For the first time at World Routes, a panel solely of women were put together to discuss how their careers have panned out within the industry. The Women in Aviation and Tourism panel at World Routes gave a personal approach to the industry, and how to progress within it. Within the aviation and tourism sectors, women progressing to senior management has a much higher success rate than other industries.
The panel of speakers came from across the globe to shed some light on how they were able to work to the positions they have today. The board was moderated by the senior live content and industry relations manager for Routes, Carolyn Burnett, with Rikke Munk Christensen, vice president traffic planning for Finnair; Beverly Nicholson-Doty, commissioner of US Virgin Islands department of tourism; Susan Kurland, deputy commissioner of air service development, Chicago department of aviation and Yolanta Strikitsa, the director of Strikista Consulting.
Each of the panellists delved into their personal backgrounds, sharing with the audience their experiences in the aviation sector. All of the ladies had very different stories to tell, but key themes of taking chances and networking shone through each testimonial.
Susan Kurland shared that she would not be where she is today had she not taken risks. Starting out as an attorney, Kurland specialised in local law and aviation law. Much of Kurland’s progression within aviation came through volunteering – after becoming active on a national basis on the Airport Trade Association, she became somewhat of an expert, met people within the industry and got herself known.
After becoming a Head of Airports in Washington, Kurland dubbed herself during her tenure as a ‘chick with a checkbook’. The networking of importance cannot be underestimated, as Susan Kurland shared that her first client when she opened her consultancy firm she met whilst at the gym. There are a whole heap of opportunities at every turn, and taking them will help you get ahead. “People do not have straight lines in their careers. Be willing to take challenges and maybe it will work or maybe it won’t, but you will learn from every experience,” Kurland concluded.
Rikke Munk Christensen pointed out that you need to be flexible and able to relocate. Christensen began her career within aviation around 12 years ago – unfortunately she has been involved in carriers which have since gone bust! She moved to Copenhagen which is where she fell in love with the aviation industry, pointing out in particular her passion for the global aspect, and how important networking is for her career. Christensen echoed a common theme and said, “Get out of the box, get out of your comfort zone, be open to relocating and learn from it.”
Beverly Nicholson-Doty noted how similar the paths of the panels had been. Her career could have taken a very different turn, as her plan had been to be an English teacher, but a part-time job in the hospitality sector gave her the passion she has today. With a varied background as front of house in a hotel as well as being a director of sales and marketing, Nicholson-Doty took a risk on a position in association management that led her to where she is today.
Being based in the Virgin Islands, the importance of travellers cannot be missed for Nicholson-Doty as they have to come via either cruise or air. “Routes is like speed dating, which is nice, as the airline industry is about relationships.” Emphasis was put on being able to understand your data, knowing your facility but also recognising your strengths and weaknesses.
“Aviation was in my blood,” Yolanta Stikitsa said as she has family ties within the industry. Her uncle used to fly planes within their village in the Ukraine which sparked her passion for flying. Strikitsa worked in the United Kingdom before setting up her own consultancy firm in 2003. Her aim is to help people understand how valuable it is to have connections to other parts of the world, and have the freedom to travel. At the moment she is focussed on China, and she wants people to travel more and take more risks.
In terms of advice for other women aspiring to progress within the aviation industry, Christensen put a focus on understanding cultural differences as in the long run it makes it so much easier to do business, and taking advantage of the opportunities the Routes forum presents as it gives you the chance to meet a whole range of people in one place.
Kurland suggests becoming an expert in your own field, and says other women should push for extended opportunities and promotions – they may not necessarily come your way but you should push for them. “Have a sense of humour – be willing to laugh at yourself and don’t take life too seriously” was Kurland’s final piece of advice.
“Know the corporate culture of who you’re talking to, and don’t forget the partners within the destination or country you’re speaking to. They could be your biggest allies in terms of securing additional airlife. ‘No’ doesn’t mean ‘no’ – truly, it just means ‘not now’, as opposed to ‘I give up’” Nicholson-Doty revealed to the audience.
The personal aspect of the panel touched the audience, as a question was put forward asking how an audience member can get his daughters involved in the aviation industry he so loves, and how can his children share the passions the panel have. Nicholson-Doty’s personal experiences in bringing her own son to work with her meant the operational side of how he works was instilled in him as a young child. It directly stems from being exposed to her career in hospitality.
Whereas Strikitsa said it is important to get your children to understand what it is all about. In her career, before she began her own business, she was very clear with her employers that if they want her on board they have to be able to handle her children as well.