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Campaign for gender balance takes off in aerospace and aviation

Campaign for gender balance takes off in aerospace and aviation

Aerospace suppliers are signing up to a campaign for improved gender balance in aviation and aerospace.

To mark International Women’s Day this week, the UK aerospace supply chain’s productivity and competitiveness programme Sharing in Growth organised a Women in Aviation and Aerospace (WiAA) seminar to encourage support for a national charter which aims to help build a more balanced and fair industry for women.

The event, held at the Rolls-Royce Learning and Development Centre in Derby, attracted around 60 guests from more than 30 organisations including Rolls-Royce, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the Department for Transport, IATA, GKN Aerospace and many of the Sharing in Growth programme participant companies.

Aviation Minister Baroness Liz Sugg told the audience: “Often when I speak at aviation events I’m very conscious of the imbalance of men and women in the room. All I can see is a sea of suits.

“The statistics speak for themselves. Women account for just 6% of commercial pilots and 9% of the engineering workforce.”

The charter was launched at the Farnborough International Airshow in 2018 and Sharing in Growth was one of the first signatories. Andy Page Sharing in Growth CEO explained the need to overcome the industry’s ‘male, pale and stale’ image.

He said: “If we are to succeed in our vision of developing highly valued manufacturing for this generation and the next, then it’s essential that manufacturing adapts to appeal to the full demographic of society where one of the most glaring disparities is women.”

L-R Andy Page, Jan Stevenson and Ashlea Finn of Sharing in Growth
L-R Andy Page, Jan Stevenson and Ashlea Finn of Sharing in Growth

As the industry-led programme for aerospace, Sharing in Growth works with around 60 manufacturing and engineering supply chain companies to improve their performance so that they win more business and create more jobs. Already more than £3.6 billion in contracts have been secured by improving all aspects of business including leadership and organisational development.

Sharing in Growth’s Ashlea Finn was one of several speakers at the event who explained how, as ambitious women, they had taken risks and opportunities to develop their careers in aerospace. As a business transformation manager Ashlea leads an expert team to improve factories across the UK. She is also a member of the national Women in Aviation and Aerospace charter steering committee.

She said: “As the leading aerospace supplier development organisation, Sharing in Growth is uniquely placed to get the message out to the UK aerospace supply chain that we all have a role to play in promoting gender balance at all levels across aviation and aerospace. Signing up to the charter doesn’t mean chasing targets that aren’t appropriate to your business, it simply commits organisations to be the very best at driving diversity and inclusion within their sector and to providing fair opportunities for women to succeed at the highest levels.”

Sharing in Growth has already established its own working group and a plan of activity, focussing initially on how to attract, recruit and retain female coaches. And it is encouraging participants in the programme to sign up to the charter.

Lighting experts Oxley Developments, which employ around 200 in Ulverston, were one of the first to support the charter. Their marketing manager Jayne Moorby explained how Cumbria’s long-term skills shortage and remote location had driven the need to attract and develop their own talent. So they were working with schools and young people to nurture an interest in STEM careers by providing positive experiences and role models. Over the last four years these outreach activities had engaged with more than 10,000 young people.

Said Jayne: “Our research showed that girls’ career ambitions tended to split into either aspirational or familiar: they aspired to be a singer or model, or settled for the familiar such as shopworker or hairdresser. We need to reduce gender stereo-typing from a young age and raise the profile of advanced manufacturing in a way that appeals to females. Young women cannot be what they cannot see.”

Other speakers included:

Richard Bateman, head of talent, leadership and capability, civil aerospace, at Rolls-Royce, who shared the company’s many diversity and inclusion activities including the Next Generation Women’s Leadership Programme.

Stephen Cummins from the Department for Transport, who revealed how consultation on the Government’s Aviation 2050 strategy had highlighted that the aviation industry has a significant opportunity to address its future skills needs by increasing the diversity of its workforce to deliver a greater potential pool of employees.

Nick Goss from the Aerospace Growth Partnership who explained the background to the WiAA charter and how support was growing through events and the backing of organisations like Sharing in Growth, Airbus, and trade body ADS.

Lesley So of Rolls-Royce who outlined how her willingness to learn and make bold moves had propelled her 12-year career to eight different cities in four different countries, including Canada, Brazil, the UK, and the USA, heading up teams in functions such as purchasing, production planning, marketing, operations and manufacturing. She said: “It’s a great privilege to have had such a diverse career so far. I hope that by sharing my story it would encourage even more smart, driven young girls and women to be interested in becoming a part of this wonderful industry.”

To date 89 companies have signed the charter, including Sharing in Growth programme participants Martin Aerospace, Produmax and Oxley Developments. The plan is to achieve 100 signatories by the next major event, a House of Commons reception in April.

Any organisation wishing to find out more or sign up to the charter should contact Ashlea Finn on

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