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Addressing the diversity challenge in the UK aerospace industry

Addressing the diversity challenge in the UK aerospace industry

The Aerospace and Defence sector has a longstanding diversity problem. Many organisations are aware of the disparity and actively seeking ways to include better representation of groups. But the diversity challenge is still a thorn in many sector leaders’ sides, not least because of the headlines generated whenever gender pay gaps or BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) recruitment figures are revealed.

However, headlines can be deceiving and while more can and is being done to better redress the inequalities that exist, we must not lose sight of the great strides that have already been taken over the last few years. Take the issue of pay as a case in point.

Pay disparity

Figures obtained by PayScale show that the median salary for male workers within the sector stands at £37,591 while for their female colleagues that figure is 13 per cent less – at £32,609. Yes, there is a sizeable gap but compared to the UK national average pay gap of 17.9 per cent, the aerospace industry is faring rather well in that regard. Much of this is down to the concerted efforts of many of the sector’s largest employers.

Indeed, BAE Systems recently reported their 2019 median gender pay gap to be at 9.1 per cent – a narrowing from the 11.2 per cent reported in 2018. Rolls Royce, for their part, has a reported median gender pay gap of 8.1 per cent, while MB Aerospace’s stands at 6.4 per cent. Mettis Aerospace states theirs at 3.4%.

The industry as a collective has rallied to drive greater parity when it comes to pay. Last summer, 50 UK companies in the aerospace and aviation sectors signed a Charter to work towards gender balance within the industry. By abiding by the terms of this new agreement, the sector as a whole could do much to address that other major challenge to which it has long struggled to effectively address – attracting new talent into the industry.

Overcoming the STEM challenge

In 2015, the then Aerospace Industries Association Chief Executive Officer Marion Blakey, stated that the industry does “not have a robust pipeline of young people with the right skills and training coming into the workforce.” She was right then and the same can still be said today. Indeed, the aerospace industry is being faced with some critical skills gaps. Boeing, for instance, estimates that the sector will need 637,000 more pilots and 648,000 airline maintenance technicians by 2036.

However, progress in tackling the skills shortage is certainly being made. According to The Engineering Council, the number of female engineers is rising year on year and now make up 13 per cent of Chartered Engineers. But, clearly, there is still a long way to go. Then there is the representation of people from different ethnicities or sexual orientations to consider; a third of engineers from minority ethnic backgrounds don’t find engineering very inclusive and 85 per cent have had assumptions made about them based on their ethnicity. Moreover, why should the aerospace industry encourage diversity?

Recruiting from a more diverse talent pool will help to fulfil those needs, and organisations will also benefit from getting the best talent for each role and a wider range of viewpoints to better inform business decisions. And it all starts at the very beginning.

Start as you mean to go on

Improving diversity is a long game. Companies must inspire the next generation to look at aerospace and aviation as a potential career path. For example, aerospace firm Northrop Grumman has been working with schools to promote STEM education amongst women and ethnic minorities. It also provides educational grants and internships.

Inviting female and BAME role models to speak in schools is one of many vital steps, which will make all students aware of the opportunities open to them. 

Improving the employer brand

A company that can show a diverse workforce and that is actively addressing the diversity challenge will be a more attractive proposition to new recruits – particularly younger workers. They are more likely to work for an employer who shows them that they focus on inclusion and that it’s their skills and experience that really matter.

Financial performance

Improving diversity goes beyond generating positive coverage and improving reputation. It can have tangible impacts on the bottom-line and can boost financial returns. Companies with good gender diversity were found to deliver better long-term returns by investors. Plus, having a mix of ethnicities on a team can make it easier to understand and enter new geographies.

The diversity challenge in aerospace is significant and requires industry-wide collaboration to address it. Solutions are required at several levels – within schools, within the industry and outside of the sector. Improving diversity should be a priority for aerospace companies, not only because it is the moral thing to do, but because there are many business benefits to be realised.

Why relocate for your career?

Sometimes, the perfect job isn’t a short commute away, in fact, the best position might be a few hundred miles away. Relocating for your career might seem drastic, but for many people, it is a positive move. When you take the leap to another city, or even another country, your career can go much further – and not just geographically.

Much to consider

There is a lot to be considered when relocating and many people are involved in making a decision. Moving to a different area impacts your friends and family too. For those with children, the decision can be more complex; there are pros and cons to moving your family, but they may benefit from better facilities such as schools and outdoor spaces. Moving your children from a busy city to a peaceful seaside could expand their horizons and bring a calmer dynamic to the fold. However, there is the potential disruption to their social circle and school network.

When considering a move, you must consider your holistic happiness and job satisfaction. What lifestyle does the new location offer? Swapping high rises for rolling hills is a no-brainer for some.

Paying off in the long term

Career-wise, relocating can pay dividends in the long run. First, it shows that you are deeply committed to your career. That will make your CV stand out to any future employers. Of course, your benefits package and pay may drastically increase and your standard of living could improve. Moving to an area where the cost of living is lower and getting a salary increase at the same time, is a double-boon for your bank account.

Network and skill building

The opportunities offered by a role in a new location can be extensive. It’s a sure-fire way of building your soft skills and extending your network. Relocating can be character-building, enabling you to go outside of your comfort zone.

You’ll be exposed to alternative ways of thinking and different people. Some areas are well known for certain industries – Bournemouth, for example, is becoming known for a booming tech scene dubbed ‘Silicon Beach’.

Gaining an edge in the market

New places can also introduce you to new cultures – especially when you move internationally. In the future, if your business is expanding, you may have the edge with your experience of the local area. Indeed, some form of international experience is often needed to get that coveted place in the boardroom.

Reaching the next level

Take, as an example, the experience of Anna Chow, who relocated after working for 24 years at AT&T. She decided that she was at the right stage in her family and professional life to move across America, from New Jersey to Texas. There, she took a job leading sales operations, progressing rapidly through three different positions to eventually become President of AT&T’s national business. A well-timed career move catapulted her to the top of her career ladder.

At any stage of your career, relocating can be the jumpstart that it needs to reach the next level. It’s a life changing decision – one that will make you a better professional and a stronger person.