From the “pink and fluffy” department to Senior Vice President at Airbus

Katherine Bennett graduated from the “pink and fluffy” department early in her career, and went on to become Senior Vice President at Airbus – and today she becomes the first recipient of the AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award!

The pink and fluffy department

Once, very early on in her career, Katherine participated in a meeting where she was the only female present. After hearing her say something he disagreed with, a senior executive replied: “that’s exactly what I’d expect from the pink and fluffy department”.

“[It] took me back quite a bit,” Katherine remembers. “I suddenly realised I was the most junior person in the room.” Despite that, Katherine decided to respond with humour, jokingly asking the exec when would he like her to put on her tutu.

“At that point, the executive realised what he’d done, and he actually burst out laughing,” she remembers. “To his credit, this gentleman took me aside after everyone had left and apologised profusely. And since then, he has been a great mentor to me over the years. So sometimes people don’t realise what they’re saying, and how it comes over. So that’s an example I give.”

Watch the full interview here and see Katherine presented with the first ever AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award:

The story happened many years ago. Since then, people have become more conscious about their behavior and tone in the workplace.

Working in a multinational company like Airbus, Katherine likes to encourage her team and colleagues to think about diversity and remember that people are coming from different cultures, backgrounds, and have different senses of humor. “I’m five foot eleven and I’m British. Sometimes I might be a bit overpowering to people from other nationalities, who are not five foot eleven. So you have to be very conscious of that. And really, for me, it’s just putting on best behavior and thinking how you would like to be treated?”

Having worked around the world and with lots of different countries and cultures, the senior vice president says she found it very useful to work in an American culture. Having worked in the melting pot of cultures of Detroit for a few months, it was there she learned a lot about the treatment of different diverse backgrounds.

“Of course, they haven’t got everything right, either. I don’t think it can be done by nationality, or age or necessarily gender. It’s just general behavior and learning about each other.”

How should I address you?

Another thing that people should be cautious about is how they address each other, Katherine observes.

“In the UK, we do use the word “love” quite a lot, or “darling”. I live down in the West of England and there’s a lot of expressions down here. But you have to realise that they are actually a term of endearment. I’m never somebody who would say “sorry, I don’t appreciate that”. But I did notice that when I worked in the US how careful they were.”

Another big debate at the moment related to how people address each other is the use of pronouns. Increasing more people are signing off on their emails by highlighting whether they are “he” or “she” or “them”.

“Of course, it is important. Sometimes people wish to be recognised for how they wish to be recognised. And again, that’s a sign of behavior and being respectful,” Katherine observes.

Light bulb moment at breakfast

Katherine Bennett has been acknowledged as a leading light in the creation of the “Women in Aviation & Aerospace Charter”. She remembers that the idea to establish the charter came about during a breakfast meeting in 2018.

“We had a breakfast meeting in the city at a law firm. And the then Minister for Aviation, Baroness Liz Sugg came along.” At the time, the British government had already set up the Women in Finance Charter. “One of my friends, Mary McLeod, suggested why not do a charter for women in aviation and aerospace. And it was one of those light bulb moments”

Since it started, the Charter has attracted over 200 signatories from companies of all shapes and sizes, including regional airports and numerous aviation and aerospace businesses across the United Kingdom. And while the idea behind the charter was to start within the borders of the UK, there were many multinational companies that signed up to become supporters of the initiative.

“Initially, our main momentum was getting more signatures and getting people to sign up to the prerequisites of joining the Charter. So for me, getting these 200 signatures is quite a milestone. We’ve endeavored to link in with government initiatives as well, keeping on the right track and challenging when we’ve needed to,” Katherine explains, adding that there is still a lot more to be done.

“The whole point is for the companies that have signed up to be exemplars for the way they do their business. Of course, the gender pay gap legislation has been incredible in terms of 100% fulfilling of those commitments.”

“The big thing for us is how companies publish and demonstrate the achievements they’ve made. In Airbus, we’ve improved 1% last year in terms of the number of females employed by the organisation. I think we need to shout about these things.”

Katherine Bennett joined Airbus in 2004 and is currently a Board member of Airbus Operations and Airbus Helicopters. She will be leaving the European manufacturer later this year to take up the CEO position at an organisation called the “High Value Manufacturing Catapult”. Katherine has played a leading role in the creation of the Women in Aviation Charter and she’s a Board Member of the International Aviation Women’s Association. In 2019 she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

In 2021, she became the very first recipient of the ‘AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award” for her work promoting and encouraging diversity and inclusion in aviation. “Katherine has been playing a leading role in the creation of the Women in Aviation & Aerospace Charter which gained more than 200 signatures in its first two years including cross Government support,” said Richard Stephenson, the Chief Executive Officer of AeroTime Hub. “Her dedication and support for promoting diversity and inclusiveness across the aviation sector has had positive and significant impact on the aviation industry and its people, both today and into the future.”

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