Accelerating change – Women in aviation across the globe

by Angela Gittens, Director General, Airports Council International (ACI) World


In August ICAO will collaborate with UNESCO for the inaugural Global Aviation Gender Summit, hosted by the South African Civil Aviation Authority in Cape Town. I recently spoke at an IAWA event in Sydney Australia on their theme: accelerating change – women in aviation across the globe. And we do need to accelerate change.

Air service demand is going to double in 15 years. Where are we going to get the airport and airline managers, the pilots, the airline mechanics and airport maintenance teams, the engineers for the engine and aircraft manufacturers?

We cannot continue to ignore half of the world’s population as we compete with other industries for the talent we will need to continue to play our role as an economic driver by accommodating the demand for air travel. We seem to take two steps forward and a step and a half back. In this country, we had female CEOs at two of the largest airports – Sydney and Brisbane. They retired within a few months of one another and now we have none. Same thing happened in Europe – you lose one or two females and get down to almost none. Only in North America is there any depth of bench of women currently in top roles or in position to compete for upcoming top roles. And even there, we see a trend which will not be favorable to women. That is the tendency for airport owners to look outside the industry, particularly looking to corporate talent to bring into the top jobs at airports. And, at least in the US, the corporate world is experiencing the same phenomenon of a weak bench of women to take top roles so that when a few leave, the percentage of women drops precipitously. A recent report by Korn Ferry tells us that fewer than 5% of Fortune 500 companies are headed by women today.

Angela Gittens, Director General, Airports Council International (ACI) World

So, my purpose here is to take a good hard look at something we, women leaders in aviation, have thought and talked about for quite a long time. The time is now to act and do much more to empower women.

ACI has long been a proponent of diversity in the workforce. I am very proud that we have an agreement with IAWA to work collaboratively on education, training and job opportunities.

Indeed, I am happy that we are able to provide an annual scholarship for the ACI Airport Executive Leadership Programme, which prepares students for senior-level responsibilities and provides more opportunities for professional growth in this exciting industry.

Clearly, women need not only opportunities for building experience, but also positive mentorship experiences and, most importantly, developing a network of colleagues and potential employers, males and females. I have to tell you that my strongest mentors have actually been men, including my aviation mentor who was certainly no feminist or civil rights activist. We don’t necessarily need “true believers,” we need pragmatists that can see that hiring and promoting women is in their organization’s best interests.

The best time for any member of a “down market” group (and in most societies, that’s what women are) is when there is a crisis. And I would say that aviation is headed into a talent pool crisis.

There really is nothing stopping us from having a great career in any of the many, many areas of aviation, from engineering to policy, from safety and security to operations.

So as leaders, we need to inspire more women to be involved in such a rewarding and indispensable industry, the aviation industry, and we need to get more girls engaged in science and maths at school.

Our destiny is in our hands and so is that of the next generation of women, and the next after that. So, let’s work together and get the job done!