10 Sep 2019
A POSITIVE JOURNEY Sajedah Rustom recently took the helm of MRO specialist AJW Technique in Canada after serving for years in various roles at Bombardier. She’s one of the few women in aviation who have made it to the top of the corporate food chain. Matt Driskill posed some questions about how it is to be a woman in a field dominated by men.
Originally published by Asian Aviation.
First, congratulations on the new position. What can we expect to see from AJW Technique in the coming months and years?
Thank you, it certainly is a wonderful challenge and I am delighted to be at the helm of AJW Technique, an organization with a firm establishment in the market and an incredible future ahead of it.
It is a fantastic time to be joining the business after 7 years of successful operations in Montreal. When AJW Technique was acquired back in 2012, it had just 7 employees and acted as AJW Group’s strategic hub for Air Canada’s repair work.
Since then we have been extremely successful in servicing group-level business and we have significantly expanded our portfolio to directly service our customers which include key, mainline and regional airlines worldwide.
Our mission is to deliver the most desirable component repair solutions in the industry. We are extremely proud of our reputation for high-quality service and we always ensure the customer is at the heart of everything we do.
In the coming months, you will see us optimizing our capabilities portfolio by:
- Building additional capability based on the voice of our customers and market feedback to further enhance the delivery experience.
- Maximizing our core capabilities which cover; Avionics, Hydraulics, Pneumatics, Fuel Components, Power Generation, Safety Slides, Electromechanical, Galley and Instruments.
At the recent IATA meeting in Seoul, diversification was a big issue. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman in what many would view as a “man’s world", of MRO, and aviation in general?
In my view, success in the industry has never been about gender specifically. It is about having a vision, the ability to lead, challenge, create and build winning teams that can face business challenges with an entrepreneurial and factual mindset.
Women have played an integral role in aviation since World War II, when they stepped up to fill the gap when men left for battle, entering the workforce for the first time to build the very aircraft that helped win the war.
My own experience as a woman in leadership has been a powerful and positive journey. When I started at Bombardier Regional Aircraft in 2004, I was brought on as a six-sigma agent, tasked with reengineering all commercial aviation interfaces and processes for the division. Thereafter, I moved into various strategic, technical and commercial roles and touched all aspects of the industry across commercial and business aviation from product development to sales to parts and maintenance delivery through to customer experience. This transition helped me see the business from multiple vantage points and from the ground up through the product, supplier and customer lens.
I was fortunate to have strong collaborators and advocates at every step. Credentials aside, personality and communication skills count for a lot. I was always encouraged to promote creativity and be dynamic, and this came to be respected and appreciated with every role I did.
How did you meet and overcome those challenges?
Encouraging women in the industry starts with schools and encouraging youngsters in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Maths) professions. I have three girls myself and I am delighted that my 13-year-old daughter wants to be an engineer! I actively promote STEM workshops and courses for girls as this is really the initial engagement required to progress more women into aerospace and deviate from the gender stereotypical industries.
Businesses can further support women in STEM in a number of ways. Scholarships, such as those offered by Boeing, increase female presence in under-represented careers such as pilots and certified maintenance technicians. Internships, research partnerships with universities and mentor networks are something I am very passionate about supporting.
I started working in the aerospace industry, after having worked in mostly tech and other industries and developed a passion for aviation through the various roles I did from basic process re-engineering to transforming the business aircraft aftermarket which resulted in double-digit year on year growth and innovation. I was brought up in an entrepreneurial family and benefitted from an environment that prioritized cultivating strong leadership skills, which can be applied across industries. Keep an open mind and a vast propensity to learn the detail, roll up your sleeves, dive deep and anything is possible.
A key lesson I have learnt is to surround myself with a brilliant team. Teams are a jigsaw puzzle of complementary expertise that fit tightly together for a bigger purpose. You are more than the sum of your parts as a leader and building a dynamic, diverse, dependable team is paramount.
Are things improving for women in the MRO world?
