When it comes to aviation, there's one company who takes pride when it comes to setting examples as a force for change and gender equality: Etihad Airways.
They are inclusive and progressive when it comes to ensuring diversity within their ranks; not only when it comes to their commitment to hiring women, but also to create career paths which constantly grow and evolve.
Just ask Linda Celestino, Vice President Guest Service & Delivery for Etihad Airways. She spoke to Irish Tatler about her varied, challenging role within the company, the importance of a mentor and the special initiatives created to help women around the world.
Tell us a little about working for Etihad Airways, particularly as a female employee?
As just one of few female executives in our organisation, it is both a tremendous honour and a tremendous responsibility to ensure we role model company values, challenge equal opportunities and work towards true gender equality. Having worked in this industry for nearly four decades, I can honestly say there is nowhere I’d rather be than right where I am now.
I love that no two days are the same for me and my team. Working in Etihad Airways is a truly unique and wonderful opportunity – there are many elements about working in this part of the world that sets it apart from everywhere else and I feel very privileged to be able to experience it and be a part of the team that is bringing the Abu Dhabi vision to life.
Changes and challenges
How has your role changed and diversified since you’ve been with the company?
It’s been quite a ride, I have to say! I joined Etihad as the Vice President of Guest Services in 2015, and it’s really interesting to be able to say that back then, when I was leading a 7,000-strong Cabin Crew community, and managed our onboard and lounge services – not a small portfolio by any means - that things moved at a much more reasonable pace!
Two years later I became Vice President of Guest Experience & Delivery, one of the largest commercial divisions at Etihad Airways, overseeing not just the in-flight product and service delivery for cabin crew, but the entire guest journey: from the contact centres to guest relations; from cabin interiors to the Midfield Terminal; from brand and product to the global lounges; from in-flight entertainment and connectivity to guest research.
Fast forward to today, and I’ve moved to the Operations division, where I lead the In-Flight and Ground Service Delivery & Hospitality, In-Flight and Ground Service Training, Catering Operations, Catering and Food Services, Hub and Global Lounges, Operations Communications, and Cabin Crew teams.
I think it’s safe to say that my role has changed and diversified quite a bit in the last four years, and I am so fortunate to be able to work with the teams that I do and contribute to the business every step of the way.
Have there been any company initiatives you’ve been especially proud to be involved with?
On a companywide level, there are a few standout initiatives I am both excited and so proud to be a part of:
Hosting the Special Olympics earlier the year in Abu Dhabi. Supporting the Athletes of Determination from around the world as they travelled to the UAE to compete was truly life-changing. Watching the impact this had on our organisation and the team of Etihad volunteers in the hundreds, who gave their time and efforts so selflessly, was truly inspirational.
Our global charity work with both women and children. This year alone we have supported the Global Education Project in India by opening an IT skills development centre for girls; we opened a learning and development centre and distributed books, bags and stationery to 2,400 children in a refugee camp in Jordan; we marked Emirati Women’s Day with an initiative called ‘Her Abaya My Gift’ where we collected more than 5,000 abayas and donated them to refugee women in Jordan, Bangladesh, Lebanon and Greece.
Our United Nations Sustainable Development Goals alignment. We operated our first Eco flight on Earth Day this year, removing all single-use plastic inflight, and now commit to the ongoing reduction of plastic year on year, the design and development of sustainable alternatives and responsible production and fuel consumption
Our UN Women partnership where we will collaborate further both in the UAE and globally - to support education, health services, training and employment opportunities to young women and girls in remote and disadvantaged communities.
Tell us about any mentors you have had in the company and how they changed your career?
Mentoring is an organic process and looking back, some of my greatest mentors appeared when I least expected it - in fact, I was mentored many times without even knowing it.
Stick by your values and your word. Reputation and relationship in business is everything. Successful women are often at the brunt of both envy, disrespect and misunderstanding. Don't fall into the trap of, "if you can't beat them, join them.” I say, "if you can't beat them, try harder!"
I have absolutely benefited from the advice of so many important informal and formal mentors; now, with well over 35 years of aviation experience under my belt, I have the opportunity to pay it forward.
I am committed to making a difference to other young people at the beginning of their career journeys and am particularly invested in empowering young women.
More than just a women's issue
What would you like to see more of in terms of women in the business world?
To start with – more women! It is a fact - organisations that embrace gender diversity perform better than those that don't. Gender balance is not purely a women's issue, nor should it be considered diversity for diversity's sake alone. It's an economic issue, a performance issue, and employee engagement issue.
We at Etihad are committed to true diversity and inclusion, and I am so proud to have the opportunity to help be a part of the solution and the ongoing evolution across our business and the wider industry.