Rolls-Royce’s Chief Customer Officer, Jacqui Sutton, has recently been invited to take over the role of Co-Chair for the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter. She will be stepping in to take over from Katherine Bennett CBE, SVP Airbus UK, who has co-chaired the Charter with Sumati Sharma, Virgin Atlantic VP Special Projects, since its launch in 2018.

We asked Jacqui, who already has an incredibly busy job running the global customer team, why she agreed to accept the role and what it is about the Charter that inspires her.

“When I was first contacted by the WIAAC and offered the role, I was really honoured to be considered and I jumped at the chance. I am a strong believer in all that the Charter stands for, so it was an easy decision to make. With objectives such as supporting the overall diversity of the sector and building a more balanced, fair industry, the Charter is totally aligned with the way I think aviation and aerospace should be progressing in the future, and I knew that I could bring many of my own personal experiences to the table to help.

In the two years since it began, the WIAAC has done an amazing job of securing 200 signatories. I am looking forward to the challenge of keeping that momentum going so that more companies sign up and commit to meeting some of the bold ambitions set out by the Charter.

It is so important for companies in our sector to have goals to aspire to so that championing the progression of women into senior roles and driving for better gender balance at all levels of every business becomes part of our industry’s culture.

The Charter recognises that a balanced workforce is good for business – for customers and consumers, for profitability and workplace culture, and is increasingly attractive for investors. This is something we strive to promote throughout our network of signatories via our events, social media and website, where we share best practice tips and advice with our members.

And, of course, as the industry starts to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, I believe it is more important than ever to highlight the criticality of gender balance as companies in the sector look to restructure in response to the crisis. Diverse, forward-looking and collaborative workforces will be integral in helping organisations to recover and face the future with confidence. Key to their success will be having strong visible female leaders inspiring the next generation of female pilots, engineers and CEOs.

When I reflect on my own career, I can see how fortunate I was growing up to receive support and encouragement from my first positive female role model – my mother. I am one of four children and the only girl, but my mother was determined that I should have the same opportunities as my three brothers. She grew up in an era when girls were not permitted to do A-levels, let alone go on to University so she made sure things were different for me by supporting me and giving me the confidence to pursue everything I wanted to do.

Thanks to her I went on to study languages at university and eventually start my career in aerospace in the 90s. Now I look back on her influence and the guidance of other people who have helped me along the way, I appreciate how important it is to support other people on their journey, make them feel included and part of something really special, particularly those who are just embarking on their career. I see this as one of my most important tasks in both my role as Chief Customer Officer at Rolls-Royce and as Co-Chair of the Charter. It is a big responsibility but one that I am truly passionate about.

Based on my own personal experience and from seeing first-hand how mentoring programmes can help people progress, I am a great believer in some of the micro interventions that encourage women to want to further their career and feel that they are included in our industry. Targeted mentoring for women who are at critical points in their careers can have impressive results. I have seen such great examples of the power of those kinds of interventions that I will certainly be advocating for this style of female empowerment in my new role at the Charter.

Having the opportunity to play my part in progressing the representation of women in our industry was definitely one of the reasons I took the role. I hope that I can make a difference and I would encourage everyone in the industry, especially my colleagues at Rolls-Royce, to play their part too.”