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Women in Business: Mentorship

Christine Ourmières-Widener
Former CEO at Flybe and Member of Board of Governors at IATA

Learning outcomes

  • The importance for women to find mentors early in their career to build confidence and provide guidance

Executive Bio

Christine Ourmières-Widener

Former CEO at Flybe and Member of Board of Governors at IATA

Christine was the CEO of Flybe, which was Europe’s largest regional airline, from 2017-19 and has over 30 years experience in the airline industry. She started her in 1988 at Air France before joining Amadeus inu 1992 as Director of Sales and Marketing in Europe for 4 years. In 1998, Christine rejoined Air France as VP, Sales before making her way to General Manager of Air France KLM for UK and then CEO of CityJet, the regional airline subsidiary of Air France KLM. Christine is also on the Board of Governors at the International Air Transport Association. Read more

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Interview Transcript

Can you remember any difficult situations or conversations, as you were climbing the ranks?

I had many discussions, in my career, about gender gap pay, for instance. But it was in those days where regulation and laws that now protect women, were not in place. I’m a very senior lady now, so I have experience and I know these experiences are not happening any more, in 99.9% of the organization. There is now the gender pay gap in most countries and people are very diligent in applying the laws.

People asking me how I got a job, for instance, today, that would never happen with many men. When you get these type of questions, you try to answer with humor and a smile because it doesn’t make any sense to have a reaction. Even if you feel hurt, you don’t want to show that.

How did you approach those conversations about pay, years ago, when there was no gender pay gap? How did you fight? How did you get heard? What was the process?

I didn’t know how to do it, to be honest. When you are really young in your career and you feel very hurt by some of the differences and you don’t know how to manage the discussion, because you don’t have any experience. Most of the time, at your level, you may not have any reference or anybody else to talk to, because all your colleagues are men. Retrospectively, it was not easy. You try but, sometimes, you don’t know if you have a right to do so, because who are you to decide if you think that is wrong. Deep inside, you know that it’s not the right thing. Then things improve, but it takes a long time.

What advice would you have for a 27 or 28-year-old Christine, today?

I think, building confidence, sooner rather than later and finding a mentor maybe sooner than I did, in my career. Not to be afraid to ask for advice, at any point in time, both from your close people, but also to others. When you are starting your career, you don’t know if you can ask advice to somebody senior and I can see that when I mentor young ladies. They ask me permission and they don’t know. They don’t want to take my time. No; I want to help you so if you want to call me anytime on your mobile, there are two options. I can take the call and I answer or I cannot take the call and I will call you back. To create this confidence that, if somebody is telling you, you can call my anytime, it’s true. Don’t be afraid of doing it because, most of the time, to be honest, for the mentor, it’s very rewarding to feel that you can help somebody. Most of the time, the questions you ask will take one or two minutes for your mentor to answer. They might say, no, I don’t think it’s a good idea at all. Or, I think it’s good to try; you don’t have anything to lose. Most of the time, it’s just a question to confirm a decision you have already taken or you have a doubt about something.

For me, the frequency has to be quite significant. Not in time, but in intensity. Maybe for two or three minutes, because waiting for one month, to have a half hour discussion is not as efficient as having small discussions, with the appropriate timing.

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