To mark International Women’s Day, which was on Monday (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 look at three women who have made a difference at aircraft manufacturer ATR: Tiziana Masullo, Sadika Moussaoui and Zuzana Hrnkova.
Sometimes it is obvious when a company champions a woman in a role, and knows the difference they can make. ATR, the joint venture between Airbus and Leonardo, is one such company.
Tiziana Masullo (pictured below), president and managing director of subsidiary ATR Americas, is proof that working your way up in the industry can get you to the top. “I’m still not used to it,” she confesses. “To me, it’s still such a big job.”
Leaving her high school in Naples with her diploma and exceptional language skills, Masullo began as an executive assistant for a member of Leonardo’s leadership team. After three years, her boss there recognised her talent and urged her to go and work at ATR. There, she held several positions over the years, eventually working her way up into more technical positions where she says she “learned a lot”, becoming ever more enamoured with the industry.
“When I say I got addicted to aviation, that can sound a bit much but that’s what happens when you work in aviation. Once you start, it is difficult to go away,” says Masullo.
Six years ago, an opportunity arose in Miami to become vice-president of services sales and contract at ATR, which she took. Masullo held that position until she was promoted to her current role in December 2020. Overseeing a staff of 32 people, the subsidiary covers everything from technical support and safety, training and flight ops, services sales and contracts, customer material support, GMA & repairs, CSDs and FSR to finance and human resources.
“When I tell my friends, I still can’t believe it. I’ve been in this space less than two months and still say ‘wow, this happened to me’. I’m here in aviation with just a high school diploma. I started as a secretary.”
A passion for aviation is shared by ATR’s head of HR, Sadika Moussaoui. She started at Airbus more than 20 years ago, at the beginning of a “new Airbus”, when the company was working on its European integration and opening up to the “challenges of globalisation”.
“This ambition piqued my curiosity, especially in matters of cooperation, interculturality and living together and this became a kind of leitmotif throughout my professional career,” Moussaoui explains. “Between my teams and my workload we can have a real influence and impact in transforming daily lives.”
ATR’s vice-president of marketing, Zuzana Hrnkova, also began at Airbus. But her personal love for aviation started in her native country of Slovakia. Her grandfather was a pilot, and when she was a teenager she started flying as a hobby. After studying aeronautical engineering in Slovakia and then France, where she studied at the Civil Aviation School, Hrnkova had the opportunity to train with Airbus for six months. She was offered a full-time job afterwards, spending 21 years with the company.
One of her career highlights has been setting up a team inside marketing specifically dealing with aircraft interiors, which she says “wasn’t really done” at the time. “Before interiors, the cabin was rather driven by engineering for the functionality to be robust,” Hrnkova explains. “The end passenger user wasn’t the incentive, so we had to bring a bit of the passenger experience on board.”
As part of that role, she worked on the development of the A350 XWB family of aircraft from paper design up until entry into service, becoming recognised as an industry expert. At that point, she felt like she needed a new challenge. ATR held that opportunity.
Dare to be different
ATR, as a company, actively encourages diversity and equality, according to Masullo. Her team of 32 has 18 different nationalities, with over 50 per cent of them female, she says.
“We encourage women to come into aviation, we’re really open to it and promote it. And there are managers in ATR who are women as well in very prominent positions,” she says. “Not only public relations and human resources, which are normally jobs where you see a female, but also in finance and in contracts, where it’s not as common. They’re doing excellent jobs.”
Masullo admits that there can be a certain amount of pressure as a woman in her position, particularly in some countries where advances in female leadership aren’t as far along.
“I wouldn’t say it was uncomfortable, or a challenge, but I felt a bit of pressure. But aviation is an open world,” she emphasises, and has seen women in aviation in countries people may not expect. “Women in aviation are really welcome if you can prove you have the skill and are customer oriented.”
Pressure is something that everyone experiences. As head of HR, part of Moussaoui’s (pictured above) job means she is in charge of ensuring a “high level of engagement” within the company and finding “people empowered to think creatively to cultivate added value for customers and who thrive in a continuously changing business environment with passions and conviction”.
Having that responsibility isn’t something she ever expected. Moussaoui notes that when she steps back and looks at how she got into her current job, it comes down to a mixture of hard work, the development of key competencies, being determined and optimistic, and never compromising on her own convictions.
