makes these women all the more remarkable. Each excels at what they do; their passion for their chosen careers shines through when talking to them.

Stefanie Williams – Drone Pilot @ Aerialworx UK

Stefanie Williams is a UAV Operator for Aerialworx. She specialises in flying heavy lift drones with professional camera systems such as the Arri ALEXA Mini with anamorphic lenses and remote lens control systems for film and television. With 2 generations before her being keen pilots and radio control enthusiasts and living on a remote farm in North Wales, she took to the skies from a very early age, started flying radio control at the age of 12 and flying manned aircraft at the age of 21. From a young age she had a keen interest in photography and videography, so for her it was just natural progressing to take a camera to the skies. Her degree was in Software Engineering, so there is only a small overlap between those skills and what she does today. The next challenge will be to find a new headquarters for her company: it’s not just about flying UAVS!

Stefanie: “Girls are often discouraged from getting into engineering or technical jobs. A couple of years ago our daughter came home from school with a list of jobs a teacher had given her. She had been told to look at the list and choose potential jobs that she would like for the future. What annoyed me was that the list was full of conventional roles such as nurse, secretary, police officer, chef, etc. At the time we were watching a film and it was just finishing with the credits rolling up at the end. None of the roles in the credits were on her list, so she quickly learnt that this list was not conclusive and she returned to school the following day with her own list which had lots of jobs, none of which were on her list! I think teachers and peers need to stop stereotyping and encourage young girls and women to get into more roles which are not stereotypical.”


Gail doing a survey in Iraqi Kurdistan

Gail Orenstein is an international journalist, who uses drones to enhance the veracity of her stories and to connect with those she meets along the way, whether in Syria or Burma meeting Rohingha refugees. She was a photojournalist for 25 years, using photography-therapy to help people who had suffered from mental illness as a way to see the world differently. During that time she also went to many conflict areas and began to do a lot of photojournalism, being hired by different agencies who distributed her work to magazines and newspapers all over the world.  Gail added the drone element 3 years ago and is now a certified FAA Part 107 drone pilot and has her CAA exam booked for July. There can’t be many people who are certified in both the US and UK. She is also very proud to be the first female civilian pilot to fly a UAV in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Gail studied at the Art Institute in Chicago and received a BFA in photojournalism and went on to do a Masters in Art Therapy. She is FAA certified and will become CAA certified in July. Gail started her photo career in Chicago working for the Immigration and Naturalisation Service and began covering humanitarian disasters and conflict with one Nikon camera and a lot of Kodachrome film in 1982. She has travelled to over 73 countries and started using quadcopters in the field about 3 years ago, combined with traditional equipment, her Nikon and Leica cameras. She calls this mix of both UAV technology and hand-held equipment “Hybrid-journalism”. Now Gail uses drones to help her tell more in-depth stories and she can gain access to a lot more detail about a story. She can survey and map refugee camps and works with different humanitarian agencies, geographical societies and various news agencies that need technical information.  Thus, she is able to bring a more detailed perspective about a crisis, like where refugees are living and where humanitarian aid is needed. This is also important in the day and age of ‘fake news’; bringing back more technical information to agencies helps with more evidence based stories.  Gail explains why this is so important. “With the Rohingya crisis it would be hard to fake drone footage of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar. I cannot get to the sky by climbing the air for an overhead shot, so the drone can go places I cannot and this is really critical in a post-truth world we are turning to more evidence based news. In conflict areas I am also safer than I used to be.”

On being asked what sparked her interest in UAV technology, Gail said, “I was covering the war in Syria, in Kobani, in northern Syria, and living in the region of Anatolia in Turkey on the border of Syria and Turkey.  While I was documenting the YPG, the Kurdish female fighters in Syria, drones were being used by the military, and I was actually caught in a drone strike in Kobani. Drones were used to try and take out Islamic State at that time. I also started seeing more and more drones when I left Syria – they were much more readily available to the civilian population and hobbyists and professionals. I knew I had to start bringing them with me to conflict zones, that this UAV technology would be a “game changer” in the way we covered stories.

Gail visits Matrix UAV where they are working on sending blood using their homemade drones to the Frontline in the Ukraine

Drone technology at that time was very much in its infancy. We didn’t know about it in the field, so when I left Syria in 2014 and saw some footage by a Brazilian photo journalist, it was the first time an unmanned aerial vehicle had been brought into Syria by a journalist.  That became the moment I decided I would never go back there on assignment without using a drone. By using traditional methods of covering conflict or a humanitarian crisis, I was very limited, but when drone technology was introduced, I was able to fly remotely into these areas instead of just walking around them. Safety had became a big issue – it was very helpful from a safety standpoint, and also from story-telling standpoint. I was able to get aerial footage of places I couldn’t physically go to.”

