The Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) team sat down with Fadimatou Noutchemo Simo, founder – Young African Aviation Professional Association, as part of our Women in the Aviation series.
This series of interviews aims to shine a spotlight on notable women in the industry and the diverse career opportunities in the sector.
Fadimatou is an aviation industry pioneer and leading role model, in particular for young African women who would like to work in the industry. In recognition of her success, she recently won a High Flyer Award at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) AGM in Seoul, South Korea.
Read on to find out what inspires her.
Fadimatou, how long have you worked in the aviation industry?
“2020 will be the 10th year I have worked in the aviation industry. I was Director of Strategy and Business Development at Cronos Airline Group and my principal role was to design strategies to explore new markets as well as build partnerships to help grow the activities in the sub-region.”
How did you get into the industry?
“I was headhunted and recruited as the Administration Manager for the relaunch of Cameroon Airlines Corporation and was its first female member of staff. It was very challenging as at the beginning I had no idea about the whole industry and was just doing the administration work, but at the same time, I was curious about the industry not having role models that could directly guide me at that time.”
“We find more and more women getting into all fields of aviation.”
Fadimatou Noutchemo Simo
What is it about working in the aviation industry that appeals to you?
“It was a completely new industry for me, and it had never crossed my mind to even think about careers in aviation having studied in a boarding school in a rural area. Today I am proud to be able to get more young people – especially girls – interested in joining the industry and believe this growth will enable us to have a sustainable aviation industry in Africa very soon.”
As a woman, how do you find working in such a male-dominated industry?
“It is not an easy task to work in such a male dominated industry because you are always faced with challenges. Firstly, some men believe certain jobs are just for them and refuse to collaborate, and others just do their best to discourage you.
I understand this belief is cultural because they have been made to understand that they are the ones to lead and women just have to follow, but today we are trying to make them see that we can succeed better by working side by side.”
Have you encountered any gender discrimination in your career?
“Yes, I have more than once been discriminated because of my gender. I have worked in an environment where my male colleagues received support from the line manager and as a woman, it was almost impossible for my ideas, suggestions or opinion to be taken into consideration too.
“This growth will enable us to have a sustainable aviation industry in Africa very soon.”
Fadimatou Noutchemo Simo
At another company, where I had been recruited for a regional position, I was often overlooked and only given basic tasks, which was very frustrating as it only had a negative impact on my performance.”
As a female senior leader, why do you think it’s important for companies to address the gender gap?
“We find more and more women getting into all fields of aviation. The industry itself needs to grow and stand out to set an example to other industries. For this reason, I encourage men to inspire, mentor and empower the women working with them to ensure we get competent and qualified professionals to meet the demands of this fast-growing industry.”
What do you believe has been the key to your success?
“Constant perseverance and determination.”
What characteristics do you believe women need to survive in the aviation industry?
“They need to have trust in their ability and capacity to manage and be persistently determined to achieve great results from their hard work.”
In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to women succeeding in the workplace?
“Gender discrimination is one of the main factors. Until mindsets are changed to give equal opportunities, women will not succeed in the workplace.”
What would you say has been your career highlight to date?
“My ability as a quick learner, as well as my adaptability, creativity and flexibility. I started as Administration Manager and shortly became Logistics and Procurement Manager in maintenance and engineering.
“The growth in connectivity across the world is for me the biggest development in air travel.”
Fadimatou Noutchemo Simo
I had to do on the job training to be able to master and properly do my job with my team. My biggest achievement has been to get all the qualifying certificates that I need for the different roles that later on led me to inspire the next generation across Africa.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Never give up and to continue working hard for the passion I have for my job.”
What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing the aviation industry?
“That it varies from region to region but in Africa, the aviation industry still faces great challenges with human capital development, funding and management because it’s still generally a sector that is run by individual nation states.”
What do you believe has been the biggest development in air travel over the past 25 years?
“The growth in connectivity across the world is for me the biggest development in air travel. Technology and innovation have also greatly contributed.”
If you could change one thing in the aviation industry, what would it be?
“Making it more accessible to those interested in joining, but who cannot because of the high cost of training.”
About Fadimatou Noutchemo Simo
Fadimatou Noutchemo Simo founded the Young African Aviation Professional Association (YAAPA) in July 2014 and since then has made it her mission to raise awareness of aviation as a potential career in communities that might not otherwise consider it as an option.
The YAAPA has also been key in establishing a community centre in Cameroon, which aims to introduce a Youth Activation Tech Programme for Africa by matching interested young people with aviation professional mentors.