According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which represents 290 airlines, the proportion of women holding C-level roles in the industry is just three per cent. The aviation sector continues to have one of the poorest gender balances. The lack of females is particularly apparent at the leadership level.
But what are the main barriers to women’s advancement in the industry? How can those challenges be overcome?
Like Aziza Sheerin of General Assembly Asia, Lisa Butters, general manager, GoDirect Trade at Honeywell, see opening the doors for women. She observed that women have been successful in infiltrating the leadership roles in functional areas like human resources, customer support. But not so well in the C-suites.
“Whether that's in information technology or software development or engineering, you're seeing more and more women infiltrating those ranks. Even in business leadership roles, like general management and running a business, which is encouraging,” she opined.
Throwing a wrench
Butters akin the arrival of COVID-19 to throwing a wrench at life. For her, the pandemic flipped lots of different things upside down for everyone in different ways.
Qualities of technology women leaders
Butters noted that what makes technology women leaders was not just their technical depth (which is important) but their ability to speak to both the technical members of the team but the businesspeople as well.
“Being able to talk to our development teams at a technical level, to solution things at a technical level, sniff a problem because you understand technical solutions and how they kind of come together. It doesn't mean that I have to keep coding, or I have to understand it to that extent, but I think to be a leader in the tech space, you should have some kind of technical depth to you and have a software mindset and how things are built,” she explained.
Another important quality is being curious, willing to explore new ideas, and not be embarrassed about failing.
“It's that growth mindset where you don't know everything, but to learn and grow, you are willing to take chances. You are going to have to be okay with failing that growth mindset is something that we talk about a lot. It is really hard to put into practice because at the end of the day, nobody wants to feel dumb, nobody wants to feel inferior and making mistakes is embarrassing. But if you can get over that, I feel like the sky is the limit,” she opined.
This latter quality removes the inhibitions that often inhibit aspiring leaders from trying new ideas because they don’t want to be seen as failing in an idea they came up with.
Path towards leadership
Butters believes that there is a leader in everyone.
“Whether you have a large team that you're leading, or if you're an individual contributor, everyone is a leader or everyone can be a leader,” she opined.
She noted that Honeywell encourages everyone, whether you're an individual contributor or a leader of people, to think of themselves as leaders and owners of the business.
“I would tell other women that as they're trying to develop and to try to gain more breadth of experience is really to try new things. I think having a different perspective of different job roles and different disciplines, really will take you far."
For Butters, Anne Madden, senior vice president and general counsel for Honeywell, and Harriet Mountcastle-Walsh, vice president and general counsel for Honeywell Aerospace, were her guidepost for what it means to be a mentor.
From these two executives, she experienced what it means to be an advocate – someone who is willing to speak for another person even when the mentee is not around.
To be able to bring along others. This, for Butters, is the one lesson she would like to impart to others.
“To be a leader is someone who leads and acts with integrity – a person with vision. You are a person that people respect, that people look up to. And I think that if you are those things, then people will follow you or people will want to join side-by-side with you on your mission,” she opined.
Why there aren’t enough women CEOs
She acknowledged that while women leaders have found success in functional roles like human resources and customer support, the lack of opportunities in business roles early on is limiting their potential to go even higher up the corporate ladder.
“It's not necessarily a barrier. It is more a pattern of where you are not seeing enough women come through those business leadership role ranks. And if we don't get more into those pipelines, then we'll never see those numbers of women CEOs go up. It's just not going to happen,” she laments.
Advice for next generation of leaders
“For those with families, get that support system in place – partners willing to help you in challenging times. Have a good support structure made up of family and friends. Also, get advocates for you within and outside of the company, to help you grow in your career,” she concluded.
Click on the podchat player and listen as Butters describe the path to leadership in business.