AVALON AIRSHOW 2019 SPECIAL: Women in the aviation industry are among the most passionate people on the planet about their work. Like Lea Vesic, head of corporate partnerships and community outreach for the Australian chapter of Women in Aviation International (WAI), they want more girls to see the runway to opportunity in careers that span piloting, logistics, engineering, airport operations and more.
At Avalon Airshow 2019, Vesic is hosting “Celebrating Diversity and Championing Change”, an event on the afternoon of Thursday 28 February that brings together RAAF representatives and sponsors of WAI Australia, such as Boeing, BAE Systems and Hawker Pacific, giving WAI Australia members and industry stakeholders a chance to connect and network with one another.
“Our mission and vision are to ensure young girls and women who are interested or currently working within the aviation and aerospace industry have the opportunity to do so without judgement, prejudice or scrutiny just for being themselves,” says Vesic.
WAI Australia will also formally launch its 2019 initiatives at Avalon. These include further industry collaborations, and an Airborne Outreach Program which will take STEM engagement focused on aviation and aerospace to remote and rural communities.
Vesic became hooked on aviation in high school after an introduction-to-flying experience that led her to study Aviation Management at the University of New South Wales, and then gain her commercial pilot’s license. Various roles, including as a demonstrator pilot of flight simulators and a private jet broker in Europe and Hong Kong, eventually saw her touch down in Canberra with a determination to change persistent sexist attitudes in and around aviation, and invite girls in!
Vesic often works in tandem with equality-minded leaders at GE—including Keren Rambow, GE Aviation’s regional general manager for the South Pacific, and Matt Rowe, GE Aviation’s military sales director in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia — to bring initiatives that champion female participation in aviation to life.
Rambow started her career in aviation by studying high-energy astrophysics and electrical engineering with the Australian Defence Force Academy, and has traveled the world as an avionics expert with the Royal Australian Air Force.
Like Vesic, Rambow is an activist for more girls seeing their future in aviation. She often talks to girls at school events and mentors young women at GE.
At GE Aviation, women are among the most senior executives setting company direction in research and development, and commercial and military sales and services.
Cristina Seda-Hoelle, Head of global Services for GE Aviation Military Systems Operation, who is visiting Australia for the Avalon Airshow in 2019, has worked in various aviation roles over the past 16 years. Her original degree was in Environmental Science, and she worked in GE Motors and GE Lighting before joining the Aviation team as a supply-chain planner.
“I grew up in supply chain, running workshops in our manufacturing facilities, mainly aircraft-engine service facilities,” says Seda-Hoelle. “My passion is overhaul and repair facilities where I can see the engines first hand… I like when they’ve already been run. A shiny new engine isn’t as exciting to me as one that gets torn down and I can see what happens to the parts, and see what we can do to build the engine back up.”
Seda-Hoelle says she never saw herself as a corporate leader, but her love of challenge and learning naturally led to interesting and ever more demanding roles. “I feel if you are willing to take the big jobs and be flexible, and have a high say-do ratio, you can achieve whatever you aspire to.”
She seems unfazed by the hurdles facing women in the aviation field, but says, “I had to take hard jobs along the way. It hasn’t been perfect.”
She adds, “It’s not that I’m unaware that I’m sometimes the only female in the room, but I try to be my authentic self. That’s what’s important to anyone, rather than thinking about whether you’re female or male.”
Seda-Hoelle believes that an important aspect of encouraging women into aviation is that companies need to create flexible, supportive work environments for parents to be able to share responsibilities for their children: “I have two boys aged 10 and five, and my husband also works at GE, and we have both had bosses who support the fact that we may have a sick child who needs to be taken care of, or that we need to be at a school play.”
While executives like Seda-Hoelle and Rambow and their like-minded male colleagues work to change corporate aviation culture to favour true equality, Vesic is building the pipeline of opportunities for the young and aspiring.
The past year has seen WAI Australia gain traction and recognition in Australia, thanks to the participation of role models such as Air Vice Marshal Catherine Roberts, Wing Commander Leanne Lee and Maureen Dougherty, President of Boeing in the Asia Pacific region.
Vesic says that as a result of widespread support and high-profile events such as WAI Australia’s National Conference held last year in September, the organisation has “commenced high-level discussions with Government” to support opportunities for young women.
With women still representing only 20% of the aviation workforce, and a forecast shortage of 640,000 pilots alone needed to enable industry growth over the coming two decades, there is an urgent economic need for women to be welcomed into every aspect of aviation, from engineering to airline management.
Says Vesic, “Australia is uniquely placed to provide the global aerospace market with world-class professionals, and WAI Australia is committed to working with community and industry to ensure that aviation becomes progressive, diverse and inclusive.”