There is no secret that aviation is a very male-dominated industry. According to statistics by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), as of 2017, only 3% of CEOs in aviation were women, while on average, in other industries, the number was 12%. In other roles, like CFO or COO, aviation was also very far behind. However, while the issue is fairly complex to resolve, the reasoning as to why solve it is fairly simple.

“We all have something to contribute and should feel confident, regardless of gender. Having diverse teams will also always mean different points of view, inputs, and life experiences that ultimately drive better results,” Naomi Robinson, the Head of Business Management at International Airlines Group (IAG) (IAG) Cargo, told AeroTime News. Naomi, who has worked for IAG’s cargo division for more than seven years now, has quickly climbed through the ranks. She first joined the company and the aviation industry as a whole as a Route Analyst in the Revenue Management department.

The beginning of her journey into the aviation industry, as she duly noted, could be described as a cliché. Naomi highlighted that what drew her to aviation was her love for travel, “whether it be hiking in the Rockies or exploring the hustle and bustle of Delhi.”

“But whilst working in the sector, my interest and passion for the industry, and cargo in particular, has only grown. It is so fascinating to see how everyday world events have a material impact on the cargo industry - from new phone launches to political and policy developments and more recently and obviously, the pandemic.”

Support network matters

However, for some women, entering the industry might seem like a daunting task due to the gender imbalance.

Nevertheless, Naomi had little doubt in joining aviation and IAG Cargo. “I have always sought opportunities to learn new things and challenge myself, and the role [first at IAG Cargo – ed. note] was an ideal opportunity and felt like a natural next step in my career – it was a really exciting time.” She pointed out self-belief, especially in your perspective and the opinion that you can provide to the discussion is very important, echoing the point she made previously – that everybody has something to add that could benefit the business, as a multitude of opinions and points of view lead to better results.

“Very early in my role as a Route Analyst (in Revenue Management) I was encouraged to apply for a Route Manager role, that in all honesty, I probably wasn’t ready for,” noted Naomi. “Having a great support network can act as a catalyst to success but also recognizing your own worth is equally important – if you want to work on a particular project then say so,” she added. While at first, she was not successful at getting the role, the second time was the charm.

Working as a Route Optimizations Manager was just another step in her career, as she soon looked for her new challenge – and the Business Management division was her next target. 

“When moving into the role of Business Manager Commercial, I wanted to continue to lead a team and not lose that people management experience, so I pushed for this and got to keep it as a result.” While the new role brought its own set of challenges, she enjoyed the challenge. “If you find something that you enjoy and you’re good at, then play to your strengths. Use these skills to advance onwards and upwards.”

IAG Cargo Naomi Robinson

Curveball challenge

Seemingly, Naomi has not yet reached her cruise altitude and is only poised to climb. While the pandemic has largely stopped the aviation industry, one side of the industry thrived – cargo. Nevertheless, challenges were still apparent, as nobody could have prepared for such an event that is as rare as seeing a black swan grazing the skies.

“The onset of a global pandemic has certainly been interesting and I have drawn on all my experience from the last seven years. No one at the start of 2020 could have foreseen how your daily work would change so dramatically.” 

Perhaps this is where the experience of constantly accepting challenges head-on and knowing the roles of different departments lent a massive helping hand, allowing her to navigate the complex situation more easily.

Just before the pandemic, Naomi moved into her current role as the Head of Business Management. As she had aimed to advance into a more senior role, she had been driven by the ambition to prove her capability of filling that role. “I actually wasn’t successful in getting it the first time around, but I saw it as a win-win situation that I could learn from. When the opportunity arose again, I went for it.”

“Persistence and determination do pay off.” Naomi managed to showcase time and time again that a strong support network and grit help one to control the flow of the river, rather than being controlled by the river. “Cultivating a support system and having a sounding board is really important as it helps build you up and empowers you. I have been incredibly lucky to work both in Revenue Management and Business Management for a leader who owned her own voice, power, and confidence; traits that I have tried to emulate and follow in her lead.”

If she had the opportunity to go back in time, would she choose aviation, and cargo, again? “What I love about the cargo industry is the interlink with world events and trends, and how we always see this influence the aviation industry. This dynamic makes it an exciting, evolving, and fulfilling industry to work in,” is possibly the best answer to that question.

Naomi’s story could be the best example of how a strong spirit and aspiration can result in greatness – and that’s the one piece of advice she would have for young women who want to join aviation or any other field. “Do not hold back and if something feels daunting use it as an opportunity to prove to yourself that you can do it.”

“Always remember that you can offer different and unique perspectives and add value to your team and business.”

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