I do believe things are improving for women in the MRO world. Women are becoming increasingly passionate about this incredible industry and, as a result, more women are coming up in these professions and making their mark in leadership roles. Many top ten airlines have women leaders at board level in recent times and have seen great success, bringing a complimentary leadership style to the boardroom alongside their male counterparts.
Organizations such as Women in Aviation (WIA) are taking the initiative to create solidarity and development within the industry.
It is a lot easier now than it was 10 years ago to inform ourselves about the MRO world, connect with an open network of professionals and access recruitment programs designed to bring more women into the aviation workforce.
The statistics of women graduating from engineering programs have gone up over the years also. According to the National Science Foundation, women now make up 43% of the US workforce graduating from STEM programs. This represents a tremendous opportunity for AJW Technique to continue to increase the gender mix going forward.
Does AJW Technique have programmes in place to recruit more women into the MRO field?
My mantra has always been to build a well-balanced leadership team with complementary skillsets and gender balance which included a strong female participation. The female component included engineers, some held MBAs and others had varying educational backgrounds. They all shared a strong business and financial acumen balanced with a progressive approach and were determined to excel in everything they and their teams do.
I’ve had the luxury of coaching each of these women and they in turn were encouraged to coach and raise up the women in their teams. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
AJW Technique offers equal opportunities for both women and men with a strong focus on mentoring and coaching young, upcoming talent. We have many female technicians on the shop-floor as well as in leadership roles and I plan to advocate further opportunities going forward.
We seek to inspire from a young age. This is why we work closely with schools, colleges, and universities across the globe; from the Weald Community and Sixth Form in Sussex to Ecole Nationale d’aerotechnique in Montreal to enhance courses with hands-on work experience and build internship and recruitment partnerships alongside the educational institutions early. There are a number of our job descriptions which don’t have the requirement of aviation experience and we hope this encourages more entrepreneurs to enter the industry.
Our focus is to identify potential at an early stage, ensuring both women and men are provided with equal opportunity to grow their talent and progress their skill set.
In looking at your background, you’ve been involved in a lot of corporate “transformations". At the risk of asking a “women are from Venus, men are from Mars" type of question, do you feel women make better “change agents" than men? (If yes, can you expand on why?)
Women tend to seek to be role models who inspire and invest time coaching teams with concern for personal and practical development. We emphasize teamwork, collaboration and authentic communication and strive to create partnerships. We like to be inclusive, non-hierarchical and take our teams on a journey of change. This begins with including them in developing a vision, a strategy, a common purpose and goals, with a clear path to get there and simple mechanisms to raise issues and get help along the way.
How important are organisations like the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance to spurring the industry to make changes?
Very important. The Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance is a great means to promote education, networking opportunities, and scholarships for the aviation maintenance community. It really brings to light the different leaders that act as role models to women in aviation and show them that the industry supports their career advancement. These organizations are helping us break the stereotypes, create awareness and make the industry more attractive to women.
Aircraft maintenance schools are seeing 30% increases in female applicants. Fortune 500 aviation companies are gaining top talent through the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance. These types of societies are a huge asset for the industry and are rightly recognized and respected.
AJW Technique has long been an active member of Women in Aerospace Canada and this year AJW Group became the 100th signatory of the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter. Any other moves like this coming from your organisation?
AJW Group was proud to be the Charter’s 100th signatory at an event on 25 April this year at the Houses of Parliament in London. Gender diversity is an important part of our wider inclusive and progressive strategy with a Global mindset. We will be implementing our 9-point plan which will also enhance the overall gender balance at our company.
We have established a group led by colleagues for colleagues to ensure that changes are suggested and implemented at all levels of the business. The AJW spirit is to build strength through diversity. There are a lot of exciting initiatives in the pipeline which I hope will ensure AJW is known throughout the industry for actively encouraging and supporting women in aviation – watch this space!
We pride ourselves as being one of the most dynamic and forward-thinking companies in aviation. Our work is delivered by a diverse workforce in a variety of roles across the world.
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