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Carolyne's story: Her journey towards nurturing inclusive leadership through a gender balance lens at AirTanker

Category: Women, testimonial, inspirational women, Staff Testimonial, Aviation, black women, senior women, leading women, Opportunities for women, Aviation & Aerospace, international women, Influential women, Future women in STEM, Aviation industry, Careers in aviation, Aviation and aerospace careers, Celebrating Women, Empowering Women, AirTanker

Gender Focus

Profile photo of Carolyne Mabesa Newall, née Makaka

Carolyne Mabesa Newall, Wellbeing and Inclusion Manager | People and Culture Strategy Pillar AirTanker

Carolyne Newall is AirTanker’s newly appointed Wellbeing and Inclusion Manager. She shares her inspiring story about how her life experiences inform her work daily.

Deepak Chopra sums up my approach to being a changemaker: “If you speak to somebody at the level of the mind then you will speak to their mind. If you speak through your heart, you will speak to their heart. But if you speak through your life and your life is the story, then you will change lives.”

This is the starting point of my story – speaking through my life so I can explain why inclusion and wellbeing are important to me and why they are important values for organisations to embed throughout their culture and across every team and business functions.

A long career in diversity

Before I started working at AirTanker in January 2022, my career took many different turns. It has been essential for me to break down barriers every step of the way, whether they are barriers I have faced as an African woman or barriers that have been holding others back, especially women.

I have a degree in International Relations with a minor in psychology. I have trained peacekeepers for the United Nations to work with vulnerable women and children. I’ve worked in the third sector, including with Oxfam, where I was part of a research group looking at helping women overcome barriers to realise roles in leadership and I led a cultural advisory group for Mental Health Matters which brought together over 70 delegates dealing with mental health across Oxfordshire. And I’ve worked for the public sector too, with the NHS, I have been involved in training staff on Equality and Diversity and the development of the Single Equalities Strategy. In local government, with Oxford City Council and as part of the transformation team, I was a champion of Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, which meant I found ways to improve internal processes and how the council served the community. 

Every one of these steps in my career has led me to where I am today at AirTanker. At AirTanker my role is to lead, implement and oversee the provision, advice and support on workplace wellbeing and inclusion, to promote inclusive leadership and collaborative working by influencing long-term strategy, policies and direction, whilst embedding inclusive values and behaviours and ensuring AirTanker have the right skills and competencies to be a great place to work.

Why it is important to empower women in the workplace

Iris Bohnet, a Harvard University Economics professor, sums up why gender equality matters at work: “Gender equality is a moral and a business imperative, but unconscious bias holds us back and de-biasing people’s minds has proved to be difficult and expensive. Diversity training programmes have limited success and individual efforts alone often invites backlash. Behavioural design offers a new solution. By de-biasing the organisation instead of the individual, we can make smart changes that have massive impact”. 

Professor Bohnet’s words should echo through the boardrooms of every company – gender equality is, quote; “simply, good business sense”.

There are so many steps organisations can take to improve gender equality and to de-bias workplaces and the culture as a whole. But the first step is to understand the challenges.

The challenges for women in the workplace

There are many barriers faced by women at work. I know this through my own lived experience because I have met and overcome some of these challenges. When I worked as a trainer of peacekeeping forces in Africa, the Senior Peacekeeping Liaison Officer from the military school told me I was not qualified to train senior military officers because I was a young woman, so I had to prove myself repeatedly. I accepted the challenge by adopting more masculine norms and traits thus jeopardising my authenticity as a woman. 

The challenges for women everywhere include the entitlement gap, which means women are mostly socially conditioned to feel less deserving than their male counterparts. This holds women back from pursuing careers in non-traditional areas, or not applying for jobs even though they are qualified, or for not negotiating the salary they deserve. It creates an internal bias that manifests itself as the impostor syndrome.

The World Economic Forum report, “Global Gender Gap 2020” states, “it will take 257 years to close the gender pay gap.” This is exacerbated by a lower number of women studying STEM subjects and pursuing careers in these and other well-paid fields.

Women also experience many life-changing situations such as; motherhood, menopause, widowhood and caring for elderly relatives and these too can affect career progression. 

Intersectionality can also compound the challenges women face. As well as being a woman, there can be additional barriers if you are a woman of colour, a woman living with disability, or a woman from the LGBTQ+ community. These women are more susceptible to macroaggression in the workplace. 

Positive steps businesses can take to improve women’s inclusion

There are so many things that can be done to improve women’s inclusion at work. AirTanker is taking important steps in this direction and though the journey will be eye-opening, I am confident that it will be a productive and worthwhile journey.

Gender equality needs to be a business imperative, with clear and measurable objectives and thus quantifiable outcomes and impact.

Establishing a meaningful and impactful Women’s Network creates an instant resource for developing strategies. At AirTanker, the Women’s Network will foster excellence in women by; prioritising the development of female talent across the business and attracting and retaining new women. The network underpins a shared passion for raising the profile of women at AirTanker, female empowerment, and creating a supportive, inspirational, and motivational space for female staff at all stages of their careers.

Positive action during recruitment campaigns and fair hiring practices are important, such as targeted recruitment, blind recruitment - viewing experience as well as qualifications - and using gender-decoding software to ensure inclusive language is used in job descriptions and advertising.

Once women are hired, it is important to offer flexible working policies. This is especially important for employees with caring responsibilities.

Reverse mentoring is a great way to turn traditional mentoring on its head. In this case, it means senior leaders and managers are educated by women in the workplace. This approach can expose and sensitise leaders to the challenges women face, so long-term strategies are sponsored, supported and developed to improve gender balance.

