We worked with Alta to build a comprehensive curriculum introducing mentees and mentors to the mentorship process that alta provides.
Provide a mentoring scheme to support professional women in the aviation and aerospace industry.
Review what was currently offered in terms of mentoring at each founding partner organisation and other schemes within the industry, to establish the extent to which these schemes were meeting the needs of female professionals. This has enabled us to design a mentoring scheme that complements existing schemes already operating within the partner organisations.
Establish what professional women wanted from an industry-wide mentoring scheme, through extensive academic research. We have been in contact with just over two hundred and fifty professional women and employers in the industry, through interviews, focus groups and a survey. This has enabled us to design a mentoring scheme that is based upon employee and employer need and best practice. It has also enabled us to design a scheme that best suited the needs of women in the industry.
Provide career and social support to women in the industry, by women in the industry. This ‘woman to woman’ aspect of alta is important because we recognise from our research that gender power imbalances are endemic in the industry and there is a need to meet the specific needs of women. The support of other women can be hugely beneficial in helping female professionals meet their challenges.
Design and deliver face-to-face bespoke training for mentors and mentees at the partner organisations and on-line training for future mentors. All alta mentors are trained in mentoring skills.
Launch the scheme at the annual Women in Aviation and Aerospace conference at the Royal Aeronautical Society, London, to include all organisations involved and a representation from the industry. Hold at least two alta networking events per year at the RAeS, London, to bring mentors and mentees together. Mentees will have the opportunity to make presentations to their fellow group, creating personal development opportunities. The emphasis will be on the encouragement and coaching of women to network effectively for the benefit of their business and developing their own professional network.Offer junior women in the industry the opportunity to rub shoulders and speak on an equal footing with senior women as well as gain exposure to motivational speakers. This will enable HR & Diversity Executives the opportunity to share best practice on an on-going basis, thus strengthening their own industry networks.
Sustain the mentoring scheme through the knowledge exchange partnership to measure progress and the impact of alta.
The project was jointly proposed by Professor Susan Durbin, Centre for Employment Studies Research, University of the West of England; and Judith Milne, Chair of the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Committee at the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS). Judith has worked within the aviation industry for 30 years and holds a contract with the UK Department of Trade and Investment, mentoring and coaching young entrepreneurs in the UK. Both have experience of working with women in engineering and aviation, Professor Durbin through several years of involvement in research projects with female engineers, scientists and senior managers across the UK, Judith through her role as a mentor at UKTI and in her current role at the RAeS. Professor Durbin and her team were supported by a grant from the Economic & Social Research Council to work on this year-long project.
Research conducted by Professor Durbin over a number of years, exploring the careers of female professionals and managers, revealed a lack of role models and mentors for women. The experiences of most female interviewees were that most had no mentors and expressed mixed feelings about mentors they had been matched with in the past. Generally, these women had experienced difficulty in finding and approaching mentors while some expressed a preference for a female mentor who could understand their circumstances as working mothers. One of the problems identified was a lack of senior women at the organisation, who could act as mentors for these women, especially those at the higher management bands.
More recent research, as part of the alta project, also revealed that there was a need for a mentoring scheme for women in the aviation and aerospace industry. Women told us about their personal challenges: how they felt they stood out as ‘different’ due to their gender; often being the only woman on the team; and the challenges of juggling work and family commitments and/or working part-time hours. They told us that they felt alta could help to address the lack of female mentors as it would encourage more women to come forward to be mentored and more experienced women to put themselves forward (and be accepted as) mentors. When we asked women what they were specifically looking for from alta, they told us that they were looking for advice on careers and behaviours, access to female role models, matching with a mentor who could clearly meet their needs, being able to choose a mentor, clear structure and guidance on mentoring, the choice about how to meet (i.e. face to face or via social media) and involvement in a mentoring community and attendance at alta networking events. The ‘woman to woman’ aspect of alta was appealing to most women as they felt another women could help to show them the way, share common experiences and establish woman to woman trust. They also felt that alta could ultimately help more women into managerial and leadership roles.
The project offered the potential to build a network of support for women in aviation and aerospace that will lead to an increase in the numbers of women working (and progressing) within what is a vital business sector within the UK economy as a whole.