Female Engineers Soar Higher at Airbus

Aeroplane manufacturer Airbus has long taken pride in employing local workers at its Aircraft Fitter operation based in Broughton, Wales.

Initiatives introduced 

  • Developed a female attraction strategy 
  • A dedicated micro-portal for ‘Women at Airbus: Aircraft Fitters’ 
  • Adoption of gender-neutral language 
  • Introduced a storytelling worker advocacy approach through blogs 
  • Created an open-minded recruitment strategy including transferrable skills 
  • Improved inclusive workplace including more female changing room facilities and flexible working 

Benefits to date 

  • 96.7% retention of all female hires since the launch of campaign 
  • One out of every five Aircraft Fitters hired since February 2022 are female 
  • Received 178 quality applications from female talent 
  • Female Aircraft Fitters now make up 23% of workforce, up from a starting point of 1% representation at the start of the campaign
  • 35% of new hires into the aircraft fitter workforce are now female

“The female talent attraction campaign in partnership with Guidant Global has given us the opportunity to reflect on the way Airbus recruits and thinks about its Aircraft Fitter workforce. The increase in female applicants for these roles is helping us to bring about change, and the diversity of backgrounds in the business ensures we continue to challenge the way that we do things.” – Airbus. 

The situation 

Aeroplane manufacturer Airbus has long taken pride in employing local workers at its Aircraft Fitter operation based in Broughton, Wales. The European group believes this has helped make it part of the fabric of the wider Broughton community and bolstered employee engagement.  

However, the manufacturer has also been aware that over that period the overwhelming amount of the Aircraft Fitter roles have been carried out by men. 

As such it was determined at the beginning of 2022 to tap further into the local talent base and improve equality and diversity by hiring more women into these roles. 

Working alongside outsourced recruitment partner Guidant Global, an advertising campaign was devised and launched, featuring female Airbus talent working on different aircraft within the manufacturing environment. It targeted 28,000 relevant local candidates with the aim of bringing female manufacturing employment at Broughton up to and beyond industry-wide levels. 

There were challenges including battling conscious and unconscious beliefs that manufacturing was a male only role and a perception amongst women that as such Airbus only welcomed male applications. Airbus, like the rest of the aviation industry, also had to tackle fears about the long-term impact of the Covid pandemic on demand and employment.  

But Guidant Global’s experience in developing leading and creative inclusive recruitment strategies overcame these barriers and helped Airbus welcome more high-quality female Aircraft Fitter talent on board.  

The challenge 

The number of female workers within the Aircraft Fitter function of the business in Airbus Broughton had typically wavered around 1%, out of an approximate 500 strong workforce during pre-pandemic times.  

This isn’t unusual in the wider aerospace and manufacturing sector where men tend to be the dominant gender in workforce talent. However, it’s well below the 10% to 15% female representation seen in the UK engineering workforce. 

Airbus set itself the goal of hitting not just that industry average for female representation in its manufacturing team at Broughton but going above and beyond it. It wanted to break away from traditional thinking around the role and communicate clearly that aircraft manufacturing can be a job for women too.  

Apart from breaking down these seemingly entrenched gender views Airbus, even though it was steadily recovering from the knock-on effect of the pandemic, was also concerned that the crisis had made jobseekers view the aerospace and aviation sector less favourably. A drop off in passenger demand, both leisure and business, during Covid and growing environmental worries, had ignited fears around long-term job security in the industry. 

None of Airbus’ other direct and indirect competitors, particularly in the local area, had adopted such a particular top-of-the- funnel positioning, nor rolled this out through a visually led advertising strategy. Guidant’s challenge therefore was to break new ground, hire more female workers and address those structural concerns around the future of the aviation sector. 

The solution 

Guidant Global and Airbus combined to design an end-to-end talent attraction strategy and candidate journey, with an innovative approach of focusing on challenging stereotypes associated with the role of Aircraft Fitter. The campaign, including visuals of women busily working inside and underneath aircraft, ran for two weeks on channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Indeed.  