Gail speaks so strongly about the power of telling stories through pictures, a skill learnt from her mother from a young age, that it is clear to see why UAVs have become such a cornerstone of her professional work. Back recently from gathering footage in Ukraine, she is off to Dijbouti in Africa soon, having also spoken at a UAV conference in Czech Republic and now she is off to teach a drone journalism course funded by the EU Commission for youth in media studies . Her advice to would-be journalists “Take as many courses as you can, including hostility training. Think about safety first. Find a mentor, study hard and always have your press credentials and your paperwork prepared before you travel.  Always know the air space and UAV regulations of the country you’re going to. Also to master this new wonderful UAV technology that we have.”


Caroline Bailey – Pix4D

Over at Pix4D, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, Caroline Bailey took a very different route into UAVs, via a Masters Degree in Civil Engineering at Imperial College and an Erasmus Exchange to Aachen, Germany, returning to Aachen for a PhD in Civil Engineering in the Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management department. Now fluent in German, she applied for and got a job in Sales with Pix4D in Switzerland, where is continuing to learn: Italian and French. She regularly travels around Europe with work which has allowed her to experience many different cultures and languages – in the past three weeks she was in the Netherlands, Ukraine and Poland and is routinely impressed with the men and women that she meets; “I feel very proud to be a European citizen.” We didn’t mention Brexit.

For those that don’t know what Pix4D does, Caroline offers the following explanation: “Pix4D software uses images from drones to construct accurate, georeferenced 2D and 3D models. It is growing extremely popular in the geospatial, construction, agricultural and public safety sectors.” She has worked for Pix4D for just over two years and is currently in the Pix4D sales department as Channel Account Executive. This means that she is responsible for their global network of reselling companies, from the overall network structure to the day-to-day communications with each reseller. Although ultimately responsible for software sales, she works closely with marketing, training and technical support teams to ensure that their resellers are well-equipped to do the best job possible.

Coming from a civil engineering background, Caroline didn’t know very much about the UAV industry until she joined Pix4D. Suffice it to say, she is now fascinated to watch the industry develop on a month-by-month basis, watching which trends are developing across the world and what novel uses their clients are finding for their modeling software. Going forward, her next challenge is to organise a reseller event in Germany in the autumn. This will be the first time Pix4D has invited all resellers to a single event to keep them informed and to socialize, representing a big step forward for our external relations.

Asked how to encourage the next generation, Caroline responded, “We need to encourage the best minds of our time to join this industry, be they male or female. To specifically encourage women, I think that regular media exposure of women at all stages of their careers (not just those at the top) would help. Some people do want to be trailblazers and CEOs, but many are looking for job security and a realistic work-life balance, especially when families become involved. The industry needs to consider and then publicise how it addresses these realistic factors if women are to feel truly welcome.”


Sophie O’Sullivan – CAA

Sophie O’Sullivan works at the Aviation Regulator for the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority. Sophie has been there for the last two years working in the areas of Strategy and Emerging Technologies, recently moving into a brand new role to head up the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Unit. Before that time she spent just over nine years at Microsoft UK in a variety of roles, after studying Business Information Systems for her undergraduate degree. Microsoft meant America and a fascination with the country began, this led to a Master’s Degree in American History and Politics. Through this she learnt about the growing phenomenon of unmanned aircraft and how they were being used in military operations and her interest grew in this subject grew from there so when a role came up at the CAA she decided to make a career change and move into aviation. “I am fascinated by the challenge of how we harness this technology for real benefit. We have to decide as a society how we best use UAS and what rules / regulation we need to enable this use. Deciding that will require collaboration across industry and the whole public sector.”

A recent achievement that Sophie is understandably very proud of is her work she did last year with a team of people at the CAA to look at how the CAA supports the well-being of the workforce. The team were given time away from their normal roles to focus and presented their recommendations to the CAA Board. The Board rapidly adopted these recommendations, rolling out well-being training to all managers, creating a specific role that looks after well-being full time and signing the Time To Change Pledge. Her next challenge: “I want to remain fully focused on building the UAS Unit at the CAA and put in place specific policies about how we support future innovators in the UAS area.

I think we should start encouraging girls to pursue STEM subjects at a young age – providing examples of the types of careers this could be, holding career days and highlighting female role models. I ran an event during my time at Microsoft called DigiGirlz that was built around trying to highlight to teenage girls how exciting technology could be and the type of careers you could have if you put your mind to it. It was clear to me when running these days that highlighting some of the potential careers that might not be known about by teenage girls can go a long way to spark an interest.


In terms of the workplace, I feel passionately that organisations need cultures where everybody has a right to have a view. The more diversity you in the room – which could be any in any number of ways – background, age, gender – the more likely you are to understand the challenge in different ways and come up with more options to solve it. This is something I am always advocating in the UAS Unit at the CAA, whether you have worked in this domain for five minutes or twenty-five years you have a right to an opinion, a right to spot a problem and a right to try and help find a solution to our challenges.”


