Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Charlotte Colhoun, Group Chief Financial Officer at Vista, on breaking barriers in the aviation industry.

Charlotte Colhoun, Group Chief Financial Officer at Vista, on breaking barriers in the aviation industry.

It goes without saying that International Women’s Day holds great significance, not only because it’s a yearly celebration of women across industries but also because it’s a pivotal moment for reflection on what more can be done, to break down barriers and create positive change in advancing women.

The aviation industry is one that has been historically dominated by men. Although the numbers are increasing, women pilots, for example, represent only 6% of the total pilot population. Additionally, only 13% of women hold CFO positions in the top 100 airline carriers.

As a child, I wanted to become cabin crew so I guess you could say I was always going to end up in the aviation industry, in some way or another.

However, after studying Law and Accounting at The University of Exeter and deciding I preferred numbers to words, I pursued finance –– another traditionally male-dominated sector.

For women looking to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated arenas, having a perfect training ground for those careers is key. For me, that was PwC.

I obtained my professional qualification as a Chartered Accountant while securing foundational experience through the prestigious PwC graduate scheme.

It was through that role I was able to travel the world, visit different countries and soak up a variety of cultures. I was constantly learning and thriving under pressure in a fast-paced environment. Graduate schemes are invaluable because of their predetermined structure and focus on development, enabling graduates to squeeze in an array of training, while being exposed to senior leaders early on and therefore progressing much faster.

It was the dynamism that I’d enjoyed so much at PwC, the need for adeptness in navigating complex financial landscapes and expeditious environments, that attracted me to Vista.

Although I wasn’t necessarily looking for a new job, when I was approached by Vista, my interest was piqued by their ambitions as a company.

And six years later, I’m still here.

I moved from one sector where I’d grown a breadth of experience during my tenure at PwC to another, aviation –– where I had zero experience, which can be daunting.

However, it’s also exciting.

It’s crucial that women don’t feel deterred by having little to no experience and remember to treat every opportunity as a launch pad.

During my time at Vista, professional highlights include thinking outside of the box when it comes to structuring deals or securing financing in a dynamic industry landscape. I’m proud that the strategic initiatives I’ve spearheaded have played a pivotal role in enabling Vista’s infrastructure build out, in a conservative way, while optimising the Group’s balance sheet thereby ensuring long-term financial stability and growth.

With this year marking Vista’s 20th anniversary, there’s definitely a sense of appreciation for what we’ve achieved and a sense of anticipation for what’s next.

One thing that is certainly on the agenda, is continuing to push and promote women within the company.

And while there are misconceptions the aviation industry is an ‘old boys club’, this isn’t what I’ve seen at Vista and, even broader, the industry as a whole is supportive of women.

That’s not to say the same applies for finance.

However, my mantra is that anybody who holds an ‘old boys club’ mentality, I won’t engage with.

Having achieved Group CFO in less than six years, I’ve worked my way up to a position where I can pioneer change. That means calling out a lack of inclusion when I see it and ensuring that young women feel confident pursuing their dream careers.

My role is challenging, and it is specialist, but young women shouldn’t be scared off by this. When I joined Vista, there were specialists around me I was able to lean on and ask for support from. That collaborative environment was incredibly rewarding, as well as sociable.

If you’re looking to enter the industry, finding an organisation that has that breadth of experience, experts, and opportunity to learn is crucial. While no one expects you to have all the answers when you’re starting out, a zest to learn and improve is key to ensuring your career takes off.

Similarly, organisations also have a responsibility to actively encourage women into the industry, such as through graduate schemes, peer mentoring, and equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) workshops.

While I have found aviation more inclusive than finance, there’re still traditional organisations that have backward mentalities engrained in their culture.

But it’s time for organisations to get their head out of the clouds and realise the potential that women can bring to the industry, to help them see new perspectives and reach new heights.

Was this article helpful?

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to get your daily business insights