Eldad Rafaeli

Cracking the Glass Ceiling in the Sky

Nechama Spiegal Novak hasn’t only broken the sound barrier. She’s also broken the glass ceiling. Just 6 percent of the world’s pilots are women; in Israel, that number is just under 1 percent. In the case of this pilot, she’s a minority within a minority: Spiegal Novak is the first ultra-Orthodox female pilot to fly for the country’s national airline.

Nechama first stepped into the cockpit at age 17; by 21, she already had her commercial flying license. But she had her sights set even higher: Becoming a pilot for El Al. For this soon-to-be mother of six, nothing was going to stop her, although she’s honest about the challenges she’s faced on the way up.

When you set a precedent, she says, “You yearn for a professional mentor. There’s no-one to turn to with questions or to share concerns, because you’re the first.” Of course, there are also the usual challenges all working mothers face, as well as those particular to a working mother from an ultra-Orthodox background. Indeed, Spiegal Novak insists that her situation is one almost all ultra-Orthodox women can understand. “Many of my challenges are no different to those an ultra-Orthodox female computer programmer faces in a large company.”

Nonetheless, with the support of her family, the encouragement of her community, and the appreciation shown to her by her employer, Spiegal Novak is happy to show other women like her that with enough determination, the sky is definitely not the limit.