Creating Inclusive and Diverse Organisations

08 March 2023

To mark International Women's Day, Air Vice-Marshal (AVM) Suraya Marshall CBE – the first woman to be appointed to command one of the Royal Air Force's two ‘Operational’ Groups, and the highest ranking ethnically diverse person in the British military – spoke to Leonardo staff about creating inclusive and diverse organisations, during a webinar organised by the company’s Equalise network group.

Since joining the RAF in 1994, AVM Suraya Marshall has seen frontline action during three tours as a Tornado F3 navigator, participating in numerous operational deployments to Iraq, as well as conducting Quick Reaction Alert in defence of the UK and the Falkland Islands. In addition to flying duties, the past three decades have seen AVM Marshall hold numerous Staff Officer roles, including being the Director of Coalition Air Operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Today, she serves as Air Officer Commanding No. 2 Group, a role she has held since October 2021.

In an open conversation about her RAF career and how her sense of service, rather than ambition, has driven her, AVM Suraya Marshall highlighted how critical diversity is to achieving an inclusive company culture.

“In all walks of life, even with a meritocracy such as the Royal Air Force, people are a product of their environment. We need to be wary of unconscious bias and culture informed by the majority. It takes a degree of emotional intelligence and self-awareness to create an inclusive culture. Language matters. The way we are and the culture of the organisation all matter,” she explained.

“That is why it’s a pleasure to speak with everyone at Leonardo today and to support the work that companies like yours are doing to promote diversity. The less diverse an organisation is, the harder it is to be truly inclusive.”

AVM Marshall also spoke about the importance of role models in every organisation.

“Having someone visible who others can see and aspire to be, is really important. If we don't do this, it will take so long to make a change. Early on in my career, I did not feel much responsibility to other women or ethnic minorities. To me, as long as I performed well professionally, I absolutely deserved to be there. However, over time, having mellowed and also by becoming a parent, I’ve recognised that being a role model is essential; it enables me to encourage other people to believe that they are able to successfully achieve things. I really believe in the ‘seeing it to be it’ approach, in order to positively influence the people around you.”

Managing Director of Leonardo Helicopters UK, Adam Clarke, who is also the executive sponsor of the Equalise network group, thanked AVM Marshall for her time and insights, stating that Leonardo is proud to stand alongside the RAF on International Women’s Day, and explaining how the company is addressing equality for women in the workplace.

“Society is making great strides towards understanding, increasing awareness and taking action to address gender parity challenges in the workplace. And at Leonardo we have an ongoing commitment to making lasting and positive change, investing in how and where we recruit, our development opportunities, how we manage performance, our succession plans and talent management.

“Springboard, Women in Defence mentoring, custom working and measures to support those with caring responsibilities are just some of the investments that we are committed to,” said Adam.

“As senior leaders in our business, I and my colleagues know that it is everyone’s responsibility to strive towards gender parity, as well as investing time, energy and resources on our broader company culture, which we are doing.”

Springboard Women’s Development Programme

Springboard Women’s Development Programme

Springboard is Leonardo's Women’s Development Programme for those wanting to enhance their own skills and abilities, and challenge power and equality, while building confidence, assertiveness and a positive image at work and at home.

Women in Defence Mentoring Programme

Leonardo is extending its commitment to gender balance across the defence industry by participating in the Women in Defence UK cross-defence mentoring programme, which “aims to champion female talent, encourage the sharing of knowledge and information across the sector, and help women to excel, thrive and succeed in defence.”

Women in Defence Mentoring Programme