Qantas pilot Lisa Norman is a role model for young LGBTIQ+ people everywhere, and she credits it to the inclusive nature of the airlines. Matthew Wade reports.
When Lisa Norman was younger, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to pursue after finishing high school.
Despite an interest in flying – as well as a grandfather who served as a World War II pilot and an uncle who transferred his career into aviation – the thought that she could turn that interest into a lifelong workplace didn’t cross her mind.
“Being female and not having career advisers back in those days, it wasn’t even a consideration,” she says.
As a means to pay the bills and keep food on the table, she took up a different job at an industrial silicone plant in Melbourne, a plant that was conveniently placed right next to an airport.
During a day off, she paid $20 for a 20-minute flight in a small aeroplane, and loved it.
“At that point, my partner encouraged me to pursue it as a career, and it was a lightbulb moment,” she says.
“The most important thing I said to myself at the time, was that I had to have a go at it… if I didn’t make it it wouldn’t mean I was a failure, it would just mean that I didn’t let life pass me by.
“There are so many people that never have a go at what they want, and when they get to my age now or older think, what if I had done that?”
Now, as an international pilot who has worked with Qantas for 30 years, Norman is emblematic of how important it is to follow one’s dreams.
As a proud, gay pilot, the acceptance and drive for inclusivity she’s experienced with the airline has allowed her to bring her whole self to the workplace, without fear.
“I didn’t come out to everyone until I was 36, which is a very long time to be uncomfortable in your own skin” she says.
“I was trying to fit into a world I was never going to fit into – a long time ago I was advised to act like a man to get promoted.
“But [at Qantas], I’ve achieved my goal of becoming an international airline captain, and Qantas has helped me achieve that by allowing me to work with no fear or concern about how being gay might be taken by other people.”
Norman adds that while Qantas “isn’t one hundred per cent there yet” in terms of complete inclusion and diversity, the company’s commitment to reach it puts it miles above other organisations, so to speak.
She says she doesn’t regret the gender biases and barriers she experienced earlier in her life, because they helped make her who she is today.
“I didn’t use to see myself as a role model, but I do now,” she says.
“It’s important. We have a responsibility to set up our future leaders for success, and to make it better for the next generation coming through.
“It’s going to be so different to how it’s been in the past.”
When it comes to younger LGBTIQ+ people with aspirations of leading organisations, becoming pilots, or thriving in their chosen field, Norman has three succinct pieces of advice.
“Find what you love and what inspires you, because you’re going to want to do it every day and it’ll get you through the hard times,” she says.
“Be bold and always back yourself.
“And always be grateful for the opportunities that come your way.”