No more lip service. Now is the time to get inspired and act – WIA at six months

Richard Stephenson
CEO of AeroTime Hub


I don’t think I ever planned to start writing an editorial that way, as it seems so inappropriate.

But today, for so many reasons, it really does fit the bill.

Firstly, it’s six months since we launched our ‘Women in Aviation’ campaign and we’ve had the privilege to interview some amazing and truly inspirational people during that time. From an airline CEO who is breaking down barriers to a pilot who is working on cutting emissions; from leaders of industry to a teenager attempting an aviation world record. Wow.

You can see all of our interviews with Women in Aviation here: Women in Aviation.

Secondly, we’ve gone further than that and presented 23 incredible women from five continents with our AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award for their endeavours, for making a difference, encouraging the next generation and for changing the world.  Wow.

Thirdly, we’ve reached millions of people around the world with these inspirational and encouraging interviews.  We’ve heard stories of discrimination, perseverance and determination, we’ve heard about the huge support offered as our aviation colleagues progressed their careers, and we’ve heard about the shared optimism for the future. Wow.

I could go on. There are so many reasons and I feel truly inspired. But let’s get to the main point.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen so many people pay lip-service to the themes of equality and inclusiveness. I’ve encountered very few who have actually gone the distance and made a difference.  Until now.

I’ve sat through the meetings.  I’ve heard the bosses talk about their commitment to the latest ‘fad’. I’ve seen true discrimination in practice and I’ve also experienced colleagues playing the set of cards they’ve been dealt in both incredibly positive and incredibly negative ways.

So, let’s tidy this up once and for all for those people who struggle to understand the difference between a fad and a basic, yet fundamental, human right.

We all have to fight for what we believe in.  We have to fight for what we think is right.  We fight for our set of values. We fight for the people we love and respect.

But in 2021, we shouldn’t have to fight some of these battles. And we certainly shouldn’t have to fight any level of management who see matters of equality as the latest fad and something that a simple ‘tick-box’ exercise will solve.

Yes, I’ve heard senior managers use that phrase. ‘Let’s just tick the box and move on’. Move on from what and to what? Did nothing change as you ticked that box? You think that speech or the post you put on the intranet made a difference?  It didn’t. That is not leadership and it changed nothing and the ‘issues’ you thought you were tackling with your box ticking are still alive and well.  And there are some very disappointed people because of it.

So, when you have the chance to really make a difference, what will you do? Will you convince yourself that a little tick in the box will suffice or will you really consider how you can help to move the world along just a little bit more?

During the last six months, I have had the privilege to meet so many amazing women (and men too, so let’s not forget them!) in aviation who are genuinely changing the world. I’ve been inspired, I’ve been encouraged. We talked about opportunity, positivity, careers, excellence, encouraging the next generation, the amazing mentors and sponsors we’ve had – and the role they now play as mentors themselves – among hundreds of other topics.

And we’re working together to make a difference in the world and to encourage the next generation of the brightest and the best girls and boys join our industry.  If our next generation need to see some role models to help them continue their journey, there are so many to choose from and we will continue to profile more of them in the months ahead. Here are just a few : AeroTime Hub Awards

Captain Zoya commanded a 777 flight from San Francisco to Bengaluru with an all-female crew – a 17 hour journey over the North Pole link. I got to spend a few days with her earlier this year and we went to meet Captain Christine Debouzy and Captain Isabelle Guillard, both legendary aviators with Air France. As I listened to three incredible aviators with decades of experience talk about their journeys to the cockpit, it was clear that much has changed, but that more still needs to be done. In India, around 12.5% of commercial pilots are women and in France the number is 8%. Zoya is now a UN Spokesperson and also the first member of our AeroTime Global Advisory Board.

It’s not just pilots.  Let’s look at management. A new survey from global management consulting firm Oliver Wyman and the International Aviation Womens Association (IAWA) found that over half of women working in leadership positions in aviation have considered leaving the industry. Women are more likely to be pushed out because of negative experiences, while men who leave the industry are more often pulled away by the lure of better opportunities. The study surveyed 450 aviation professionals in front-line, mid-level, and senior leadership and found that aviation has not made progress in addressing its gender gap at the top, as a third of the women surveyed report taking longer to reach leadership positions relative to their peer group. Last week, I was delighted to speak to Oliver Wyman Partner, and latest AeroTime Award recipient, Sumati Sharma, to discuss this report.

I’ll never forget presenting Veranita Josephine AirAsia’s energetic CEO who is changing aviation, with one our first AeroTime Aviation Achievement Awards. As soon as I met her, I knew we had made the right decision to induct her into our hall of fame. She exudes everything you would expect in an inspirational business leader and the positive reaction from her colleagues spoke volumes.

We wrote this week about the appointment of Ursula Hurley as the new CFO at JetBlue (JBLU). But when we look for more C-suite women in airlines around the world, it gets hard far too quickly. CAPA reports over the last decade have shown that the situation is ‘dire’. In 2009/2010, CAPA identified “only 15 women CEOs or MDs among all of the world’s airlines” and by 2015 “rather than things improving, they were actually deteriorating! Most of the women who’d been running airlines five years earlier had moved on, mostly replaced by men.”

It’s clear we still have a long way to go. It’s clear a lot has happened. It’s clear that more will change in the years ahead, hopefully as a result of committed leadership actions, because it will not happen by ticking boxes.

There are so many other women and men I could reference in this article.  So many women and men in aviation who have inspired me and thousands of others. So many who are changing the world one day at a time. I applaud and salute every single one of them.

8th March 2021 turned out to be a far more important date for me and my team than we could have ever realised at the time.  We start a one-week celebration of women in aviation. It turned into an on-going campaign to change the aviation world. I’m proud of the AeroTime team for their commitment to equality in all of its forms and am pleased to confirm that our leadership team is currently four women and two men.

We’ve only just begun.

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