Sarah Wilkin, founder and CEO of Fly Green Alliance (FGA), was a recent guest at the Sustainability Aerospace & Defence Pioneers podcast by the legal firm, Bird&Bird, where she talked about her underlying motivations for setting up FGA. Amongst these was the life long desire to set up her own business, to gain seniority and a career after being freelance for many years, and on an aspirational level to be able work from anywhere in the world. However, an additional main motivation was to improve the gender balance in leadership roles in aviation and tech:
“Even in 2021, the CEO line-up for all the airline CEOs didn’t include women, so I just saw that in aviation we did need to accelerate all of the gender balance work. It became an important reason that I set up FGA, just to have a different perspective, maybe a bit more female leadership, and to bring a different way…..and open up the industry to more diversity.”
It was line-ups like this one and comments like “What are you doing here in this room full of men in grey suits?” by one male British Airways’ Senior Manager at an aviation conference, that made FGA founder & CEO realise why sustainable aviation fuel and surrounding work landed in her life: “Aviation was an industry that didn’t have many female leads and it personally was a time in my life that so many driving factors came together and I had to go for it on many levels.” It brought her love of travel and the importance of sustainability together but as she could see it was also gender balance and diversity that was missing from the industry too and it needed to be modernised. As one of FGA’s wise friends said: a workplace should reflect society.
“After having worked in a different industry previously I was surprised that an industry that revolves around innovation and tech was still male heavy in 2019/2020. I realised that needed to change. So we began asking questions, reminding people to not assume a CEO or scientist was male and showing up on LinkedIn and at events.”
After years of being a bit stilted in her own career due to some personal set backs, Sarah who had mostly been managed by male leads in her life thought this was her opportunity to break the mould and support an industry that might need to work a bit harder on this topic. As a boutique independent consultancy, FGA decided to do things a bit differently through the imagery and language used in communications and through its team management. In 2020, FGA set up their personal development pages and started to work on building confidence for new comers and removing barriers to female leadership. By 2020, Sarah was promoted on paper by her colleague in a proposal they created, to CEO, and after consideration decided it was an important milestone for the progress of FGA and important for the industry to have more female CEOs and decision makers, and so took on the new role.
On International Women’s Day 2021, FGA posted all the women working at FGA and our researcher’s new baby because having children present is the reality for women at work.
Since then, we have continued to write and research on a variety of subjects including how to support women to work and be mothers and how to improve diversity, equity and inclusion both in the aviation industry and in the workplace. Personal and professional development form part of FGA’s core values, we therefore actively encourage flexible working for parents and shared-parenting in order to help women stay in work and stay senior after having children. This is because women who take career-breaks often do so in part due to a lack of flexible working opportunities, and face greater obstacles when returning to the labour market, often ending up working in positions beneath their potential and skillset. As part of FGA’s commitment to supporting mental health and wellbeing, FGA is working on a compassion-based approach to personal development goals. These personal values align with FGA’s business values because staff with higher emotional wellness are more resilient and able to handle change and crisis better, both in work and in life.
Mentorship is equally an important part of FGA which Sarah has integrated into the FGA work culture. As an intern in 2020, Sarah’s mentorship and my time with FGA has been invaluable in setting me up for my next steps professionally. Caroline Climie, who studied a Master’s degree in 2022 in International Climate Law (LLM) and carried out her Master’s thesis project with FGA, described her experience so far:
“I collaborated with FGA in 2021; what I saw was life-changing when we collaborated. Sarah/FGA educated me and the public about SAF and sustainability, but FGA is about so much more than just SAF. FGA stand for protecting the right to a safe climate, they work heavily on mentoring, equality, humanity and sustainability; Preventing human rights harms as a result of carbon emissions, & recognising the right to a healthy environment. Aviation, shipping and climate change regulating bodies are areas and industries where I see room for improvement in gender diversity. These very male-dominated areas are struggling to achieve targets where women have so much to bring to the table.”
Since 2021, we have seen initiatives such as Aviation for All and Diversity in transport being set up. FGA also joined some youth and diversity work with Boeing in 2021 and Boeing posted their gender stats that year for the first time and made commitments to gender balance. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and EUROCONTROL now have a gender balance quota too. In 2022, IATA and EUROCONTROL committed to having 25% more women in technical roles by 2025 as part of the global 25by2025 initiative, and there has already been progress in the number of women in leadership positions in aviation. In 2022, the line-up looked like this:
FGA is proud that they now have a place at many tables, for the progress that has been made and will continue their mission to bring diversity, equity and inclusion to the aviation sector and society at large. FGA Trends 2023 will be out soon focusing on – travel, sustainability, sport and life & society.
Listen to FGA’s latest podcast here.
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