Holly Steel – helicopter instructor

Can you tell us a little bit about your background? 

I was born in New Zealand and lived there until I was 10, when we moved to England. My big brother joined the Air Training Corps, so I followed him when I was old enough, because it looked like fun. Having seen a rescue helicopter pick up an injured surfer from the beach when I was little, I wanted to be a Search & Rescue winch”man” when I left school, but the RAF didn’t let women do that then. They did let women become pilots though, so I joined as a pilot, hoping to fly Search & Rescue Sea Kings at the age of 18. I got my wish and was streamed SAR. 

What attracted you to work at Ascent? 

I left the RAF after 27 years and as an instructor. This was something I enjoyed most during my career and I wanted to continue to deliver flying training. As luck would have it, Ascent was recruiting as I left and I got the job.

What does your role at Ascent entail? 

I am a qualified helicopter instructor (QHI). I instruct the basic syllabus to first time helicopter pilots and I also deliver a standardisation course to new instructors joining the wing. Some are brand new instructors from CFS(H) Sqn and some are experienced instructors who have just not taught our syllabus before.

What issues for women in the defence industry could we/are we tackling at Ascent? 

One of the biggest issues, as I see it, is the MOD is trying to recruit more women (amongst other minorities) yet in many ways, treats them like men. This is not encouraging. A simple improvement would be to issue combat and specialist clothing such as flying clothing in female fit and sizes. Ascent is actively looking to source female flying clothing right now. This will help to make female members of aircrew feel valued and more comfortable at work in a male dominated environment. 

Do you feel you provide a positive role model for women? 

I would like to think so. There are more female trainees starting now than I have seen before and I think it is important for them to be able to see what they can be. Having female instructors around illustrates a career path. When I came through training there were only male instructors, which was a little intimidating.

Do you have a role model? 

Beth Dutton from the Yellowstone TV series! More seriously though, anyone like her; Margaret Thatcher, Jacinda Ardern, any woman who works in a male dominated environment but does not allow it to hold her back. While I may not agree with all their ideals politically, they reached the very top in their careers surrounded by male counterparts, some of whom will have undoubtedly thought they shouldn’t be there, simply because of their gender. 

What do you enjoy most about working at Ascent?

After 27 years in the Military, being trawled to go away routinely, knowing where I will be working in three months time is priceless. Also, the ability to get traction on things like female-fit flying clothing. I guess it stems from having a greater number of women working in the company percentage wise. I think that really helps. 

Why would you recommend working for Ascent? 

People listen to your ideas and try to make them happen, within reason. You can be part of the bigger picture. 

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

I like to play golf, go motorbike touring and bake. Not necessarily in that order.