A growing number of Africa’s women aviation professionals could play more impactful roles in encouraging more African women not just to go into aviation but rise to the top. Ms. Adefunke Adeyemi, Regional Director for Advocacy and Strategic Relations of IATA for Africa, is focused on bringing value and international standards to the industry within the region. She is a notable encouragement for younger women in aviation.
Q: As the Regional Director for Advocacy and Strategic Relations of IATA for Africa, what is the focus of your work?
A: I am passionate about aviation and its immense impact on socio-economic development. My current role involves engaging with a wide range of stakeholders – governments, policy makers, influencers, business and private sector, and even the wider public – to promote the value of aviation and ensure the sustainability of an industry that connects and enriches the world.
Aviation has truly transformed the world as we know it today with its ability to connect people, places, goods and services, cultures, interests etc. all across the world. Last year, aviation carried over 4bn passengers, contributed over $2.7 trillion to global GDP accounting for 35% of world trade by value and supported almost 68 million jobs globally. In countries like Singapore, the U.A.E., Ethiopia and Rwanda that have made aviation part of their national strategic development and planning, aviation related activities help account for between 12-30% of the GDPs of these countries. With continued support to the industry through enabling policies and better collaboration, these figures could be substantially improved and spread around most countries in Africa.
In spite of all the benefits that aviation brings, in many parts of the world and in this region, aviation is still seen as a luxury and so many times, is treated as a source of revenue to fund other government expenditures. Aviation, for the most part, is burdened by high costs due to heavy taxes and charges, ill-conceived regulations and government policies. We work very closely with regulators, governments and other industry associations to promote the benefits of the industry and to encourage enabling regulation or policies. More recently, the drop in commodity prices also adversely affected the industry across the entire region. It is an industry that has many challenges but also many opportunities. One of the key projects I’ve been privileged to work on over the past 4 years is on enhancing intra-African connectivity. Africa is not very well connected in terms of air services. In many cases, the only way to get to countries in Africa is to travel for days or through other continents.
Following the launch of the Single African Air Transport Market and a clear implementation Action Plan by all relevant stakeholders driven by the African Civil Aviation Commission, I remain optimistic and with the belief that in the near future, Africa’s connectivity challenges will become a thing of the past.
Q: What are your views on how to encourage and empower more women into leadership positions across the aviation value chain in Africa?
A: I believe in women and in women as leaders. We have so much to offer. For starters, aviation has traditionally been a male dominated industry with the majority of women who work in the sector working as cabin crew or in ground services. There are very few women in top or senior leadership positions within the sector and account for about 3% of airline CEOs in the world! Some of the top 10 highest paying jobs are in aviation – pilots and flight engineers but women only represent about 7% of this group globally. Interestingly, women now account for about 50% of global business travel.
My message here is not about women playing the Gender card but rather, to focus on how to support and encourage women to aim high and attain the highest levels in spite of the challenges and contributory factors. It’s about ensuring that through the combination of the 3 Cs – Confidence, Competence and Capital, women in aviation in Africa and the world over (in fact in every sector) achieve their dreams and reach the top in the corporate and business environments.
IATA is being proactive about this issue, realizing that there was a need to encourage our female workforce to become their best selves and to reach for greater heights. We will also be launching a new Women in Aviation Leadership Diploma sponsored by the IATA Training Fund which will deliver targeted training for women in African airlines. The first class will is 31 October – 2 November. I’m excited to be delivering one of the modules on the program and encourage all African airline executives to nominate their female workforce to attend.
Q: As a woman who holds a position such as this, have you ever faced, or are there any challenges you face in your workplace, being a woman in this position in Africa?
A: The argument of women being the weaker sex is long gone. We have women leaders in aviation and also in Africa. The African Union Commissioner is woman. The Secretary-General of ICAO is a woman. The former Sec-Gen of AFCAC is a woman. We have amazing women airline CEOs In RwandAir, Air Namibia and Air Botswana, DGs of CAA and other leading women across the value chain. So the glass ceiling has been broken globally and in Africa. The issue is, we need more!
IATA as an organization has also taken key steps to empower women and women, including me, are in several key positions of leadership and responsibility. So while the barriers are slowly but surely being broken, there’s still a long way to go. There should be more women at the top of management and in strategic jobs, not just because we are women but because we create and add significant value. Having said that, one does face a few challenges, mainly culture, perception and mindset. The most important thing though is doing what you need to do with competence and confidence using your capital and you will be respected not just merely tolerated. This has been my experience.
Q: How do you think we can address the skills gap and ageing workforce in African aviation?
A: It is well known that Africa has a very ageing workforce. For example, the average age of a flight engineer in Africa is about 60 years old! This is on a continent where the average age of the total population is 19! In addition, Africa has one of the fastest projected passenger growth numbers for the next 20 years. So, all these tell us that there will be an increased demand for aviation services, with the necessary workforce that can support these projections.
The declining number of aviation professionals in Africa due to age and retirement create opportunities for women and youth to move in, given they are a vital part of Africa’s human resources. This means there should be no limits to women and youth across the continent embracing aviation as a career choice and I’m very passionate about this. We need to channel and encourage girls into STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths, so we build up the pipeline for technical skills in aviation like flight engineers, pilots, aerospace engineers, etc.
However, having a career in aviation is not only about becoming a pilot or flight engineer, as awesome as these jobs are. There are so many other areas to consider that need skilled workforce to sustain them. general management, air traffic controllers, environmentalists, engineers, technicians, IT, aircraft manufacturing, mechanics, designers, lawyers, and airport development. The list goes on. We expect the industry to continue grow and that growth can only be supported by a skilled workforce in all these areas. Aviation can form a new career path for thousands and millions across Africa, especially in today’s world where many new career avenues have opened up and are being actively embraced in society.
Q: What advice would you give to women who want to be leaders in the aviation industry?
A: You can do it! Focus on the 3 Cs – Confidence, Competence and Capital. Don’t be daunted by anything. Believe you are already a leader while recognizing the value in collaboration and team work. Identify your mentors and sponsors and grow with them. Nothing is impossible. Impossible is nothing!