Mentoring scheme for women in aviation: the first of its kind

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Mentoring scheme for female professionals

Myself and Dr Sue Durbin will be speaking at the ‘It’s not Rocket Science’ event in Weston Super Mare on 23rd June on a the design and setting-up of a mentoring scheme for female professionals within the aviation and aerospace industry. The mentoring scheme is called ‘Alta’. This will be the first mentoring scheme of its kind within the industry, and we have been carrying out research (through surveys, interviews and focus groups) to try to ensure that the scheme meets the needs of women professionals in the industry. The project is being developed through a partnership between UWE, the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Airbus; it is co-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the project partners. 

The aviation and aerospace industry is of critical importance to the UK, both in terms of contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employment; however it continues to face a skills shortage. Women are under-represented in the industry, comprising only 4% of commercial and RAF pilots and 7% of engineers in the UK. When they do become qualified professionals in the aviation and aerospace industry, women enter what has been described as a ‘masculine profession’, perceived as being ‘tough, heavy and dirty’ and therefore unsuitable for women. It is, therefore, important to retain, nurture and develop those women who ‘buck the trend’ and enter these professions and who build up important tacit knowledge and experience.

One way organisations can improve the recruitment and retention of women in the aviation and aerospace industry is by offering support to their female professionals through mentoring. A mentor is someone who has relevant knowledge and experience, and works on a short or long term basis with a mentee to give advice, guidance and support to assist the mentee's career, learning and development. Mentoring includes support in terms of ‘career development’, such as sponsorship, coaching, protection, providing challenging assignments and exposure; and ‘psychosocial support’, such as acceptance and confirmation, counselling, friendship and role modelling. 

Mentoring is particularly valuable for women as it may help them to break through the ‘glass ceiling’, increases their visibility within organisations and contributes to raising aspirations and levels of self-confidence. However, mentors are harder to come by for women, especially in male-dominated industries. This is what Alta aims to address by offering the opportunity for professional women to work with mentors both within and outside of their organisations.

For more information visit the project website:
You can also follow us on Twitter @Altamentoring or e-mail us. We would welcome your comments. ([email protected])


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Ana Lopes

Ana Lopes is a senior lecturer at the University of the west of England, attached to the Centre for Employment Studies Research.

Ana's research focuses on gender and work, trade unionism and living wage campaigns.