Any time is a good time to become or seek a mentor but in the current COVID-19 climate, it has never been so important. Alta offers a free, innovative, online mentoring platform to professional women in aerospace and aviation who are seeking woman-to-woman mentoring support and easy access to professional women working in the sector.
What is Alta
Alta is a blended mentoring programme founded by the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), University of the West of England Bristol, Airbus UK, the Royal Air Force and Little Blue Private Jets as a result of a one-year, ESRC-funded Knowledge Exchange project and the matched financial and in-kind contributions from the industry partners. The aim was to provide a mentoring scheme for professional women across the industry, based upon what women wanted from mentoring and drawing from the research responses. The new platform was launched on International Women’s Day, 8 March 2019, complemented by periodical formal and informal networking sessions. Alta consists of an online matching platform which enables mentees and mentors to connect in in a safe and secure environment, supported by dedicated events to help women to meet like-minded peers, providing career and social support and the opportunity to build a community of women across aerospace and aviation.
Who is Alta available to?
Alta is available at no charge to any professional woman at any stage in her career working in aerospace and aviation, anywhere in the world, and there are now over 350 unique users registered on the platform.
What are the benefits of signing up for Alta?
Alta is a blended online and face-to-face mentoring programme. Being online helps to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, development of individual capabilities and sharing of identiﬁcation with the mentor’s expertise. Online mentoring transcends organisational and geographical boundaries, making it widely accessible and a benefit to under-represented groups; increased interaction between mentors and mentees; easier access to information; and feeling supported. This is particularly relevant to aerospace and aviation whereby women may have limited opportunities to connect with other professional women within their companies; those in SMEs may even be one of the only women at their company. With the addition of a face-to-face element with the option of meeting up with your mentor/mentee, open networking sessions organised through the alta steering group and featuring expert talks, speed mentoring sessions and further networking opportunities, alta makes it more personal while providing flexibility for those involved.
Talent attraction and retention
The sector has a skills shortage, which could be partly addressed through the recruitment and retention of more women (women comprise just 4% of pilots and 10% of engineers in this industry, with very few occupying senior leadership positions). Mentoring can therefore be a key retention tool as women who have mentors can feel a sense of belonging, feel more valued, gain the support they need to progress their careers and make use of a ‘safe space’ where they can talk to a trusted mentor, about personal and work related challenges.
Mentors have the opportunity to be part of a mechanism for change; alta aims to provide a practical way which women leaders can provide support to retain women in the industry through reaching out both across their own organisations and beyond. The scheme benefits both women working in primes who may have internal networks as well as ‘harder to reach’ women, such as those based in SMEs.
Mentee and Mentor experiences
Victoria Cope, Head of Procurement at BAE Systems, shared her experience in the sector and being an alta mentee:
“The tangible changes I have seen in myself are that I am more confident in communicating to others that I am a working parent – specifically I am no longer ‘apologetic’ in my language and conduct with colleagues, peers and leaders with regards to balancing both career and parenthood and instead use parenthood experiences as an engagement tool in the workplace. The practical guidance provided by my mentor, helped to ‘set myself up for success’ on my transition back to work and was invaluable. Allowing me to have full focus when at work and maximise quality time with my family when home. My leadership skills have also been enhanced through the mentoring experience, helping me to nuance my leadership approach through reflection and challenge. I would recommend alta mentoring to women at all stages of their career and life journey. Having the benefit of an independent female who may have trodden the path before you and can support you in negotiating the challenges and opportunities of professional life is of significant value and an experience that can’t be replicated by formal training. I am in huge debt to my alta mentor for her support and I look forward to continuing to pay it forward to other females within the alta scheme.”
For entrepreneur and alta steering group founding member and mentor, Judith Milne, the benefits of mentoring others has been beneficial to her personal development and motivation. She explains:
“As a business owner and entrepreneur, I have found the Alta platform invaluable to help me develop my mentoring skills, enhance empathy for other women’s industry perspectives and ensure that my private jet business is linked into wider industry challenges. Being a mentor on the Alta team has helped me to develop and maximise the value of my own network as well as expanding mentees networks, enabling them to tap into my own sources of support and advice. Fundamentally, the ethos behind the mentoring scheme, women helping women to succeed, makes me feel that I am making an individual difference to the industry I am passionate about and have spent my career in. I would recommend both mentees and mentors to join the Alta network, to learn, find support when it’s needed and develop their own network of industry contacts who can help them, and their companies, do the best they can. And best of all, sooner or later you will meet someone you can help!”
RAeS Council Member and alta mentor, Yvonne Elsorougi further highlights the direct impact she has seen on mentees’ career progression and the industry as a whole, adding:
“The alta platform is benefitting all the women that are involved, both mentees and mentors. In particular, alta has been of enormous help to women working in small organisations where they might be the only female or potentially lack access to a mentoring scheme. Two of the alta mentees I have supported have seen their careers progress. The first has gone on to set up her own women’s network at her organisation in France. She has also taken up a more senior role there. A second mentee, the only female in her organisation for many years, has gone on to secure a job at one of the UK’s major engineering consulting companies. Both women had the confidence to go for more senior roles, with more responsibility and autonomy, progressing their careers in line with their ambitions.”
How do I become a mentee or mentor?
The matching platform offers a safe and secure environment, through which communications and meeting dates can be organised alongside supporting materials, such as an alta handbook, videos and mentor/mentee training. Any professional women in the industry wishing to join alta registers to join dedicated platform and the request is moderated by RAeS staff. The applicant will answer a range of questions and then will provide the top three matches. Once matched you will proceed to begin the mentoring.
While the platform remains free to any women wishing to become a mentee or mentor, organisations who would like to become more involved and contribute to its costs can join the programme as alta supporters for a small annual donation.
Sarah Minett, Managing Director, Mission Systems, Collins Aerospace and alta mentor, told us how alta has enhanced her own organisation’s diversity and inclusion drive as it provides a robust, safe and effective development tool available to female staff. Sarah said:
“alta gives women access to mentors from across many parts of the industry who have very varied experience – opportunities they would not benefit from using other mentoring schemes. The system is very easy to use and, as it matches mentors to mentees, there is an extremely high percentage of successful mentoring relationships formed. The fact that it is free to the individuals means that every female in our industry can participate, and the additional events that are held both in person, and more recently via video conference, bring the advantage of being part of a broader learning community too. I was pleased for Collins to make a contribution as a supporter to enable the platform and associated events to grow, and I am keen to encourage more organisations to join the Supporters team. From a personal perspective I have been delighted to engage in a number of mentoring relationships with mentees from around the globe, and I have learned as much from my mentees as they have from me. It’s great to be part of this exciting initiative which is making a real difference to the women in our industry.”
Find out more and register for free
The impact and challenges women have faced in particular has been significant and we need to continue to ensure the improvements to gender balance over the last two years are not taken for granted. Only by supporting each other can we come through the crisis and continue to see progress on the goals of the Women in Aviation & Aerospace and Women in Defence Charters, ensuring that a diverse, inclusive and gender balanced workforce is embedded in recovery.
The next Alta mentoring event, ‘The Power of Networking’, is free to attend and will be held on Zoom on Tuesday 8 September.