Today is International Women’s Day – a global day to mark the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. This year’s theme is centred around gender parity, with a focus on the growing global movement of advocacy helping to push things forward and #PressforProgress.
The movement for women’s rights and equality has been commemorated annually for more than a century, since the first Women’s Day was held in New York City in 1909. Here at Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays, we’re marking International Women’s Day 2018 by celebrating some of the many inspirational women working in our business, who in turn inspire and motivate their teams to be the best they can be. We asked them about their roles, the secrets of their success, and their thoughts on how women’s equality is progressing.
Pauline Wilson: Operations Director, Virgin Holidays
Role: To provide our customers with an amazing holiday experience that is uniquely Virgin – from the minute they arrive at the airport until they return home.
What’s the secret of your success? Focus and having a great team around me.
What women have inspired you? My mother, J.K. Rowling, Maya Angelou, Anna Wintour, Oprah, Malala Yousafzai, Michelle Obama.
How do you think women’s equality has evolved and what needs to happen next? High profile recognition of the extent of inequality has intensified the need for change, as well as the value that greater diversity brings to businesses.
It’s great news that we now have our own diversity and inclusion company goals which is a really good place to start. Gender parity in the workplace won’t be achieved overnight but knowing where we are currently and where we want to get to provides clarity of the ambition. Also important is providing greater focus on attracting and retaining a sufficient pipeline of talent, and addressing unconscious bias.
Success will also require courage, drive and discipline of all leaders to champion this change.
Nikki Humphrey: SVP People, Virgin Atlantic
Role: My job is great – I lead the People team and ensure we are doing everything possible to put our people at the heart of our business, so they feel engaged, motivated in their role and can be at their best.
What is the secret of your success? Keep putting yourself in others’ shoes.
What women have inspired you? Professionally, I’ve been lucky to work for two great women during my career who have been open about their experiences and career journeys, and also encouraging of me and my career. On a personal front, my grandmother was a lady who demonstrated strength, resilience and determination which I admired, and I’ve probably inherited some of her genes!
How do you think women’s equality has evolved and what needs to happen next? It’s been a slow journey and given my age and generation, it should have been cracked by now however there is still more work to do. To keep it simple, there are two things to be done – firstly, raise awareness through conversation about the issue, and secondly, everyone, both men and women, have a part to play, from mentoring aspiring women, to encouraging your daughter at school to follow their ambition, to taking just one action to make a difference.
Hayley Parker: VP, Airports
Role: Leading an inspirational team who provide an effortless, exciting and unique airport experience for our customers – all underpinned by world class safety and operational excellence. I never know how my day will turn out. It’s definitely the best role in the company!
What is the secret of your success? You can never know everything! Value your colleagues, don’t take yourself too seriously and listen to the advice of people you trust.
What women have inspired you? Princess Diana – for her compassion and generosity of spirit.
How do you think women’s equality has evolved and what needs to happen next? Women’s equality has changed immeasurably, but we need to keep up the pace. For instance, we can’t expect women to believe in their own value when they only occupy around 15% of seats in the boardroom. The focus needs to be on turning rhetoric into reality. Women have a part to play in this too. Strong female leaders are role models and powerful mentors, not only for women but for men too.
Hema Odedra: Assistant Destination Manager, Virgin Holidays
Role: Building a worldwide product range to create unforgettable experiences for our customers.
What is the secret of your success: A combination of hard work, passion for my job and a great team.
What women have inspired you? I have a family full of strong women who have been my role models growing up and have been lucky enough to have been inspired by some strong women in the workplace too.
How do you think women’s equality has evolved and what needs to happen next? I think women’s equality has come a long way thanks to women like Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt fighting for equality way before it was publicly spoken about.
It’s important for us to educate the new generation on what true equality means for the world and what we can do to contribute to this.
Frances Joseph: Senior Business Change Manager (Technology)
Role: My role is new; its purpose is to understand the impact of forthcoming change and then ensure there is sufficient preparation, communication, training and support for the people who are affected. That includes making sure we measure the benefits and impact of implementing change.
What is the secret of your success? Focus on the relationships. Everything else is built on that.
What women have inspired you? There are loads, of course. Here are just a few! All are both professional and personal; there’s a huge overlap between these two.
- Michelle Bagnall – my interim line manager for 6 months over 15 years ago, now CEO of a bank in Brisbane, still my business mentor and role model
- Deborah Frances-White – comedian, podcast host, broadcaster, feminist, not afraid to challenge assumptions including her own
- Emma Gonzalez @emma4change – a recent addition – I admire her for overnight becoming the face of such a controversial campaign
- Nicola Price – childminder who is creative, unflappable, has an indefatigable positive attitude, loves her job and life and makes it possible for me to juggle mine
- Kate Granger – doctor who realised once she was also a (cancer) patient that the communication and compassionate side of care is crucial. Set up “Hello, my name is” campaign. She died last year, aged 34
- Sam Baker – journalist, writer, editor (also Sali Hughes and all the writers at The Pool) for making women’s issues and conversation so accessible, whether that’s health, business, parenting, fashion, lifestyle, education, fitness, politics or anything else.
