ADS, the trade organisation for companies in the UK aerospace, defence, security and space sectors, has chosen six pioneering women to adorn meeting rooms in their London office.

One of those is Jenny Body, who was the first woman to become president of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 2013. Body created software for fly-by-wire aircraft, led the wing engineering team for the Nimrod MR4 and the became engineering lead for the A400M wing, and was head of R&D at Airbus until her retirement in 2010.

Her work on technology and in support of diversity in her field led to her being awarded a CBE. To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science (IDWGIS), on 11 February, she spoke to FINN about her career – and how being a woman in a male-dominated industry had its advantages.

Did you encounter any particular challenges on your path to becoming the first female president of the Royal Aeronautical Society?

There were two main ‘streams’ of challenge – firstly the assumption from male colleagues that I was there to ‘make the tea’ rather than actually be part of the team and secondly from myself that I didn’t belong or deserve to be there.

Increasingly these ‘challenges’ are being recognised and addressed but so many years ago it was hard to maintain a positive and constructive focus. There were just a few men who were very supportive, but sometimes it felt very lonely and almost too much.

Despite this, as I became more senior and there was increasingly understanding that a diverse workforce was better for business, I was able to succeed and be recognised – initially in my day to day work but then in the wider Aerospace community. Sometimes being different and ‘standing out’ can help!

You were awarded a CBE in part for your work supporting diversity – what you wanted to achieve from this work and how did you set about doing it?

My view is that everyone should have the same opportunities in life which must not be decided by background, gender, race. Also increasingly it is recognised that a diverse workforce and diversity of thought produce better business result. This gives both a moral and a business imperative.

With my work both at Royal Aeronautical Society and other institutions I worked with, I was (and am!) determined to ‘call out’ bad practice and to highlight successes and support initiatives aimed at improving diversity in the work force, in universities.

Equality, diversity and inclusion has remained a thread throughout all my activities. I remain frustrated that decisions continue to be made early in people’s careers (at school for instance) taking ill-informed advice – “not a job for a girl”, “people like you won’t get the right grades”.

What message would you send to girls and women about pursuing an aerospace career in 2023?

Go for it and do it. Now is a great time to get involved. Sustainability is under pinning most of what the industry is doing and there are great opportunities for all.

The business models are changing. The products are exciting. Aerospace and aviation have an important place in connecting the world

What does it mean to you to be honoured with a named room at the ADS London office?

Thrilled and delighted – it is great to see something at the heart of the industry recognising women and their contribution. I was so pleased when a colleague mentioned they had had a meeting in ‘my’ room.
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