In a world where roughly 95 percent of pilots are men, 30-year old Anny Diyva, a full-time pilot for Air India, is boldly flying in the face of stereotypes.
The youngest woman to ever command a Boeing 777, Diyva, says that her journey to the high skies was not without struggle. “I had my share of success and failures," Divya tells SWAAY in an exclusive interview. “As one of the youngest women in this industry from the time I came into aviation, I had to overcome preconceived notions and build trust and confidence amongst my peers through grit, hard work and patience."
Divya faced tough opposition from the people around her, which even made her parents re-think their decision of enrolling her into flight school (which they did anyway) for a time. After becoming a certified pilot and earning her four-yellow-striped epaulette at the age of 19, Divya has become an inspiration for many young women looking to earn their wings.
“In my small town of Vijaywada in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, with no aviation school and no knowledge of becoming a pilot, I have faced and been through plenty of challenges; language barriers, cultural differences, financial issues, no knowledge of aviation and even my sense of fashion to name few," she says. “ Initially, I used to feel bad and I also was very timid but soon I overcame those with the support of family, my teachers who helped me to recognize my strengths and most importantly my determination to succeed which helped me to focus on what was wrong and how to correct the mistakes. By the time I finished my training, I was completely transformed and got the job immediately.
Here, SWAAY asks Divya more about her uncommon path to greatness in the sky.
1. Where were you born? What kind of child were you?
I was born in Pathankot in state of Punjab (India) . I was very naughty as a child, I know from many childhood stories I heard about myself which I remember very faintly.
2. Do you have any influences as a young girl that you think helped you find the aviation industry?
Not as such for the aviation industry, but I think my first teacher, my mother, has built confidence in me which helped me dream without any obligations, for every small thing I did she encouraged me and reminding me that I'm capable of doing very well.
3. You entered flight school at age 17, how was that? Were you accepted by the men around you?
4. How many flights do you do per day/week/month? What is a typical day like of a female Air India pilot?
Air India has been my dream job, it's given me a platform to be where I am today. It's a very professional airline to work with, I enjoy working with AirIndia. I mostly do ultra long haul flights, which are 14 to 16 hours long , five flights about 70 to 80 hours a month. Since I mostly do international flights, I have three kinds of days:
5. Can you share your short-term and long-term goals?
6. It seems that flying a plane is part technical, part mental. How do you put yourself in the headspace to fly such big planes?
There is a lot of training that goes into this. Many many years and man-hours are spent training, learning, testing and conditioning your mind and your body for it to become second nature to you.
7. How do you maintain a social life with so much running around? What do you do for fun?
8. What are your favorite cities to travel to? Do you get time to explore different countries/cities?
I absolutely love traveling and exploring new cities and I absolutely love love New York. It's my favorite city but I also like Paris, London, Frankfurt and Chicago. I live in Mumbai because of my job but my home is where my parents live - Vijayawada in the state of Andhra Pradesh (India). And when I am traveling on work then it's hotels that my airline puts me up in.
9. What is the reaction when passengers realize you were the pilot? Are they surprised?
They are quite pleasantly surprised. They don't expect the pilot to be so young. And when they realize that I am the commander, their expressions are quite amusing, they are kind of awestruck. It's like I can almost hear them saying 'Wow was she our commander?" Sometimes some people reach out to shake my hand. It's quite humbling actually.
10. What advice would you give to young women who want to pursue a career like yours. Also, do you have a life philosophy?
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art.
During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.
Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.
My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:
- Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
- Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
- Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
- Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!