Janneke Rozendaal works for DJI, the world’s largest manufacturer of civilian UAVs. Based in the Netherlands, she is part of the European Marketing Team and focusses on Events and Sponsorship. She has a Dutch UAV license, meaning she is qualified to fly and helps to create content on a marketing basis. “Seeing my work used for the first time was a big achievement. I’m so proud of locations I’ve filmed in: Argentina, Mexico and Sardinia in particular. There’s so much effort that goes into the creation of marketing material, that to see your work used even for a second or two is amazing”.

Janneke Rozendaal – DJI

Janneke started working for Panasonic in the Camera Department, so it’s easy to see that the next step would be to put a camera under a drone to get footage. She has always like technology, being innovative and at the forefront of industry so took drone flying lessons. “They were so much fun! It wasn’t just about the output of footage, but the pure fun of flying. Women don’t always pick up on this, like men do. They don’t see how easy it can be and the new perspective it can bring.” She really hopes that more women will see the excitement and give it a go. Being part of the DJI marketing team, she sees new products early: “It’s a game changer and an amazing feeling to be part of this!” Her next challenge is the World Rally Championship working 13 weeks per year in remote locations to create drone footage.

She believes that women give themselves too many barriers; they need to open their minds, dive right in and challenge themselves. The different perspective would be welcomed in the industry.


Elena Lynch Head of Drones Policy and Legislative Delivery at Department for Transport (DfT)

Elena Lynch at the Department of Transport is Head of Drone Policy, focussing on policy and legislative delivery. She’s been there 2 years and the role and her department have expanded greatly over this time. How did she get there? Elena studied languages at Oxford University and initially worked for a charity in Bristol, later applying to the Civil Service Fast Track doing stints for the HMRC and the MOD before moving to Transport, and Aviation. She became involved with UAVs as she perceived it, rightly, to have an international element where her languages would be an asset and with it being a relatively new department would be dynamic and somewhere she could make an impact. “Exciting and challenging” was a phrase Elena used a number of times during the course of our interview.

Understandably she is most proud of the recent legislation that came out in May. The confirmation of the height UAVs may fly at (400ft, c120m) was expected, as was the restriction around airfields: both of these come into effect 30th July 2018. The UK UAV world has been talking about pilot registration for a while and the legislation has now confirmed that, along with registration of drones above 250g. This is set to come into play November 2019. She accepts that not everyone is happy about this, but Elena believes it to be a step in the right direction. The Draft Drone Bill is her next challenge to be published later this year, which will give police more tailored powers to intervene on the spot if drones are being used inappropriately. A step ARPAS-UK agrees with.


Anne-Lise Scaillierez – The Drone Office and Finance Director at ARPAS-UK

Anne-Lise Scaillierez is a partner at The Drone Office, providing a consulting service in London and Paris, advising company on how to develop and be innovative with drones. She is also a volunteer director with ARPAS-UK, serving the community of drone operators, promoting and broadening the use of drones. She believes they have a dual purpose, to support enhanced productivity and to improve people’s lives and drive positive impact.

She came to UAVs by chance, having worked on transformative innovation strategy with Thales previously, particularly on big data projects, autonomous data, searching for new opportunities for robotics and implementing them in everyday life. She left Thales to set up The Drone Office at a moment in her life when being an entrepreneur was what was driving her forward. Anne-Lise did her PfCO, not so much to be a pilot like Stefanie, but it is important to be able to fly to do the job properly. Her two proudest achievements are firstly physical: a 20 day trek in the Himalayas, and secondly setting up her business. In addition to her consulting work , she is keen to develop a “Drone4Good” pilot project demonstrating how innovation and technology can contribute to improving people’s lives, working with the Emergency Services and Healthcare.

In terms of her next challenge, I would say she is mid challenge: taking ARPAS-UK forward, supporting its work, running her own business and developing a successful positive drone project. “Working in aviation is also about engineering. We need to start in primary schools, encouraging young girls with adult female role models to aspire to. It’s not just about inspiring girls though, it’s all children. The best may not go into aviation, but maybe they will. Give them something to aim for.”

As you can see, these seven women all work in very different areas of the UAV world, from Legislation, to Delivery, from Sales and Marketing to Journalism, Film and Consultancy and they have come at it from very different angles. It’s good to know it’s achievable no matter if you study languages, photography or civil engineering: the message that comes from all of them is to find what interests you, where you will have the most impact and to follow that. UAVs can play a role too in all sorts of areas – don’t discount them! They are a relatively new technology – see where they can take you. I’m going to enjoy watching where UAVs continue to take these women with great interest.


You can follow Gail’s latest work on twitter: @DroneOrenstein


By Elena Major, ARPAS-UK