The strategy included: 

  • Re-labelling the ‘Semi-skilled Aircraft Fitter’ role to ‘Entry-level Aircraft Fitter’. The thinking behind this was to offer more accuracy in line with the nature of the role and favourability amongst female talent.
  • From its job adverts to a dedicated ‘Women at Airbus: Aircraft Fitters’ micro portal, the entire campaign adopted gender-neutral language with a soft slant on feminine-associated words to resonate with female talent. The dedicated micro portal aimed to bring to life what working in the role at Airbus Broughton was like through stories from the Second World War- where Broughton's 6,000 strong workforce were mostly women - to current-day female aircraft fitters.
  • Blogs spotlighting women already working at Airbus as an aircraft fitter were created to bring to life their experiences and explore any extra details to combat misconceptions about the role.
  • The recruitment teams worked with Airbus to create even more open-minded criteria. This included a bigger focus on transferrable skills to cater to female candidates with work experience that a large proportion of male applicants wouldn’t typically hold. Indeed, a female candidate who was a hairdresser was put forward for the role. The recruitment teams believed that the hands-on dexterity involved in cutting and styling hair would be a good fit for the Aircraft Fitter role. She was successfully offered a position. 

Guidant Global recruitment teams unconscious bias training, gaining skills to recognise and eliminate unconscious thinking patterns and discriminatory behaviour, helped bolster the strategy. The team dedicated as much time on the phone with candidates as possible to allay fears and answer questions about the role. Feedback at any point in the application process was immediately reviewed and adjusted accordingly. 

The finer details 

It was also crucial to change the workplace environment at Airbus Broughton to make it more inclusive for female staff. The aim here was to aid both recruitment and retention. Utilising the collective expertise of Guidant Global and Airbus the following implementations were made: 

  • Approximately 35% of female hires are also working mothers and it was important to offer them shift flexibility to allow them to juggle both work and life commitments.
  • The mandatory assessment test – which required fitting through small spaces – was adjusted to cater to women’s bodies. Those supervising these assessments were trained to support female candidates appropriately.
  • Female applicants in the pipeline are sent regular communications and individual check-ins to be kept engaged.
  • Airbus Broughton introduced more female changing room facilities to allow greater convenience and accessibility.
  • Female candidates are onboarded as a group to instill female empowerment and camaraderie. They’re kept in pairs to retain their support network upon completing training. 

The result 

We quickly began to see positive results around the number of females engaging with the Aircraft Fitter role. 

By introducing a more open-minded and flexible recruitment process that aims to challenge the notion of male associations in the role, females began to view the position differently. We received a myriad of female candidates, with a variety of skillsets and backgrounds, who frankly would never have considered or felt comfortable applying prior to the campaign. 

We’ve also noticed female applicants from big local competitors such as Rolls Royce, Vauxhall and Magellan. 

One female Aircraft Fitter at Airbus Broughton said: “I didn’t think you actually employed females in the aircraft fitter roles and then I saw the Facebook advert and decided to apply.” 

Between February 2022, when Guidant Global and Airbus started rolling out the female talent attraction campaign, and the close of 2022, Airbus received 229 quality applications from female jobseekers. As of December 2022, of the 308 aircraft fitters, 71 are female. Female representation in the aircraft fitter workforce is now at 23%, up from a 1% representation at the start of the campaign. 35% of new hires into the aircraft fitter workforce are now female.

One out of every five of Aircraft Fitter hires since February have been female and by the end of 2022, Airbus Broughton is aiming for females to represent a quarter of its Aircraft Fitter workforce. 

Retention has also been staggeringly impressive with 59 women taken on during the campaign remaining fully engaged in the role. 

This shows both the quality and accuracy of the attraction and advertising targeting, the care taken in the process and the benefits of making the workplace much more inclusive and engaging for female staff. 

The time and cost of going back to the market to find new replacement talent has also been saved. 

Another female Aircraft Fitter said: “I did have concerns about the environment potentially being a challenging one for women to feel comfortable in. But after joining I realised, I couldn’t have been more wrong! I feel right at home with the rest of my team and there isn’t anything I can’t do that my other teammates can.” 

Indeed, having more female workers in the role has made the working environment livelier and supportive. On new starter days trainers have noticed women supporting other fellow new starters with tips and encouraging words. 

We have also noticed a strong desire for feedback and an ability to pick up new skills very quickly.

The future 

We’re still constantly receiving applications as word of mouth about the roles and the impact of our campaign keep spreading amongst the local community. 

It’s vital therefore that continuous recruitment training such as keeping up to date with unconscious bias training is maintained. This will play a constant but important role in ensuring that the screening of applications is fair and equal. 

We are also striving to create and roll out more blogs spotlighting female talent. This helps keep the female talent at Airbus engaged, while also being able to continue bringing positive Aircraft Fitter stories to life and attracting more women into the business.  

Feedback is also being consistently collected at every stage of the candidate journey. We work very closely with Airbus to improve all facets of the candidate process from application to aftercare.