Under the theme of “Flying High in the Aerospace Industry”, the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Committee hosted a special conference at the Royal Aeronautical Society on 21 November 2014 to inspire women to progress their careers in the industry. Seven motivating speakers shared their own experiences of mentoring or being mentored in their respective presentations which formally launched the Committee’s new Mentoring Scheme at the conference. 

All the presenters focused on the vital role that mentors can play in offering social and career support to women who work in male-dominated organisations. This specialist insight drew on their own research and personal experiences taken from a wide variety of occupations. 

Judith Milne FRAeS, Chairman of the RAeS Women in Aviation and Aerospace Committee, opening the conference.

Mentoring helps

Jenny Body OBE FRAeS became the first-ever female President of the Royal Aeronautical Society in May 2013 and her long and successful career in the industry began in 1971, as a Mechanical Engineering undergraduate apprentice at British Aerospace; it culminated in industrial responsibility for determining the future of UK civil aviation through forthcoming technology programmes. 

She emphasised the importance of technical hands-on experience and that working one’s way up from the bottom gave women credibility. She confirmed that having a mentor really does help to build and nurture individual careers and that gaining management experience helps women diversify into other disciplines.

Less grey suits with grey hair

João Miguel Santos, Vice President at Boeing International Africa, was born into aviation, and this background, together with studies at the University of Washington and subsequent graduate studies, combined with commitment, perseverance and hard work, granted him two career opportunities over 36 years with Boeing and the U.S. Navy. 

He commented that commercial companies are very competitive environments and that women need to learn to be more competitive to succeed. From an industry standpoint, he outlined the need for more young people in aviation and less grey suits with grey hair. In the workplace, he explained that ‘Leader’ is not a job title but more a term of endearment which has to be earned; it is important to surround yourself with people who inspire you.

Advantage of being a woman

Sham Musthapha has been Systems Engineering Manager at Boeing Defence Ltd since October 2011. Her job covers several engineering aspects including technical support to programmes and business development, promoting the use of best practices and engineering initiatives and working with academia to identify pull through of innovation and R&D. 

Echoing João Miguel Santos, she told delegates that they should be inspired by the company they work for and to take risks to make things better, especially in the knowledge that they have a good team around them.  She said that being a woman can be an advantage in a man’s world, as you are more memorable and stand out in the crowd.  She also advised to give people recognition for doing a good job and to make sure they know you think they are doing well.

In launching the Committee’s Mentoring Scheme, Chairwoman Judith Milne stated that mentoring was important because a change was needed - women needed help from other women to achieve their potential. She added that networking and relationship were not natural behaviours for most women but in the end they definitely make a difference. She further explained that part of the reason in launching the new scheme at the conference was that a formal mentoring network should take some of the strain out of that networking process in future.

The first of the afternoon speakers was Dr Susan Durbin, Associate Professor in Employment Studies at the University of the West of England, who has worked with a number of UK organisations and has published extensively from her research, most recently on the role of mentors and role models in women’s career progression. 

No fluffy concept

Dr Durbin emphasised that mentoring wasn’t a fluffy concept as there should be a business case which can underpin business objectives and bring economic value when the process is managed properly. She explained that women can often find themselves excluded from informal mentoring such as the ‘the old boys network’ - this was why a more formal scheme was needed in order to create opportunities for introductions.


Delegates networking at the conference

Women more collaborative

Commander Victoria Dale-Smith, Royal Navy Maritime Sea King Force Commander, joined in September 1992 as a Naval College Entry Warfare Officer and was the first woman on a naval vessel. She is now responsible for Royal Navy SAR, Sea King Airborne Surveillance and Control and the Sea King Simulator based at RNAS Culdrose. Commander Dale-Smith told delegates that having a mentor who really believed in her helped her to return to work after maternity leave and that mentoring can provide objective perspectives for women in their career path decisions. Her own view was that women are generally more collaborative and less competitive which results in a natural empathy in sharing challenges.

Right choices

Sqn Leader Sarah Maskell, Equality and Diversity Policy Sponsor at the RAF, was appointed to her current role in October 2012 and has enjoyed a wide variety of HR assignments including Personnel Casework, Detachment Personnel Officer in Iraq and led the RAF Evacuation and Repatriation team for the Lebanon. In her speech, Sqn Leader Maskell confirmed that only 14% of the RAF are currently women  and that the RAF have struggled with mentoring because they are worried that people would use mentoring to help them leave the service.  However they have now come to understand that it can help people make the right choices.

Be true to your values

Victoria Hall, Executive Coach & Talent Management Consultant at Talent Futures, is a highly experienced executive coach and consultant whose background combines organisational psychology and management experience.  Her presentation highlighted the importance of internal networking and connections and the need for women to focus on developing a strategy to be where they want to be. Personal integrity is an important component in this process - be true to your values. She also told delegates to talk about team achievements and how they personally contributed.   

In her closing remarks at the conference, which was sponsored by Universal Weather & Aviation, Inc., Judith Milne, citing her own 30 years’ aerospace experience, explained that an industry-wide Mentoring Scheme was important because nothing had really changed during her career as she is often still the only woman at Board level. 

This article was written by Judith Milne FRAeS, Regional Vice President EMEA, Universal Weather and Aviation Inc & Chairman, Women in Aviation and Aerospace Space Committee, RAeS.

To find out more about the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Committee's mentoring scheme, and how you can get involved, please click here. They currently have a survey on mentoring open which all female RAeS Members and supporters are invited to complete, so please click here to get involved.

Conference and Events Department
16 December 2014