My exchange with Bhutan’s first female captain, Ugyen Dema transported me to a conversation I had with someone a year ago. We had met for the first time after maintaining a consistent presence over email and text. Over a sip of coffee, he said to me, “A lot of times, its about seeking out opportunities. The Universe doesn’t know what you want, until you ask for it.” When I was connecting the dots, it seemed like most people with a firm desire or a clear purpose already know this secret. She is also one of them.
Meet Ugyen Dema, first female captain for Druk Air, the flag carrier of the Kingdom of Bhutan. I asked her, if it was anywhere a conscious plan that she had outlined for herself. She immediately affirmed, “Not really. I wanted to fly and that’s about it. Being the “first female captain” in Bhutan is just a fortunate coincidence”.
She definitely gave me a deeper understanding on what it means to question one’s curiosity and then, further work towards it.
PC: Ugyen Dema
Now, let’s hear it from her…
Manvi: Tell us about your background, upbringing and childhood. A memory that you would like to share with us…
Ugyen: I grew up in a large family – five siblings and lots of cousins. I am the youngest in the family and I guess, everyone kind of obliged to most of my whims and fancies. I remember being allowed to ride bikes and drive at a very young age. In fact, I used to drive to school when I was maybe around 14 years old!
Manvi: What is your educational background? Did you always want to pursue a career in airlines?
Ugyen: I took science as my higher secondary option and after that I went to flying school. Flying always intrigued me and it also looked like an exciting career. One night, my parents invited a Captain from Druk Air over to our place for dinner and he shared his experience on taking flying as a career option. By the end of the night, I was completely hooked on to the idea of pursuing flying as a career.
Manvi: How did your journey to become the first female captain for Druk Air start?
Ugyen: Well, it all started with me putting my foot down…I had just finished my 12th and was exploring career options. I was clear not to pick options that I could not resonate with. Then, as I mentioned earlier, we had dinner with the Captain who shared his experience, that conversation with him held me for long. I made up my mind and there was no rethinking over it. People tried to convince me, playing the gender card – how inconvenient or inappropriate it would be for a woman to pursue this career etc. but, I was ready to take a plunge.
Manvi: In one of your interviews you said, “Becoming Bhutan’s first female captain was not my plan.” What plans did you have?
Ugyen: I think that line got taken a little out of context. What I meant to say was that I am a pilot first and female second. The fact that I am the first female captain is, as I mentioned earlier, a very fortunate coincidence.
Manvi: You have achieved a milestone. How does it feel? Do you feel proud?
Ugyen: Yes! I am happy and proud. As with most demanding careers, it has taken a lot of hard work on my part and more importantly, support from my family and colleagues at work, for me to reach this very important milestone in my career. I am definitely taking a moment to pause, reflect, soak it all in and enjoy.
Manvi: You aim to inspire other women with your journey, do you have message to give them?
Ugyen: If anybody can draw inspiration from me, I would be very humbled, and consider it a privilege. My only message to them is – keep at it. Gender is not a barrier or a handicap. Sometimes it might take us a little longer to get where we want to go, but keep at it and the world is your oyster.
Manvi: How do you wish to contribute towards a world that embraces equal opportunities for men and women?
Ugyen: I would like to do whatever I can to help. I am fortunate to be born in Bhutan where gender has not been as big of a problem as in most of other countries. Having said that, if I can serve as a role model or if I am given the opportunity to advocate for empowerment of women, I will definitely give it my best.
Manvi: What is your driving force in life, your source of inspiration?
Ugyen: The driving force in my life is my mother. Women like my mother and my grandmother, who made the most out of the limited opportunities they had in their lives inspire me. It is amazing how they managed to juggle family and work, and how selflessly and willingly they sacrificed for the happiness of people around them.
(Exclusive for Real Life Heroes – By Manvi)