man woman  © Milkos
© Milkos

It’s International Women’s Day, which brings to mind a conversation I had at Air Cargo Africa with a senior industry executive, one in a position of power – but one I had thought was pretty progressive and democratic.

He said he would only pick people who were “right for the job”, regardless of gender.

Fair enough, you might think. That’s what’s best for the industry, surely? The right people?

Of course. But how odd that all the “right people” seem to be men.

Without wishing to embarrass the organisers of Air Cargo Africa, take a look at these images from the conference.


Out of some 50 speakers, just four – or 8% – were women.

The audience, however, had a far greater proportion of women. And what, one wonders, were these women thinking as they were talked at, again, by panels of middle-aged men? “I’ve heard these speeches before. Nothing really seems to change in air cargo?”

Or perhaps: “Is this the industry for me? No one in front of me is a representative of me?”

Both those thoughts could be cured by a greater representation of women on the platform.

If the story is always the same, why not change the story-teller?

Women will never rise to the top unless they feel welcomed by an industry – and by welcomed, I mean promoted or, at the very least, respected, and asked to offer their views.

Just put yourself in their shoes, Manolo Blahniks, if you fancy. Imagine – if you are a man – going to a conference where 92% of the speakers – and all the moderators – were women…  Would you imagine your views would be welcomed? Wouldn’t you wonder why you were in this industry?

It’s going to take some positive action to ensure that some of the “right people” are women. And it’s all too easy for companies just to say, “we can’t find one we like”.

Today, the new chair of the UK’s influential Institute of Directors, Charlotte Valeur, accused the corporate world of lying when they said they couldn’t find the “right” women to join at the top levels.

Speaking to The Guardian, Ms Valeur criticised large listed companies for not achieving diversity targets. She said: “Do we really think that’s difficult? It’s a lie. It’s not difficult.

“I will be very unpopular with FTSE 100 [companies], but I don’t actually mind.”

In fact, the percentage of female executive directors of FTSE 250 companies has actually dropped: from a measly 7.7% in October 2017, to just 6.4% now.

As The Guardian notes: “Businesses claim that it is difficult to find women with the right experience to become directors, but many are also failing to promote women internally.”

Ms Valeur said: “People don’t like change. Talent of all kinds is out there, but you have to consciously look for it.”

“And if you don’t, it’ll never be there.”

Arguably the best air cargo company at the moment, Atlas Air, appears to have taken this on board and has, well, taken women onto its board, which is now 30% female.

Did Atlas lower its standards to find sufficient numbers of women? One suspects not. Did it have to look beyond its normal cohorts? Probably.

So, senior executives. You may have to look harder.

You may even have to ask yourselves, could “the right person”, possibly, look and sound different from those that have come before?

Perhaps we simply need to expand our minds a little, when it comes to what the “right person” actually means.

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