“I’ve always considered an obstacle as a way to learn and grow. Of course, sometimes I was afraid to take risks but thanks to some remarkable people I met on my journey, and with a lot work, I gained enough confidence and legitimacy to evolve,” she says.
Moussaoui said that previously, she has occasionally encountered generations of men who think of women as less competent and not worthy of having responsibilities. They may have shown less respect when they talked to women and attempted to put doubts in their mind, she admits. But these obstacles reinforce her willingness to believe in her convictions and values. Moussaoui considers herself stronger because she’s previously had experiences in which she’s not felt respected.
The aviation world is changing though, and it is visible according to the women at ATR.
“I’m definitely seeing more and more women in management positions,” reports Masullo. “For example, in Colombia recently the head of procurement was a woman, the head of contracts in another company was a woman and they weren’t secretaries, they weren’t managers, they were the head of the department. You can see that the world is changing.”
But there is still work to be done, Moussaoui adds. Actions should focus on industry barriers that currently exist when hiring or promoting women. This includes a lack of female role models, a lack of qualified incoming talent, women’s confidence and aspirations, a lack of work-life balance and unconscious bias among managers. Mentalities do not change as quickly as laws, regulations and agreements, she points out.
One way in which mindsets can be changed is through inspiring others, as Hrnkova has found. Seen as an expert in the industry, she was invited to Japan to give a motivational speech talking about herself and her career. She also discussed diversity in projects she has worked on, finishing with a Q&A session. A few days afterwards, she says she received a card with a message from about 50 women at an airline with messages thanking her for the speech.
“It was inspiring for them, some of them put ‘you changed my life, now I know what to do to move on’, so that was very cool and it was nice for me to see how good it was to share and how impactful it could be,” she says. “That was a very pleasant experience.”
Space for everyone
“We know that diverse companies are successful companies and encouraging women into aviation makes a difference,” states Moussaoui. “These women are supporting the next generations in the aviation industry and can be role models. They have real power to inspire girls and young women to be bold and confident. It is exactly what impacted me in my own career.”
When working as head of HR at an Airbus manufacturer in 2015, Moussaoui worked with blue collar workers on the shop floor and with teams at the heart of manufacturing. “It was an extraordinary experience to go from one team to another, teams with only men, teams with both.” For her, it was “obvious” that when the teams were mixed, they were more inclusive and performance was boosted.
But it is the passion for aviation that makes the industry so special, believes Moussaoui, and she understood that her role, on top of her responsibilities, was to support them and develop mixed teams. This meant attracting, training, enhancing, unleashing potential and improving work-life balance. “In our industry you meet passionate people who are very proud of what they are doing every day: flying aircraft and helping people connect, everywhere in the world.”
“Aviation is a great choice for a career,” adds Masullo. “I think we can all have a lot of fun. Women like to work, they like to be challenged, we don’t want to stay behind a computer.”
But aviation is a world that is constantly evolving, she believes. With new generations, new innovations, new equipment and new customers people in the industry are learning all the time, “and your brain never stops”.
She thinks women are suited to aviation more than they realise; the skill of being able to multi-task, particularly in management, is essential and the past year has proved it. “You don’t foresee aircraft being grounded, or if the warehouse system isn’t working you need to see the path out of it. Your brain is challenged all the time. I think women are good at finding the solutions under pressure and being creative.”
As demonstrated by the women in this article, and wider web series, there are many different paths into aviation. The proportion of girls in engineering or technical schools are growing, but those avenues aren’t the only options, says Hrnkova. Interior design is important, so you can have designers, aeronautical engineers, but also people with a commercial or legal background, and even communication. “They are new skills which stand to be very attractive,” she notes. “Even if the industry used to be old fashioned and dry, now it’s much larger and provides more opportunities. And society wants it to be different too. When I was young, there was very few commercial pilots and now you see them much more frequently.”
Yet, as Moussaoui points out, women represent more than half of the workforce population but the higher you go up the ladder, the fewer women there are to be found.
One of the biggest things women can do is encourage others, she concludes. “If I meet a woman who is hesitating when making the choice [to enter the aviation industry], then I would tell her ‘if you want to be a part of the adventure to change something bigger than you, if you are ready to dare, to build the foundation for a responsible future society that is more sustainable, then join us’.”