Aircraft Interior Expo’s Women in Aviation series shines a spotlight on industry thought-leaders and experts, with exclusive insights on both of the state of the market and navigating in the industry.
We sat down with Brenna Wynhof, Cabin, Features & Experiential Marketing at Boeing.
How long have you worked in the aviation industry?
“I began working with Boeing as an intern in 2010 but joined full-time in 2011.”
How did you get into the industry?
“I am fortunate that Boeing was a company that recruited at my university. I was interested in learning more about the aviation industry as it doesn’t have the same presence in Ohio as it does in other parts of the United States.”
What is it about working in the aviation industry that appeals to you?
“Aviation is the most incredible industry. Whether someone is taking a trip to visit a loved one, travelling for work, taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip, or establishing “home” in a new country – our industry helps make all those things possible.
It is such a privilege to enable connection and it is so special to get to be part of something that is so meaningful and so much bigger than yourself.”
As a woman, how do you find working in a male-dominated industry?
“Since I was young, I have always been labelled a “go-getter”. I have always loved a challenge. Entering into this industry, I knew that I might have to work harder to prove myself, but that didn’t bother me. I have had to work a bit harder than others, at times, but I have also been fortunate enough to have had female leaders in every organisation in which I’ve worked.
It is inspiring and encouraging to be led by strong women and I am grateful to work for a company that has enabled the advancement of women.”
Have you encountered any gender discrimination in your career?
“As a mother to two young children, I can say that there have been hard moments in my career. The working world is adapting and changing to the way we live our lives today but there are still infrastructures and biases that exist, making things a bit more challenging.
“Barriers between industry players need to be dropped so that we can work collaboratively.”
But I also see change. Existing policies are being updated and new policies are being put in place to better support women in their career development. I’ve seen so much improvement just in the short decade that I’ve been working.”
As a female senior leader, why do you think it’s important for companies to address diversity?
“There is so much beauty and strategic benefit in having a diverse workforce. We all have distinct perspectives and different lived experiences. By broadening representation in the workforce, a holistic and higher-quality spectrum of ideas can be brought forth.
But just as important as diversity is equity and inclusion. A diverse workforce is only as good as their opportunities to make contributions. These three components – diversity, equity, and inclusion – are interdependent and critical to developing the best and strongest workforce.”
What do you believe has been the key to your success?
“I am very persistent. I am not one to give up or get deterred by challenges. I also self-advocate. I am not afraid to communicate what I need to and from others. But most importantly, I never try to achieve anything alone.
As an employee at an engineering company with a non-technical background, it became apparent very quickly that I would not get very far without learning from and working with others.
I am a firm believer that I am most successful and can bring the most value to Boeing when I am partnering and working with my colleagues. I am one person with one frame of reference. Different people bring different skills and knowledge bases and I think it’s incredibly important to utilise teams to move people, and organisations, forward.”
What characteristics do you believe are needed to survive in the aviation industry?
“The aviation industry is no-nonsense. It is global. It can be volatile. Because of all of this, I think it’s imperative that those who work in the aviation industry are excellent communicators and demonstrate resilience.
Communication skills are incredibly important, regardless of industry. However, in such a globally interdependent and critical industry like aviation, they are of paramount importance. Lives are entrusted to our industry every day – appropriate and meaningful information is key to keeping our industry on its feet.
I am an emotional person by nature, which means that I invest myself fully in every aspect of my work. This also means that I might, sometimes, become a bit too closely tied to the output.
Over the years, I have learned that constructive feedback is not an attack on my character; but that critiquing and iterating are important elements of successful business practices. These harder moments have also helped me to become a better business professional.”
In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to women succeeding in the workplace?
“While not all women choose to become mothers, many do. Working mothers face an inordinate number of additional challenges placed on them due to their dual role as a working professional and mother.
“Communication skills are incredibly important, regardless of industry.”
Pregnancy discrimination, burnout due to societal expectations regarding family roles, as well as lack of childcare support, are all very real hurdles that women have to attempt to clear every day they go to work. Until these obstacles are tackled, head-on, there will always be struggles for women who desire a career and a family.”
What key change do you envision happening to the industry in the next 10 years?
“With the rapid, evolutionary changes in technology that we are seeing on the ground, I foresee a completely different landscape in aviation in 10 years. Once the industry has harnessed how to enable connectivity for the benefit of airline operations, I envision a seamless passenger journey, from ground to air, and more streamlined and efficient operations.”
What would you say has been your career highlight to date?
“I have been given so many incredible opportunities throughout my time at Boeing, but I have to say that one of the biggest highlights was getting to represent the cabin part of our business on the cover of a magazine publication at Boeing called Innovation Quarterly (IQ).
“Since I was young, I have always been labelled a “go-getter”. I have always loved a challenge.”
The cabin is such an instrumental part of our aircraft and the brilliant minds that came before me have built an amazing design legacy. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside and learn from many of them.
It was, honestly, a little intimidating but also such an honour to be affiliated with those extraordinary individuals as well as be recognised as part of the next generation of cabin leaders at Boeing.”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“This piece of advice has been given to me by multiple mentors throughout different phases of my life and in slightly different terms, but they all expressed the same sentiment. “Speak up for what you want and need, both professionally and personally”.
There is less grey area when you communicate your goals and ambitions. Don’t assume that opportunities will always fall into your lap. Waiting for someone to bestow advancement opportunities is not an effective way to grow in your career. Be your own advocate.”
What advice would you give to female professionals interested in a career in aviation?
“Come join us! This industry is so incredible and I hope more women feel inspired to help in the transformative work that we do each and every day. Don’t self-select yourself out because you are a woman. Don’t think that you aren’t “enough” because you don’t have a specific degree or enough time under your belt. Just come and join! I promise – you won’t regret it.”
What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing the aviation industry?
“The aviation industry is a competitive one. That competition has helped build it to the thriving industry that it is today. However, we are entering into a time where our industry is facing new challenges (i.e., sustainability, accessibility, connectivity).
These areas of focus should not be solved individually or competitively. Barriers between industry players need to be dropped so that we can work collaboratively, across the industry and outside the industry, to develop solutions to these challenges.
“I am a firm believer that I am most successful and can bring the most value to Boeing when I am partnering and working with my colleagues.”
In my opinion, these sorts of initiatives – sustainability, connectivity, and accessibility – aren’t battles to be won. There should never be a question of “who is more sustainable? Who is more accessible? Who is more connected?” These are all focus areas that better society and should be tackled through collaboration.
If you could change one thing in the aviation industry, what would it be?
“I wish that our industry could make decisions a bit faster. It can be challenging to constantly face “on-the-ground” trends and expectations, knowing that you can’t come close to replicating them in-the-air anytime soon.
There is so much time, effort, and financial resources that go into making anything air-worthy, which means that we, as an industry, always feel painfully behind… especially when it comes to the cabin.”
Brenna is just one of the many women in aviation pioneering the latest innovations, technologies and products.