- Endless other artists, writers, performers, neighbours, comedians, colleagues, friends, scientists, educators, campaigners, etc.
How do you think women’s equality has evolved and what needs to happen next? The picture is very different in different parts of the world. I get to experience higher education, voting, financial independence… so I’ve been fortunate to have those opportunities. It remains the case even in this country that most decision-makers in business, law, politics, sport and other fields are men. I’d like my daughters to experience a society where that is not assumed. I would also like us to ditch terms like “snowflake” and “politically correct” – doesn’t that just mean having respect for diverse views and preferences?
Pauline Preston: Training Captain
Role: Airbus TRI (Type Rating Instructor) and Line Training/Check Captain involved with the training of new recruits, cadet pilots and recurrent training for existing pilots.
What is the secret of your success? Hard work and perseverance.
Who are your inspirations? My father inspired me to fly. Virgin inspired me to believe I had a future career in aviation and women such as Karen Brady and Sheryl Sandberg have inspired me to push my way up.
How do you think women’s equality has evolved and what needs to happen next? There have been many positive changes in the workplace in general for women. Thankfully in aviation there has always been equal pay. Good CRM (Crew Resource Management) and a professional atmosphere on the flight deck should enable women to achieve their potential. With more women achieving the role as captain, there are more role models for first officers and for those considering a career in aviation. However, with women representing only 4% of the pilot workforce, there is some way to go.
It’s still a great career choice and with several recruiting campaigns out there specifically aimed at women, there has never been a better time to start.
Caz Johnson: Procurement Manager
Role: The procurement team at Virgin are responsible for supporting the sourcing activities, negotiation and strategic selection of goods and services across Virgin Atlantic. My role specifically is around providing procurement support across all functions of our engineering division
What is the secret of your success? A key success for me was when I learnt that to succeed in your career was not all about getting to the top as quickly as possible, it is about enjoying the journey and realising your work-life balance is just as important as your work aspirations. With this balance, you will succeed at anything you put your mind to.
What women have inspired you? When I was 18 I met two women who have inspired me and motivated me in my career. One was a colleague who was a dedicated Mormon, married at 18 and had a successful property portfolio at 20. She opened my eyes to different faiths and lifestyles and also inspired me to work hard so I could start my own property portfolio – I owned my first property at 26.
The other was an old manager who is now my mentor and friend. One of the best pieces of inspirational advice she has given me is look at your road ahead – if in the next 6 months you aren’t going to learn something new, better or challenge yourself – change it. This piece of advice was given to me 10 years ago and to this day I still use this simple assessment to decide what I want to do next.
How do you think women’s equality has evolved and what needs to happen next? To help women get to the top we need to help in two ways: nurture the middle managers of today to enable them to become the leaders of tomorrow as well as removing as many barriers we can see that could stop the school leavers of today growing to become the leaders of the future.
Rebecca Creer: Spas & Styling Manager
Role: I manage the Clubhouse spas at the Base, Heathrow, Gatwick and New York JFK and the styling standards for all staff wearing a uniform
What is the secret of your success? Knowledge, experience, resilience, compassion, continuous self-development and self-belief. Most importantly the people around me both professionally and personally.
What women have inspired you? I am inspired by both women and men. People who are helping and guiding others to be the best they can be. My team inspires me every day. They have the power in their hands and minds to make people feel happy and confident. I’m inspired by my nieces, nephews and godchildren. I want to make sure they can be whoever they want to be without judgement or judging others.
How do you think women’s equality has evolved and what needs to happen next? Equality for women is improving but we still have a long way to go. Women have to be kinder and more supportive of each other in whatever path we choose. If a woman chooses to stay at home with her children, then brilliant because that is her choice. If she wants to be an engineer or pilot, then great because that is her choice. If she wants to be a beauty therapist or stylist, wear make-up and be feminine… that is her choice. We shouldn’t judge anybody for the choices they make for themselves in life. We should all treat each other with respect regardless of gender, job role or title.
Women also need to be better at self-promotion. Men are very good at this.
Gillian Bullen: Manager – Engineering Project Lead (A350)
Role: Seconded as a deputised member of the Engineering Leadership Team, ensuring our Engineering Entry Into Service programme for the Airbus A350 is strategically aligned with our joint venture partner, Delta
What is the secret of your success? Be open to opportunities outside your comfort zone.
What women have inspired you? My Mum (who following 20 years’ service as company secretary, took a leap and got promoted direct to Transport Manager, after finally realising her star potential!)
How do you think women’s equality has evolved and what needs to happen next? Now: My career in a male-dominated environment has been nurtured by Virgin Atlantic – they understand the benefit of a diverse workforce and have taken positive steps to cultivate an environment to support women and their progression
Next: More needs to be done at early age/school to break down the male/female gender assumptions and stereotypes – science and tech subjects should be more engaging for young girls for example, as often by working age it is too late.
Now more than ever, there’s a strong call to #PressforProgress to help accelerate gender parity. Show your support below and help motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.