Sponsorship programmes can be introduced to empower women to progress in their careers by accessing projects they might otherwise be excluded from, creating networking opportunities and learning tactics, such as salary-negotiation skills. In a similar vein, Allyship programmes aims to educate at all levels of the organisation, connect people and enable positive action for women.

Aileen Carlisle, who was the Executive Director of Customer and Community when I worked in local government, was the first person to expose me to reverse mentoring and sponsorship. This made me realise and embrace my qualities, gifts and talents. She was instrumental in preparing me for this role at AirTanker.

I am proud that AirTanker is already making strong progress. For example, a targeted recruitment campaign is going to be launched to ensure we attract, recruit and retain female employees from diverse backgrounds. This initiative includes training on fair recruitment, inclusive language in our job advertisements and job descriptions, and blind recruitment practices.

2022 will see us launch more company-wide objectives focused on actively rebalancing our gender ratios. We will be working very closely with Dan Robertson, the Director at Vercida Group and as part of our inclusive leadership intervention we are going to invite a cohort of senior male leaders who are going to take part in a Sponsorship and Reverse Mentoring Programme and the protégés will be all females. This programme will educate, empower, and develop action points and measure the impact whilst creating a psychologically safe space that fosters learning.

We will also run an Allyship programme that will educate, connect, nurture and empower allies who will then be better equipped to champion gender equality across the business.

Real role models for women

My drive comes from my own life experiences, as well and from prominent women role models who I admire greatly for the barriers they have broken down. 

Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, the first African woman to earn a doctorate degree in a STEM subject in East and Central Africa and the first female professor in Kenya, my home country. She has advocated for women’s empowerment through environmental conservation, democracy and political rights. Wangari’s Green Belt Movement campaign encouraged women to plant trees in their locality and to think ecologically and this movement contributed to the planting of over 30 million trees. Seeing her struggling in saving the Karua forest from deforestation was extremely inspirational. Wangari has influenced the way I think and the ways in which I aspire to support women!

Billie Jean King too, a celebrated tennis champion and icon for social change and equality, illustrated beautifully through such events as the 1973 Battle of the Sexes. Here, Billie Jean King accepted the challenge to play a match against Bobby Riggs who held the assumption that the women’s game was second-rate to men and although he was older, he was convinced that he would easily beat the current top female player. To break the bias Billie accepted his challenge and disproved him by winning the match and which was, incidentally, watched by over 90 million people worldwide.

In and out of sport, Billie Jean King ended up creating opportunities for all genders. This inspirational role model gives us the confidence to showcase our achievements. At AirTanker we are planning to invite female thought leaders to speak and motivate, to nurture our own women to be shining role models. We will endeavour to celebrate our women’s achievements through our internal and external communication channels such as LinkedIn Live, to showcase, to inspire and to build constructive and productive engagement with our communities.

On a more personal level, my mother, and father, Mabel and Morgan Makaka inspired and motivated me too!

We were living in Western Kenya in Kakamega, where my father was the Mayor and Entrepreneur. I can recall him actively advocating for the education of girls like a sponsor or champion.

Though, more importantly it was my mother who was an inspirational role model for me. I was the first born of eight and with her encouragement and support, I am the first female in my family to attend university and graduate. I remain forever grateful that both my mother and father supported me to receive this education and without which – I would not be where I am today.

My mother always talked and advocated for women to be educated, to develop careers and become financially independent. She was very excited to learn about the opportunity with AirTanker and especially so when I told her that one of AirTanker’s primary objectives was to address gender balance. When I was offered the job, she was so happy and emphasised to me to be sure to fulfil my role in addressing the gender balance.

Sadly, my mother passed away on January 21st, 2022, which was the Friday of my first week at AirTanker. My mother’s lived experience, especially as a widow and her final months alive made me realise the importance of creating psychologically safe spaces where women know they have a voice and are seen and celebrated for their achievements, and how crucial it is to unearth, nurture and empower females to realise their capacity and full potential in all aspects of their lives.

My mother’s legacy lives on and on what would have been her 70th birthday, on February 22nd, 2022, I attended the first AirTanker Women’s Network Meeting and became the Chair. This inaugural meeting was well attended and was a success and will have a voice in influencing gender and strategy at AirTanker. I know that my mother is very, very proud!

Following hot on my heels is my youngest sister, Laura Makaka. She is an inspirer and motivator too. Based in Nairobi and with Safaricom Kenya, she is a Customer Experience Analyst. Laura is now one of my greatest cheerleaders in encouraging me to empower women.  She was so delighted to learn of my role at AirTanker and after attending my mother’s funeral in Kenya - her last words before I flew back to the UK were “please go back to work and support the female colleagues at AirTanker to excel in their chosen fields. Show the world what a woman can achieve when they are given the correct support!” My Mother’s legacy lives on.

 Closing paragraphs

Mark Twain said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

I often recall women like.

Wangari Maathai, who demonstrated to me that, a clear vision, consistency, and hard work can overcome societal barriers and can enable one to realise ambitions. Like Billie Jean King, who illustrated to me, that when you have self-belief, you can conquer the entitlement gap and neutralise the imposter syndrome and then, unleash your talent and positive traits in others.

In summary, one of the primary reasons I’m here at AirTanker is to work in collaboration with colleagues, both women and men, and to demonstrate, as I have learnt though my mother’s lived experience that; women are enough, women are valuable, women have a voice, women are seen and above all, women have the capacity to do whatever they set their mind to do. Thank you AirTanker for giving me this opportunity and thank you too to all the internal and external stakeholders who play their part is supporting and empowering women!

To find out more about the culture at AirTanker and current roles click here. 

Join us at AirTanker, in creating an inclusive culture that nurtures an environment that is a great place to work. We encourage women to join us and promise to empower you to realise your full potential.

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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