To mark International Women’s Day (8 March), Aviation Business News has created a week-long web series in which we meet some of the women making their mark on an industry typically seen as dominated by men. Today, we talk to the busy and brilliant Karen Taylor, managing director of Gloucestershire Airport in the UK.
Although she hasn’t spent her career in aviation, Karen Taylor (pictured below) is no stranger to the industry and the passion it brings out in anyone who encounters it. She was introduced to flying through her uncle, who owned a four-seater jet named ‘Red Robin’. He used it to fly into Gloucestershire Airport and take Taylor onboard to explore the skies above.
“I remember it being really exciting […] there was just this buzz about it, a bit of a different feel to other things. I’ve been in a lot of industries, some fast-paced, some slower pace but this has a real buzz about it,” she emphasises.
Starting her working life as a trainee in the Natwest Banking Group, her career has been varied, taking in stops in finance, housing and construction before she found herself at Gloucestershire Airport.
Working in finance was her first, but not last, exposure to working in a male dominated industry. The experience taught Taylor “how to handle difficult situations”, as she learnt “how to deal with that, how you learn from the experience and learn how to be better next time”.
Along with much of the aviation industry, Gloucestershire Airport is undergoing a period of significant change, spearheaded by Taylor. This means that there is a lot of variety in her day-to-day job.
After two directors left the business and she was promoted, the airport decided to restructure its senior leadership team. It also put big property developments on the agenda, requiring the hiring of multiple members of staff. This is on top of handling any fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“A lot of those [hires] aren’t in post at the moment, so my days can vary with helping out with the financial reporting of the business, doing some HR or property work, or having a one-to-one with a staff member who’s feeling a bit wobbly in the afternoon,” Taylor reports.
“Just yesterday I was out talking to some contractors about where the boundary line on the airport was, while also dealing with customers. I’m hoping that once my new structure is in place and I have more support underneath me, it’ll be more about shareholder and stakeholder engagement and pushing forth the opportunities at the airport.”
Learn and grow
With her mind set on the future, Taylor acknowledges that encouraging younger people – both boys and girls – is essential to the growth of the industry. With children of her own, she has been witness to a local Gloucestershire school’s efforts in urging kids into STEM subjects.
“All the local schools seem to be running STEM projects, encouraging women to do science, technology engineering and maths subjects and they tend to try and target girls with potential. My daughter is very mathematically minded and scientifically minded and she’s been offered special Saturday schools and things like that, so that’s a first,” Taylor says.
Also in Gloucestershire Airport’s sights is the charity Fly2Help, which is run by Kim Lewington [who will be featured in tomorrow’s edition of AvWomen]. The charity runs programmes so children can experience a part of the industry, while offering information on the various paths available.
As the pandemic slows and more opportunities open up, Taylor hopes to integrate learning experiences into the airport. She intends to work experience with opportunities to do things such as sit in the cockpit of a private jet, go out with the fire crew, sit in air traffic control with some earphones on, or head to the on-sight engineering base and see what it’s like to provide maintenance on an aircraft.
“If they actually go and see those things, they’re far more likely to embrace it and realise gender isn’t a barrier to entry. People tend to be nervous because they haven’t done it before but they can actually be the brave person who goes to do it,” she says. “You should just do what you want to do, and if you go into it and you don’t like it, do something else afterwards. But if you don’t try it, you never know.”
Bright and bold
With a big personality, Taylor hasn’t ever shied away from any challenges or negativity aimed in her direction. When asked if she has experienced any negative reactions to her role within the industry, she admits that even if she had, she probably wouldn’t have noticed. “It’s just the norm and I just carry on regardless,” she explains.
It is perhaps Taylor’s ultra-competitiveness which has facilitated her success in aviation. “I hate to come in second to anything, I would rather die,” she says. So, for her, it’s about being better than other candidates for roles, to almost prove herself. “My mum and sister are both career professionals and my mum always said you can do anything you want to do, you’ve just got to want it hard enough and that’s something I fundamentally believe in,” Taylor explains. “And she also said that if you want to compete against men, just be better with them.”
It’s this idea of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ that can help to change attitudes and viewpoints. This time last year Taylor and her family were flying back from Miami and it was the first time she’d seen a female captain on the plane. She admits it shocked her, but also that it shouldn’t have. There is no reason it should still be seen as unusual.
“I think [attitudes] are changing, but I think it will change quite slowly because change like that tends to be in the spirit of resistance,” she says. But change is possible. “Aviation has got to change, but it is possibly slower to change than some other industries. It’s going to be quite a journey.”
Taylor also cites the climate agenda as a driving force for change, with the industry needing to attract people with different skill sets. And those skill sets will come from women as well as men. “I would say that if you want to employ someone who can multi-task and time manage, employ a woman who’s got children because you will never meet another person who can multi-task and time manage like a woman who’s got children.”
Her own success says a lot, too. “20 years ago, if you’d said there was a female managing director of an airport, people would have laughed at you,” she notes.
A different view
Women bring a new dynamic to the working environment, they tend to think more holistically about a problem and hone in on what is required, Taylor adds. In a male dominated environment, women can bring that balance and it’s healthy to have both men and women in senior leadership roles.
The whole environment can be changed, for the better, she points out, because of women. Women pioneered an agile working environment because it suited them better, and as more companies adopt that it will attract more women as well, she believes.
“I think people care very passionately about [aviation], but some people may engage with you better because you’re a woman. I’m very bright, even quite bold and I think if I hadn’t been I might have found it slightly intimidating at times. But that’s just not me. I’m just like ‘Hi, I’m Karen, how are you?’”
It can also be inspirational to see other women being successful. Taylor feels that she is encouraging and empowering and knows that the women who come into the airport are positive about having a female leader. “I think some women find that quite inspiring to see a woman who’s got to the top,” she says. “Aviation is a tough industry, it has highs and lows according to the economy. Try it, and if you don’t like it, change it – but try it first. Don’t rule it out. You wouldn’t rule out being an accountant or a journalist without trying it, so why would you rule out aviation?”
But regardless of role models, listening to other people’s opinions or work experience, Taylor’s ultimate message is clear and concise: “If you think you could do it, put your hand up and do it.”