Neuroscientist Dr. Denise Bjorkman is passionate about her work. She talks fast and thinks fast – and began her talk at the Drones Africa Summit this morning by paraphrasing US Representative Pat Schroeder: “I have brains and a uterus, and I’m using them both.”
Performing research with the Drone Portal and the Neuro Business Institute, Bjorkman’s work is focused on identifying the exact attributes of the perfect drone pilot, male or female – but she finds that in some areas, female pilots may actually have the edge.
Bjorkman laments statistics that show that 6% of manned aircraft pilots are women, and fewer than 4% of drone pilots in the US are women. She says that the drone industry needs to step up to rectify the situation. “We can’t have a Christopher Columbus strategy,” says Bjorkman. “Columbus didn’t know where the hell he was going, what he was going to do, and where he’d been when he got home.”
Bjorkman’s team uses sophisticated tools to study thought processes and brain activity, and her specialty is in gender differences. “We are using a range of neuroscience equipment… we can look inside the brain and actually see what is happening. We have direct insight into behaviour in real time,” she says. Developing a screening test for perfect drone pilots, her research has identified nearly 20 characteristics that contribute to success in the industry. In addition to high level STEM skills, attributes include composure vs. recklessness, rapid handling of ambiguous and paradoxical situations, ethics and a high level of compliance with rules, and an ability to integrate multi-level information at speed.
Bjorkman isn’t saying that one gender is better at the job than the other, but contends that the research in gender differences in brain activity indicate that women can make ideal pilots. “We’re hard-wired for safety and security,” says Bjorkman. “We’re high on team work.” She concludes that with equal education there is no excuse for the disparity in employment.
“I really believe that there is an equality between men and women,” says Bjorkman. “And this is the right time – this is an evolving industry. We have an opportunity here.”