Women Leaders Stress Diversity Focus through Pandemic

 - July 23, 2020, 2:14 PM
By International Women's Day in March, more than 200 organizations had signed on to the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter. (Photo: Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter)

While acknowledging that maintaining diversity and inclusion goals might be difficult as workforces reshape during the Covid-19 pandemic, industry leaders believe that the issue must remain a priority to prepare organizations to better prepare for the future. Four women senior executives and officials stressed that view Thursday during an FIA Connect 2020 session led by the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter, an initiative launched during the 2018 Farnborough Airshow and one that has attracted more than 200 companies signing on to work toward more gender balance across all levels of the industry.

“We believe it’s more important than ever to highlight this subject as companies in the sector look to restructure in response to the crises. Diverse, forward-looking, and collaborative workforces, we believe, will be integral in helping organizations to recover and face the future with confidence,” said Rolls-Royce chief customer officer for civil aerospace Jacqui Sutton, who moderated the panel on behalf of the charter.

Sutton said a recent McKinsey and Company study underscores that belief, finding companies that rank in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21 percent more likely to outperform on profitability and 27 percent more likely to generate superior "value creation."

Kelly Tolhurst MP, the UK Department of Transport minister for aviation, maritime, and security, agreed. She noted that the job reports have made “for very difficult reading” and emphasized her focus on working to retain as many jobs as possible. “Against this backdrop, it can be hard to look forward, but we must. We will recover from this pandemic and as we do the urgent need for technical skills will increase,” Tolhurst said. “As our sector recovers from the impact of the coronavirus, we must ensure we pave the way for an industry that is diverse and inclusive.”

She added that the topic “remains as urgent now as ever before,” pointing to statistics showing that women pilots represent just 6 percent of the total pilot population. While piloting is just one position, it represents wider challenges throughout the industry, she said.

She expressed support for the charter initiative and noted other ongoing efforts such as the Reach for the Sky program, designed to inspire future aviators. Despite the pandemic, those initiatives continue, she said, with events moving online and ambassadors being named and actively involved.

“The whole world has plunged into crisis and our industry is one of hardest hit,” added Adefunke Adeyemi, regional director for advocacy and strategic relations for Africa for the International Air Transport Association (IATA). She acknowledged the numerous furloughs but expressed the belief that the industry is resilient and will adapt through strong communications and an understanding that industry stakeholders share in the struggles.

Given those struggles, she said IATA has shifted its goals toward fostering inclusiveness and diversity through mentorship and promotion from within rather than hard metrics.

On that front, IATA initiatives have seen successes, she said, one of which was the “25by2025” campaign launched in September of 2019. Participating airlines make a voluntary commitment to increase the number of women in senior positions by either 25 percent or ensure women fill 25 percent of those jobs by 2025. By the end of last year, nearly 60 airlines had committed.

The idea centers on the use of analytics to focus on how the industry can better engage and take a deliberate approach to ensure that businesses attract, retain, and promote women to senior-level positions, she said. That does mean “playing of the gender card kind of metric,” Adeyemi said. “It is designed to address problems of conscious bias, as well as the tendency of women themselves not to lean in.”

The program must be intentional to work and ensure that organizations not only express their approval but “walk the talk."

"If it is not done this way, the needle wouldn’t move,” she said. Pointing to the increasing participation, she said she has seen progress.

However, “with the pandemic, everything came to screeching halt,” she lamented. As a result, IATA will not concentrate on the metrics involved as much for the time being, but rather on efforts such as its “Mosaic” initiative designed to foster inclusion and diversity. It designed that effort to encourage the promotion of women who meet criteria and have merit, as well as encourage others to achieve with the help of coaching and mentoring.

Such issues apply to racial diversity needs as well. “We need to think about how we include racial minorities into the mainstream for the industry,” said Adeyemi. As with gender diversity, the efforts must be intentional but can’t be a simple gender-card play. Rather, they must ensure competency through training to ensure an available workforce, she said.

Victoria Foy, CEO of UK-based Safran Seat GB, agreed that like other companies, Safran has faced “a wave of changes” during the pandemic that has made the ability to keep diversity and inclusion top of mind challenging. However, she added that Safran already has positioned itself well, paving paths on meeting UN inclusion benchmarks. As such it has managed to maintain a focus through several means, including outreach and surveys to ensure an understanding of concerns during the pandemic.

Long-term though, data can benchmark the gaps and areas that need targeting, whether at the applicant level, through recruitment, or through promotion, said Martine Gagne, chief technology officer for Meggitt. Organizations should rely on multiple sources to determine whether they have made a difference, including examining the executive suite to make sure good role models occupy it.