March 3, 2021
‘Surviving & Thriving’ – championing the women across Virgin Atlantic; sharing individual stories of how they’ve survived and thrived over the last 12 months.
Tell us a bit about role at Virgin Atlantic…
I joined Virgin Atlantic in 2017 on a 10-month placement in Flight Ops, as part of my Aerospace Engineering degree, and I haven’t left since! Following my placement, I was kept on as a Flight Operations Engineer Trainee alongside finishing my degree. After I graduated in 2019, I applied for the Graduate Engineer role and moved from Flight Ops into Engineering. As Graduate Engineers we are learning as much as possible about the Engineering & Maintenance side of Virgin Atlantic. We rotate across different departments in Engineering Back-Office and Production to build the commercial-awareness, project management and technical skills required to become professionally registered Chartered Engineers.
What were your ambitions growing up, and did you see any barriers to getting where you wanted to be?
I flitted between Fashion Designer, Astronaut and Lawyer; I had absolutely no idea. Fortunately, I found an interest in aviation at about 15 and I worked hard volunteering, gliding, and studying to try and get my way into the industry. It paid off and I was fortunate to get a fully funded flying scholarship from a charity organisation and got my Private Pilot’s License when I was 17. One of Virgin Atlantic’s pilots, Kat Hodge, was on the scholarship panel and she suggested I attend Virgin Atlantic’s Future Flyers and Expert Engineers event and there I was, inspired by the enthusiasm and technical professionalism of the Engineers, Pilots and Leaders. I also fell in love with the idea of working at Virgin Atlantic. Kat’s mentoring and support helped that become a reality a few years later.
At points in my life and career, I have had the thought “I shouldn’t be here”, nobody I knew or in my family did STEM, nobody in the room looked like me and the odd person made it clear they didn’t think I belonged. But during those dips, the support, advocacy and mentoring from role-models have given me opportunities, confidence, and a sense of belonging.
What gives you the most job satisfaction?
Many of the tasks I complete when rotating in different departments are mini-projects which span over a couple of weeks or months. Being able to see it progress from ideation or a requirement given by a manufacturer to a tangible change on the aircraft or an improvement to a process is really satisfying. I enjoy the process of taking a task from its theory, collaborating with multiple departments, and then finally getting to see the change implemented. In school and university, things made sense when I could apply the theory to a real-life situation; Engineering is a great choice for people who like to problem solve and see their ideas come to life.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
When I got the call saying that I had been accepted onto the Graduate Scheme, I was so excited! I had heard so many great things about it from previous Graduate Engineers and they were definitely right. It has been the best thing for my development as an Engineer and everybody involved with the scheme is so passionate about helping you learn and improve.
What has been your experience of living through the pandemic?
I have been on furlough since April which has been strange, but I have been trying to keep myself busy and adjust to the new routine. Before the latest restrictions, I was volunteering in a community centre café a couple of times a week and I have been able to continue doing some STEM volunteering virtually. I am also working with Young Carers talking to young people who want to go to university about my experiences of balancing the two. I have been living in my family home and home-schooling my younger brothers which has been challenging.
I have tried to keep up my technical knowledge during my time off by studying and doing online courses. In June, I entered an innovation competition run by The Air League. I entered a paper titled How Human Factors are Driving and Inhibiting the Development of Remotely Piloted Air Systems in the Human Factors category. In October, I had the opportunity to present my paper in front of a panel of experts and academics and I managed to win. Other than that, I ran a lot, attempted to learn German, and obsessively started crocheting hats, animals and even a pair of leggings.
However, like most people, these times have been challenging. Sadly, I have lost a family member to Covid and have experienced the stresses and uncertainty that these times have brought. I have been fortunate to have found opportunities to occupy myself with, whilst on Furlough, and been surrounded by family. But it has been a very difficult time for so many. There have been huge moments to stop and reflect on how we treat each other, and I hope if we can learn anything from this terrible time, it is greater empathy and understanding of people’s differences.
Which women have inspired you growing up?
I have been very fortunate to be inspired and mentored by many women that I have met in everyday life, both growing up and at Virgin. My grandparents were part of the Windrush generation, and my parents grew up in South London during the ‘80s. My family were often “the only one” and worked hard to make more room at the table for their communities. Often for women and people who are ethnic minorities in STEM you are the “only one” in the room. I am inspired by the Engineers, Ops team and mentors both women and men who have lifted me up and hopefully, I will be able to do the same to the next generation of Engineers.
How do you think gender equality in the workplace has evolved over the years? I think there is greater awareness of everyday challenges faced by individuals in the workplace such as microaggressions and unconscious bias. This has allowed people to feel more empowered to speak up about the difficulties they face, but also people who witness discrimination towards minorities to call it out. However, there is still work to do; currently only 15% of Engineering undergraduates in the UK are female and we need to do more outreach work to make STEM an appealing option for younger girls.
Describe what it’s like to work for Virgin Atlantic in three words…
Fabulous. Rewarding. Imaginative.
Find out more about the inspirational women of Virgin Atlantic on our International Women’s Day page.