Recently, the world’s leading trade association for the advancement of drones and robotics, known as AUVSI, made a small change that represents a big step. This nonprofit organization rebranded as the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International. It’s a simple switch of two words: “Uncrewed” for what used to be “Unmanned.”
AUVSI stated that their goal in this change is to “reflect ongoing efforts to promote gender inclusivity” by “dropping the word ‘unmanned’ and other gender-specific terms in its name, governing documents, and association language.” This builds upon recommendations made in 2021 by the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee, a group of representatives from various industry organizations, which proposed alternatives for standard aviation terms that include gendered language.
AUVSI’s name change, small as it might seem, is important — and it’s exciting for me. In fact, at the 2021 FAA UAS Symposium, I was asked to join a Q&A session discussing this exact topic. I’d like to share some of what we discussed and highlight why I think the topic of inclusivity in aviation is so critical to responsibly moving this industry forward.
(For more information on the studies and facts cited in these responses, please see this FAA Report, starting on page 97.)
In 2021, the Drone Advisory Committee provided recommendations for gender-neutral alternatives to gendered terms in aviation. As a member of the Committee, can you give an overview of some of the changes that were made?
While the aviation industry has been a leader in innovation and technology, we haven’t always been the fastest to update nomenclature. Some common terms used in the field have become dated, inaccurate, or not representative of the people who work in the industry.
A glaring example can be seen with the widely used term “unmanned,” but there are other terms that don’t accurately reflect the reality of the situation, including “man-made” and “repairman.” Regardless of a technician’s gender, they are highly trained professionals, and using words that unnecessarily designate gender diminishes their credentials.
Our recommendations include swapping out “unmanned” for “uncrewed,” which would allow the industry to continue using popular acronyms they’re accustomed to — like UAV and UAS — while inviting more inclusive language into the space. Ultimately, the best replacement for “unmanned” in the Drone Advisory Committee’s collective opinion would be a broader adoption of the term “drone” or “drones.”
Additionally, the committee recommended replacing “cockpit” with “flight deck,” “man-made” with “manufactured” or “fabricated,” and “repairman” with “technician.” Another recommendation would be to adopt “NOTAM” as its own standalone word, rather than an acronym for “Notice to Airmen.”
How does gender-neutral language support inclusive work environments?
Inclusive work environments are the result of a cohesive, ongoing, evolving commitment comprising numerous initiatives — there is no single initiative or silver bullet. Language is just one of those initiatives, and it’s one that has been proven to help diversify workplaces. Research shows that using gender-neutral language can lead to a more inclusive environment that draws more people to the industry and helps keep them here.
Believe it or not, the use of gendered language can create work environments that are unwelcoming and even sometimes unsafe. And while using terms like “unmanned” or “man-made” can seem to have low impact, a large comparison of numerous workplaces studies on subtle and overt discrimination suggests that subtle forms of discrimination are at least as harmful as blatant expressions of discrimination. (See FAA Report, Page 100)
Adopting gender-neutral language is one positive step toward making people feel more included and seen at work. Using inclusive and non-gendered language can create a work environment where all workers feel safe sharing their views and showing up authentically, contributing to healthier mindsets and safer operations.
Aside from workforce inclusivity, what are some benefits of updating the language?
There is an urgent skill shortage in our industry — there’s a lot of research that proves this. We want to be able to hire the most qualified people, and that means not excluding anybody at the outset. By removing gender specific language, aviation will be able to attract and retain people regardless of gender or gender identity, which is crucial for finding the best and the brightest.
Studies on team diversity and business performance show that diversity benefits include delivering more competitive and profitable products, faster problem solving, higher profits, and increased employee engagement.
In a field of forward-thinking, tech-centric innovators, gendered language undermines our accomplishments, our collective ingenuity, and our integrity. It could even erode trust in the systems we rely on to keep all of us safe. Language is ever-evolving, and it’s important for the industry to evolve by using vernacular that reflects the reality in which we’re living. Inclusivity breeds diversity, and diversity in the workplace leads to a more engaged, satisfied workforce that attracts more new talent.
How does updated language support technical innovation?
By creating a culture of equality in the drone industry, we’re better positioned to have access to a diverse candidate pool. Diverse people with different life experiences mean many different perspectives when it comes to solving problems and maximizing innovation across the board.
While diversity factors alone have a significant impact on the innovation mindset, it is much higher when combined with a culture of equality. A comparison of multiple studies across many industries found that in companies with the most-equal and diverse cultures, an innovation mindset is 11 times greater than in the least-equal and diverse cultures.
Inclusion at the center
The ultimate goal of this initiative, as I’ve been saying, is inclusion. Here at Verizon, we are committed to fostering an inclusive environment. Diversity and inclusion is how we achieve success. We take pride in our talented and diverse team of people who focus on our customers, every day. And their combined intelligence, spirit, and creativity make Verizon a great place to work, learn and grow.
We hope the aviation sector continues to adopt non gender-specific language, following suit with AUVSI. But we hope the effect goes farther than merely changing the words we use — we hope it sparks a genuine and deep-seated drive for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the aviation industry and beyond.