Meet the dancing diversity champion who is changing Nigeria

Officially, Temitayo Shittu is the Head of Product and Marketing at a travel agency called Wakanow in Lagos, Nigeria. Having previously worked for airlines like Arik Air and Virgin Atlantic, she has an extensive background in the aviation industry. Unofficially, Temitayo is a dancing diversity champion who is changing Africa through her mentoring and the support she offers to women in the aviation and travel sectors.

Today, Temitayo becomes the latest recipient of our ‘AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award’ for her work promoting equality, engaging with and supporting women and for the passion and energy with which she approaches everything.When we were preparing for our interview, we did not consider the need to practice our dance moves! But Temitayo’s positive energy proved to be contagious, and so was her passion for equality and professionalism, and soon we were all dancing behind the scenes, celebrating her award.

Sigita Valanciute from AeroTime caught up with Temitayo Shittu to speak about her career and mentoring work, the realities faced by women in aviation in Nigeria, and what it takes for a woman to succeed there.

Why be a pilot if you can work in marketing?

While there are plenty of people who had dreamed about working in aviation since childhood, these dreams usually take place on an aircraft and involve choices of profession such as being a pilot or a flight attendant. But not Temitayo’s. She was always sure she would work in airline marketing or sales.

“My dad worked for British Caledonian when I was a child. He subsequently worked for British Airways and for Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) as well. So I’ve always been like an industry baby,” she explained.

At 12 years old, Temitayo was already telling people about her plan to work in aviation. “I never had any other career path. There was no backup plan, I wanted to work for an airline,” she says.

“I wanted to work in marketing because my dad was a sales manager. It was always my passion. Even when I was in university, the dissertation topic of my first degree was actually about the promotional strategy of international airlines in the states in Nigeria. So it’s always been something I wanted to do”.

The trouble of starting & leaving aviation

Temitayo believes the first possible pitfall that could prevent further career progression in aviation awaits people at their very first steps in the industry.

“It’s always my worry when you start in aviation. I don’t know if this happens elsewhere, but in Nigeria, when you start off in ticketing and reservations, there’s always that chance that you’re going to get stuck in that line of work and there will be no career progression.”

So, what’s her antidote for getting stuck? Well, not letting yourself get too comfortable for starters. She observed that people tend to get comfortable and stick with what they know. Yet in a constantly changing world, that might not be the best strategy. Definitely not one that Temitayo applies for herself.

“I’m actually very adaptable and I’m always willing to learn something new. I’m currently doing digital marketing for work. If you look at my background, there was never digital marketing in there. It’s the ability to want to take on new challenges, and also willing to learn and step out of your comfort zone. So we as women should always be willing to do that. Learning is a continuous experience.”

Having spoken about how difficult starting out in an aviation career can be, she also sees leaving the industry as potentially problematic too. If she could change one major thing in Nigeria’s aviation industry in the next ten years, it would be to introduce an “aftercare plan”.

“I have noticed that a lot of people who started off their careers in the 80s and the 90s tend to just progress from starting up in the airline. Then when they leave the airline, it seems like there’s a bit of a struggle, almost as if the industry doesn’t have any, what I call an aftercare plan for retirees or people who have left the industry. There just seems to be a struggle for them financially what to do next when they leave. I wish for travel agency employees when they leave or when they have retired, they have access to a good quality of life.”

Is Nigeria friendly for women in aviation?

While the beginning of their career might be difficult, Temitayo doesn’t believe that being a woman closes doors for working in aviation in Nigeria. On the contrary.

“In fairness to Nigeria, it’s a level playing ground. If you put in the work, they see that you’re doing the work, then they give you the opportunity. Wherever I’ve been able to showcase what I have to offer, in all of the jobs that I’ve done, there’s never been an issue with them promoting me based on my gender. But you have to put in the work.”

So what is it like to join the industry as a young woman? When she first started, Temitayo was the only female in the office. So imagine her surprise when, having travelled to the company’s headquarters, she discovered that most department heads were female and the female leadership reached 80% in the company.

So is aviation in Nigeria a male-dominated industry? “In my current job, there are 80% females in leadership, in my previous job there was about 90% females in leadership. Now my job is predominantly female. So if I’m going to reflect back on the last 10 years of my career, at most places that I’ve been exposed to women accounted for 60% of the leadership. So we are doing a pretty good job in Nigeria.”

“Those careers that have usually been seen as more suited for the males agenda, I think the lines are blurred these days. Honestly, you can only be held back if you choose to hold yourself back.”

For young women considering a career in aviation in Nigeria or anywhere else in Africa, she has a message: “Honestly, there are varied roles for you to come into. All the kinds of roles and opportunities that you do have in aviation. Sometimes people, especially those in rural areas, are not fully aware of the variables that we have in aviation. I say to a lot of them: in aviation, you can be whoever you want to be, or you can do whatever you want to do. You want to be an engineer? Come we have engineering. You want to be an IT person? We have IT. Whatever you want to do.”

Watch the full conversation Temitayo had with AeroTime’s Sigita Valanciute in the video above.

In recognition of her dedication and support for promoting diversity and inclusiveness across the aviation and travel sectors, Temitayo Shittu became one of the first recipients of AeroTime’s ‘Aviation Achievement Award’. The AeroTime Global executive committee recognizes her energy and commitment to volunteering and mentoring that are helping women to realize their potentials and the positive influence of these efforts both today and into the future.

Richard Stephenson, AeroTime CEO, said, “When we heard about Temitayo and her work, the decision to award her with the AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award was easy.  Temitayo’s enthusiasm and dedication to this work is incredible and worthy of much acknowledgment. I was delighted to present this award and I hope it will help Temitayo to encourage more young women to join our industry in the future. Congratulations!”

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