DroneLife Exclusive: “Girls Can’t Drone” Series
Blogger, journalist, public speaker and drone aficionado Sally French – otherwise known as “The Drone Girl” – knows all about the annoying perception that Girls Can’t Drone. But having been named one of four women shaping the drone industry by Fortune Magazine last year, she’s proving every day that they can, and they do.
In 2013, French needed one more credit for her journalism degree from the University of Missouri: in desperation to find a course that fit her schedule she signed up for the university’s first ever “Drones in Journalism” course. That was all it took – after finishing the course (and getting her degree) Sally was hooked. “I decided that I really wanted to pursue this on my own,” she tells DRONELIFE. “I did a little bit of shooting with a drone before the FAA regulations came out – and I started blogging about the drone industry, educating people about the commercial applications of drones.”
When asked what aspect of the drone industry she finds most interesting, the Drone Girl answers with enthusiasm, and it’s easy to see how her passion for the industry has spread to her fans. “I don’t find any one thing most interesting – it’s all interesting!” she says. “I’m in love with the really creative applications of the drones – like DJI’s new program to save elephants by flying drones emitting bee noises in order to move them off of crops where they might be shot by farmers. I love those kind of stories…I’m always surprised by the technology.”
Now established as an influencer in the drone industry, Sally says that being a girl has had both drawbacks and advantages. “A lot of people ask things like ‘Oh, did your husband get you started in this business?’ I recently published a post on some of the things people say… it can be an issue.” But being one of few women in an industry has its upside, she points out: “It’s definitely helped me in some ways – my blog is called The Drone Girl, and that really helps me stand out. It’s helped me to develop a core group of fans – both men and women.”
The industry is changing, Sally says, commenting that more women-focused drone groups are starting. “The first drone I bought was the original Phantom 1 and I was looking for someone to fly it with, so I went to a meetup in L.A. – it was all men. Very sweet people, but all men – I was the only girl. Now we have a Women in Commercial Drones meetup in the Bay Area; I’m part of the Amelia Droneheart FB Group…there’s a lot more available.” While women are finding more spaces to network in the industry, Sally points out that the numbers are still skewed: “I used to go to conferences and there wouldn’t be any female speakers. Not seeing any female speakers at conferences is a big one… when you go to a conference and nobody like you is on the stage, that’s not encouraging.”
“We need those ‘Women in Drones’ luncheons right now – because every other luncheon is a ‘Men in Drones’ lunch,” says French.
But the Drone Girl sees no limits to women entering the industry. “You don’t have to benchpress a drone,” she says, laughing. “Anyone can do it! Try it – it’s fun, it serves a great purpose.” And she says that encouraging young women to enter the industry is to everyone’s benefit: “Drones can be used for good – they’re saving animals, they’re saving people – and we need a lot of diversity to come up with those applications and make them better.”
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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