A new online mentoring platform could help professional women working in the aerospace and aviation industry progress their careers by connecting them with female mentors in the sector. Launched on 8 March, International Women's Day 2019, the platform is part of the 'alta' mentoring scheme, which began four years ago and is a partnership between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), Airbus, Little Blue Private Jets and the Royal Air Force, with additional support from Collins Aerospace.
"The UK is the country in Europe that has the least amount of women in engineering and this includes the aerospace industry, where there is a chronic shortage of women," said UWE Bristol project leader Sue Durbin, who is Professor in Human Resource Management at UWE Bristol and specialises in gender inequalities in employment in male dominated industries.
"Through this project, we want to empower women to gain confidence by receiving non-judgmental female-to-female advice and support, thereby enabling their careers to take off."
Professional women working in the aerospace and aviation sectors who want guidance can use the platform to help them link up with a suitable female mentor. Both are required to answer a series of questions online, based on which the website's algorithm matches up the mentee with a compatible mentor.
After initial contact, both parties are free to arrange when, where and how often they meet. All meetings and correspondence can be planned through the platform, providing a place for both parties to maintain their mentoring relationship in a safe, secure and confidential online environment.
The alta mentoring scheme, funded jointly by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the founding partners, looks to change the way females are perceived in male-dominated industries and aims to put an end to gender inequality in engineering. As well as helping women receive career guidance, the platform also helps mentors raise their profile in the profession.
The new platform, is run by the Royal Aeronautical Society and is part of the Society's commitment to delivering on the pledges it made as a supporter of the Women in Aviation Charter. The charter was signed by government and industry at Farnborough Air Show last July.
In addition to the platform, there will be alta networking and mentoring events throughout the year to help mentors and mentees meet face to face, as well as provide insights into career development and management.
Sarah Minett, chair of the Royal Aeronautical Society's Women in Aerospace and Aviation Committee, said: "Our new alta platform will provide a fantastic source of support, enabling women to connect with experienced females in key roles in the industry, including senior leadership, flight deck and engineering roles. We hope to see greater retention of women within the sector as well as more women returning to the industry after caring breaks. In turn this will contribute to companies' efforts to close the gender pay gap and help build more balanced and diverse organisations."
Professor Durbin said: "Such assistance can help women feel valued, assist them in getting into leadership positions, and increase female retention in the industry. It might also help them gain confidence, receive assistance when they are returning to work after a maternity break, or reduce their suffering from 'impostor syndrome,' whereby they feel they don't deserve to thrive in a male-dominated workplace."
The mentoring project comes at a time when many young women who take STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are failing to enter the engineering workforce, given the gender stereotyping that can exist in the sector, according to Professor Durbin.
Women engineers also often drop out of the industry or fail to return after maternity leave. "This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as a 'leaky pipeline', a metaphor used to describe the continuous loss of women in STEM as they climb the career ladder," said Durbin.
Judith Milne, founder of Little Blue Private Jets said: "We are keen advocates of the positive power of networking and alta will be a wonderful diverse network of people from across the industry all focused on a common theme. Success breeds success and women helping women can only lead to positive outcomes for the women involved and the industry as a whole."
The alta partners worked with mentoring platform specialist Perform Learn Develop to develop the online tool. The platform also contains a wealth of information to support the mentoring journey, including videos produced by the alta partners, a dedicated handbook with in-depth advice and guidance as well access to other mentoring materials produced by Perform, Learn and Develop.
Organisations wishing to become more involved in alta can also join as alta supporters by making a small donation to ensure its ongoing development and support, and the ability to hold networking events. In this way, companies can help their female professionals receive mentoring from across the industry – not just from someone in their company.