In December 2022, the Women in Aviation & Aerospace Charter (WIAAC) marked its fourth birthday and 250th signatory by hosting a private dinner for 40 senior industry executives. The event, co-hosted by Oliver Wyman and JetBlue, was an opportunity to reflect on the progress made and to discuss how to drive further breakthroughs on diversity and inclusion across the Aviation and Aerospace sector.
Aviation lags in diversity
For decades, the aviation industry has been challenged in attracting and retaining diverse employees in key roles and functions. More troubling, below the surface an even wider gap exists: a substantial absence of women in senior leadership positions, a situation that has persisted for far too long.
Women are still vastly under-represented in the leading positions at airlines, holding just 14% of senior executive roles, with only 6% of CEO and COO roles being female across the top 100 airlines globally, according to International Air Transport Association (IATA) 2022 data. Moreover, there is a heavier skew towards the Chief HR Officer role being held by a woman, with 40% representation in that position.
In the UK, gender pay gap (GPG) reporting became mandatory in 2017. In the latest set of reports published in 2022, we see that the average GPG across the top UK airlines is at least three times worse than the average UK company, with a 48% difference in mean hourly rate, compared to 15% on average. We also know that just 5.3% of pilots and 16.5% of engineers globally are women, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISWAP).
When it comes to diversity and inclusion, the industry chronically lags other sectors. This has real consequences on the industry’s ability to attract and retain the widest pool of talent. As Oriel Petry, SVP Head of Public Affairs UK at Airbus explained at the WIAAC dinner, “genuine diversity and inclusion leads to better decision-making and more profit.”
Founded in 2018 by Sumati Sharma and Katherine Bennett, along with 40 founding signatories, the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter tackles the challenges facing women head on and represents a commitment by the UK’s aviation and aerospace sectors to work towards a more balanced and fair industry for women.
Three recommendations to drive diversity and inclusion
We highlight three key recommendations that came up from table discussions at the WIAAC dinner to help organizations make breakthroughs on diversity and inclusion. The proposals focus on how we can make a difference as an industry – and as individuals. Interestingly, Oliver Wyman’s own report, “Lift Off to Leadership – Advancing Women in Aviation”, surfaced very similar themes.
1. Abundantly visible
Provide role models - In an industry where female executives remain largely underrepresented, exposure to role models is essential for younger women and people of diverse backgrounds. The presence of diverse senior profiles will demystify the stereotype of successful female leaders as ruthless and emotionless, and in doing so enable more young women to see themselves in senior roles.
Our Lift Off to Leadership research tells us that women in aviation leadership view themselves as role models for junior women and seek to extend a helping hand. We know that 99% of women in senior leadership roles see themselves as role models. Equally heartening, a large share of the men in our survey also view themselves as potential role models for women.
Baroness Charlotte Vere, UK Minister for Aviation, Maritime & Security, shone a light on the recently launched Generation Aviation campaign, part of the Department for Transport’s Reach for the Sky programme, an example of how leaders and organizations can inspire the next generation and act as role models for young people looking to break into the industry.
2. Make inclusivity a requirement
Educate for a new mindset – Biases change as society evolves. Therefore, if we want positive societal changes to trickle down to the Aviation industry, it is crucial that we avoid sharing any biases with younger generations. Organisations must acknowledge and address both explicit and implicit prejudice and make systemic changes to remove the potential for preconception that can adversely impact women’s careers.
“We need to use every opportunity to inspire others and show the wide range of career opportunities aviation offers”, said Maja Gedosev, GM Europe, JetBlue. “That alone will set us on the right track for securing future talent. "I’ve set my own personal goal to inspire a single person every day.”
Emma Adam, Chief Financial Officer at IAG Cargo, concurred: “It is our responsibility to nurture and encourage great talent in the aviation industry, leading by example and creating collaborative environments where individuality can thrive.”
Making inclusive leadership a requirement is important. Leadership traits must be redefined in a way that is encompassing – across industry, government, and education.
3. Uncompromising champions
Double down on sponsorship – While it is crucial to make more female voices heard in the industry, it is also important to showcase male allies and ensure that everyone is included in this journey towards a more inclusive and diverse industry. Sponsorship can be the great accelerator for women and diverse people in the industry.
A message that came through clearly and repeatedly in our own study is that advocacy matters. Both women and men value sponsorship, mentorship, and coaching, but women have greater difficulty accessing these resources. Increasing the number of women at the top requires a more explicit drive for sponsorship and a greater involvement from all senior leaders.
Sponsors, in particular, can help women identify career-enhancing opportunities and advocate on their behalf. The women we spoke with who had the greatest success consistently pointed to powerful male sponsors as critical in their development/career trajectories. Unfortunately, 65% of the women we surveyed have never had a sponsor, and this was identified as one of the top three career challenges for women in aviation.
“We must continue to take action to address the industry-wide challenge of improving gender and ethnic diversity – inspiring the next generation and championing this exciting and dynamic sector”, said Juha Jarvinen, Chief Commercial Officer at Virgin Atlantic. “I firmly believe this will create a fairer workplace, where our people can flourish and truly be themselves.”
What’s next for the WIAA Charter?
The Charter’s 250 signatories have signed up to drive meaningful and ongoing change in line with four key principles, emphasising the importance of data, targets, and senior accountability. Signatories have pledged to:
1. Designate one member of the senior executive team who is responsible and accountable for gender diversity and inclusion
2. Set internal targets, where appropriate, for gender diversity in senior management
3. Publish progress annually against any targets in external reports
4. Have an intention to ensure the pay of the senior executive team is linked to delivery against any internal targets on gender diversity and inclusion
Through these principles, the Charter is working build a more open and accessible industry, support women’s career progression, and drive gender balance and inclusivity at all levels of Aviation and Aerospace.
At our dinner, Victoria Foy, co-chair of the WIAAC, reflected on the Charter’s momentum in the lead-up to 2030 with a series of new initiatives designed to drive sustainable progress in the industry. In July 2022 at Farnborough Airshow, the Charter launched a new partnership with ADS, which represents more than 1,100 UK businesses operating in the aerospace, defence, security, and space sectors, to ensure ongoing progress on diversity and inclusion. Together, WIAAC and ADS have launched a new self-reporting programme, asking members ”What’s your 30?”, outlining individual goals that will help signatories boost their gender representation by 2030, along with self-reporting by signatories.
Thank you for contributing your voice to drive industry change
Thank you to those who came together and shared their perspectives. We had senior leaders from WIAA charter signatory organizations JetBlue, easyJet, Air France KLM, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, Gatwick Airport, Heathrow Airport, Rolls-Royce, Safran, Airbus, CAA, and Department for Transport, and many more.
Despite being only four years old, the Charter has already managed to drive a great deal of traction. We are at the start of our next chapter, and by collaborating together, we will transform our industry to become more diverse and inclusive for all.