Julie S Dilloway-Knapp, VP Airports

Describe your job?
My job is extremely broad and varied which I love. I’m ultimately responsible for running our ground operations across the globe from all the airports we fly to. This entails leading a large team of around 3,000 people that deliver our customer experience at airports across all touchpoints. It covers everything from check in, boarding, cabin cleaning, loading of the aircraft, de-icing and planning for new routes, terminal moves and new types of aircraft.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Why? What options seemed open or closed to you?
I wanted to be a children’s TV presenter because it looked so much fun! Or a cameraman, and I use the word ‘cameraman’ as there were actually very few female camerawomen at this time. I believe it’s actually still a fairly male dominated occupation although there are definitely more than there used to be. I do remember being pushed to do a secretarial course at college; these courses don’t even exist now! Both my chosen occupations were very popular and everyone thought I should have a backup plan.

I stayed true to myself and didn’t do the secretarial course though!

What in your job has given you the greatest satisfaction or fulfilment?
The greatest satisfaction comes from launching big change projects that really make a difference for our customers or teams. Changing our check-in system to AIR4 was a huge feat, co-locating Delta into Terminal 3 at Heathrow, our first flight to Tel Aviv, the Gatwick North terminal move, improving our on-time performance at Heathrow many years ago. There have been so many things.

What keeps you motivated?
People and change. I love working with people and working out what motivates them and I love pushing myself outside my comfort zone on a regular basis. It very rarely doesn’t work out but I always say “what’s the worst that can happen”, and it does really help to put things into perspective.

What women have inspired you?
So many and so many within Virgin Atlantic as well. When I first returned from maternity leave back in Feb 2019 so many women offered me advice straight away about the balancing act. I love the trail blazers, from the women in the First World War who started to pave the way for women into the working environment, to Emmeline Pankhurst for really pushing for the vote, to the females more recently who are Naval captains of our warships – such an incredible achievement.

How do you think women’s equality has evolved and what needs to happen next?
I think we have come so far compared to when I first started working, which is brilliant and there really is nothing stopping females now. We still have some work to do and some of that is around changing the perception of working mum to working parent. Parenting is so much more about co-parenting now and I know many men that have shared the parental/maternity leave which is such a good example. We do need to work on becoming more accepting as a nation of working parents overall and look at more flexible/part time options in the senior roles to really keep making a difference.

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career ?
In my earlier career before Virgin I was a technician backstage in the theatre and I was quite often mistaken for the stage door girl by the incoming crew and asked to make the tea! To be fair people still assume I’m crew if I simply say I work for Virgin Atlantic although I take this as a huge compliment so I’m not complaining, although never once has anyone said “oh you must be a pilot” which shows we still have work to do.

But honestly, in my twenty years at Virgin and as a leader, the only barriers would have been ones I placed on myself in terms of, ‘is this the right time for a promotion?’ or ‘can I really balance this all out and make a good job of everything?’.

What’s one leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Above all else, be yourself! You got the job because of who you are so don’t change anything. Obviously we grow, learn and make tweaks but fundamentally you are who you are so be authentic

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