Women Leaders and Breaking Barriers - Adefunke Adeyemi

Women Leaders and Breaking Barriers - Adefunke Adeyemi

In his famous book 'Outliers', Malcolm Gladwell describes an expert as someone who has focused on a particular thing, activity or endeavor for a minimum of 10 years (or 10,000 hours). So we can confidently call Adefunke Adeyemi, the Regional Director for Airline and External Relations of IATA for Africa and the Middle East, an expert in Aviation. She has invested about 15 years in the sector, focusing on bringing value and international standards to the industry within the region, and helping to transform lives and the business environment through her work and initiatives.

Funke commenced her foray into aviation early in 2004 while she was still a practicing lawyer in one of Nigeria’s top firms, getting involved with aviation related transactions. She was seconded to the then Virgin Nigeria Airways in mid-2005 to set up and coordinate its legal services and in December 2005, was appointed by the Board of the airline at just 31 as its Head of Legal and Company Secretary. She was approached in late 2008 by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to head up its activities in English speaking West Africa. In that role, she was in effect IATA’s ambassador in the region, overseeing its air transport activities to facilitate the implementation of international standards and best practices regarding safety and security, passenger and cargo facilitation and all other areas of aviation activity. She also ensured the implementation of IATA’s global initiatives to enhance air transport across the region. In June 2013, she was promoted to Regional Head for Airline and External Relations for Africa and the Middle East, covering 68 countries. In her current leadership role, she promotes the value of aviation and advocates the interests of the industry, acting as the interface between the airline community, other players in the air transport value chain and even the wider community. She’s been involved in many global initiatives, including working with a core group to re-vision and re-shape global air transport for the foreseeable future, more recently, in charge of the Women in Leadership initiative of IATA in Africa and the Middle East and has been a national negotiation at the past 6 Climate Change conferences, including the last one in Paris.

Let’s now hear from Funke her thoughts about women leaders and breaking barriers.

I believe in women and in women as leaders. We have so much to offer. Starting from the aviation industry, aviation has traditionally been a male dominated industry with the majority of women who work in the sector working as cabin crew or in ground services. There are very few women in top or senior leadership positions within the sector and account for less than 5% of airline CEOs in the world! Some of the top 10 highest paying jobs are also in aviation – pilots and flight engineers, but women only represent about 7% of this group globally. Interestingly, women now account for about 50% of global business travel. This phenomenon is not limited to aviation; it cuts across most governments and the private sector.

This raises the issue of Gender balance but my message here is not about playing the gender card. It’s about ensuring that through the combination of the 3 Cs – Confidence, Competence and Capital, women the world over and in every sector, enterprise or field of endeavor, achieve their dreams and reach the highest heights in the corporate and business environments. Confidence is about self-belief, professionalism and positive comportment;  Competence is about hard work, credibility and integrity; and finally, Capital doesn’t have to be just about money or funds, but should equally be about developing your personal brand, creating a niche and self-development.

IATA is being proactive about this issue, realizing that there was a need to encourage our female workforce to become their best selves and to reach for greater heights. This involved a combination of building confidence through what we call Gravitas training, Mentoring through our Big Sister Little Sister programme (my little sister is great by the wayJ) and inviting successful women and men from across the region to share their life, work or business experiences to motivate our workforce at various forums and events we organize. I also believe that both men and women have a role to play in not just mentoring but also sponsoring talented individuals and helping them achieve their goals. There is a lot of mentoring going on but sponsoring is especially important though not quite as prominent i.e. someone to take you under their wing and provide you with opportunities that you may never otherwise have or to take a chance on you. This is actually one of the key contributory factors in the lives of many successful people and should be strongly encouraged.

One last thing – I’m now focusing on a new area which is to promote aviation as a career choice for Women and the Youth. Having a career in aviation is not only about becoming a pilot or cabin crew, as awesome as these jobs are. There are so many other areas to consider that need skilled workforce to sustain them e.g. General Management, Air Traffic Controllers, Environmentalists, Engineers, Technicians, IT, Aircraft manufacturing, mechanics, designers, airport development…the list goes on. We expect the industry to continue grow and that growth can only be supported by a skilled workforce in all these areas. Aviation can form a new career path for thousands and millions, especially in today’s world where many new career avenues have opened up and are being actively embraced in society.

You can do it! Focus on the 3 Cs – Confidence, Competence and Capital. Don’t be daunted by anything. Believe you are already a leader while recognizing the value in collaboration and team work. Identify your mentors and sponsors and grow with them. Have the right attitude, remain friendly and charming and you will go far. Nothing is impossible. Impossible is nothing!

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the millions of working women out there. Women who work, either as homemakers, or running their own businesses or within organizations, to achieve their dreams and to help support their families, friends and communities. You are all simply awesome. We all contribute so much to the world in our own way. Whatever it is you do, take pride in it, strive to be the best you can be and make your mark on this world. I’m proud to be one of you.


Adefunke Adeyemi