FlightPlan III: Gender Diversity in Aviation has Far to Go, Says Ourmières-Widener


Christine Ourmières-Widener, TAP Air Portugal’s CEO, takes part in FlightPlan III: C-Suite Week

During the penultimate FlightPlan III: C-Suite Week interview, the BBC’s Aaron Heslehurst caught up with TAP Air Portugal’s new CEO, Christine Ourmières-Widener, to find out what she’s learned about the carrier so far and her future plans. FlightPlan III: C-Suite Week was developed by Inmarsat Aviation in partnership with APEX. 

When Christine Ourmières-Widener took part in FlightPlan III: C-Suite week, she had only been in her new role as CEO at TAP Air Portugal for ten days. During her interview with BBC Presenter Aaron Heslehurst, he asked what her vision is for the carrier, and her response was refreshing.

“When you arrive in a new position, you need to take the time to listen,” Ourmières-Widener explained. “I need more time to listen because often your employees and your partners already know some of the solutions and there have been people I can’t see yet because I can’t travel. There are business books that say you need to have a plan in 100 days, but I’m a strong believer that your understanding of an organization should be organic and that you will learn along the way, with a degree of humility that you need to have even as a CEO.”

Nonetheless, Ourmières-Widener does know in general terms what the company needs to look like in four or five years’ time: profitable and sustainable. “I’m not suggesting we become a B-Corp-certified organization, but why not, if it exists one day in the airline industry?” She added that she would like TAP Air Portugal to be the pride of the country once again, too. 

As well as dealing with the pandemic, the carrier is currently waiting for the EU to approve its restructuring plans. TAP Air Portugal recently launched the last step of its collective dismissal plan, which will see a total of 2,000 employees leave the group. But Ourmières-Widener believes these challenges also represent new opportunities. 

“Your understanding of an organization should be organic. You will learn along the way, with a degree of humility that you need to have as even as a CEO.”

Christine Ourmières-Widener, TAP Air Portugal

“We’ve seen a significant increase of engagement with our online channels. Perhaps we weren’t digital enough before, but we need to be. We need to harness this new way of being in contact with our customers, of knowing them and delivering services to them. We need to try to solve their problems efficiently. Digitalization is not just a buzzword, it’s a reality.”

For Ourmières-Widener, embracing “digital” more doesn’t just relate to TAP’s app and website. “It covers our brand new in-flight entertainment and the capacity for high-speed in-flight connectivity. This, and understanding our customer, will allow us to become real retailers,” she said. Her hope is that passengers will be able to access the full range of TAP’s products and services anytime, anywhere, but especially from the comfort of their aircraft seat. 

When asked whether she thought aviation was doing enough to increase gender diversity throughout the industry, Ourmières-Widener response was brief. “I am a pragmatic person. If the industry was doing enough, the outcome would be different.” Although she’s had a “long career,” during which she has mentored many women, Ourmières-Widener said she hasn’t seen much evolution in terms of gender diversity. “But with the right people in the right positions, we will see more significant changes,” she added. 

Heslehurst mentioned that more needed to be done when children are in early education, but Ourmières-Widener said it’s also important to speak to parents of very young children. “I am a mother of three and I think that we are biased in our behaviour when we manage the educations of our girls and boys,” she said. “We did some studies earlier on in my career and it’s true that girls never picture a pilot being a woman. It’s about making sure we don’t give only dolls to girls and Legos to boys.”

You can access the interview and others from the event here