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Meet The Youngest Woman To Fly A Boeing 777

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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?
That was the turning point in my life. Suddenly from leading a sheltered life I was on my own. There were girls much older than me at the flying school. Some of them in their early 20s. We were all accepted but there was a lot of learning. For me, it began with communicating because I could barely speak English. Then there was understanding the social norms because despite all the love and caring my parents gave me, I did have some tough times. I had economical constraints too and this school helped me understand people and the world around me. The school was the best thing that happened to me.

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:

1) Flight day: First, I make sure to get enough rest before the flight, pack my bags and get ready for the flight. Then I reach dispatch, do the flight briefing, meet the entire crew and head for the aircraft. Next comes flight preparation and then take off.
2) Jet lag day: Typically it's the day I land and reach the hotel or my home. I rest a lot, mostly sleeping and waking up at odd hours, and trying to adjust with the various time zones and adapting my eating habits.
3) Normal day: The days I am not flying and not jet lagged, I like to start my day with a hot cup of tea or coffee followed by a workout depending on where I am so it could be anything from yoga to Zumba. Then, if I am traveling I like sight seeing and shopping, but if I am home then I try catch up on some reading and spend some time with friends.
5. Can you share your short-term and long-term goals?
My short term goal is to enjoy what I am doing, because I love it, I waited for this for very long. Long term-wise, I made a list of 10 things I must to when I was in Grade 9. I don't want to disclose all now but I have a lot more to do, but I will say being a pilot was on the list.
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?
Whenever I am home, I try to catchup with my friends, which I love to do. I like cycling, singing, dancing and lot of times I like doing nothing, I just want to be in peace and meditate.
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 want all young women to pursue their dreams. While choosing your career, consider all the options available to you without thinking that you are a girl, and choose the one you are passionate about because then you will not only do well but also you will love what you are doing. And, my life philosophy is I am still learning.
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Fresh Voices

My Unfiltered Struggle of Introducing a Product to a Neglected Market

Sweaty Palms & Weak Responses

Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.


I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".

Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.

I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.

I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve.

The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, and The Irony

The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.

I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.

I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.

I Desperately Need You and Your services, but I'm Broke

I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".

It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.

I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?". I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.

From Paper to Digital

We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.

The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.

I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.

I second guessed myself all the time.

A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.

I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.