Irish Women of the World: Chris Browne and Elizabeth Aston fly high in tourism

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve found an outstanding bunch of Irish women whose influence is felt around the world. Meet the women who have flown right to the top of the travel industry

Elizabeth Aston 

Senior adviser industry affairs, Amadeus IT Group

Elizabeth Aston, neé Rogers, began her career in Irish tourism and with fluency in Spanish, French and Italian it was not long before she was moved onwards into Europe. A stint in London in a number of management positions then led her to Spain. She was managing director Spain for an internet start-up, the prototype of the sharing economy.

Now as senior adviser industry affairs at Amadeus IT Group, she is based in Madrid and is responsible for strategic initiatives at government and institutional level including regulatory bodies in Brussels. Amadeus provides the technology which keeps the travel industry moving. From initial search, pricing, making a booking, ticketing, managing reservations to check-in and departure, Amadeus is at the heart of billions of journeys every year. The annual turnover last year was almost € 4 billion.

The big focus for Aston is encouraging young people to consider the travel and tourism industry as a career. She is on the board of the Global Travel & Tourism Partnership, an alliance between business and education to educate young people about careers in the industry.

Does a woman have to be more talented/work harder/be more ambitious than a man to succeed at the same job?

“Sadly I have to say that despite the fact that we are now in the 21st century, this is still the case. I have experienced it and witnessed it in the careers of female friends and colleagues throughout my career. On a positive note, the situation is improving, but we still have a long way to go for things to be truly equitable. My daughter, now 20 and in her penultimate year of university, will be entering the workplace next year. I always thought there would be true equality by the time she got there. Hopefully it will become the reality for the millennial generation.”

Does female solidarity exist, and if so, how has it helped her?

“For a large part of my career I was a solitary woman in a man’s travel technology world. Certainly during most of my years managing global customers, that was the case on business trips, in meetings, at conferences and dinners etc. The reality on the road was that there were few females to create solidarity with. That has changed for the better in the last years and there is certainly more evidence of females as role models and a willingness to collaborate for mutual success. I see this particularly now with the creation of a women’s network group in my company across multiple global sites. Sponsored by the female head of Global HR, women at all levels feel motivated and empowered through this network which includes an informal mentoring programme. And a few brave men have joined too to lend their support.”

Is there a good piece of advice she was given along the way?

“Always treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself. Never let anyone in a position of authority intimidate you, they are human just like you.”

Chris Browne OBE

Director, EasyJet

Being a pioneer in an industry that is predominantly male centric is quite an achievement for Strabane, Co Tyrone, women Chris Browne. She smashed the glass ceiling in a number of companies she has worked in. With a major in Spanish from Queen’s University, she rose through the ranks of Iberia, the Spanish national carrier, to become the youngest, the first woman and first non-Spaniard to hold the job of general manager UK and Ireland.

In 1999, she joined First Choice as managing director of retail and direct, and then went on to become the chief operating officer for TUI Aviation, the UK’s third largest airline. She was responsible for a fleet of 62 aircraft and a team of 5,000 staff.

Browne was involved in choosing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner as the aircraft for the future for Thomsonfly and purchased a dozen before stepping down in September. She has since joined EasyJet as a non-executive director and is also a director of Bovis Home. In her spare time she is a keen amateur sailor and has a passion for shoes.

What was her pathway into aviation, which would be seen as a more male-oriented industry?

“With a passion for travel and modern languages I wanted to make sure I used my degree when I found work. So I started at Iberia Airlines of Spain where I rose through the ranks of that macho organisation.”

Does a woman have to be more talented or ambitious to succeed in the same job?

“Certainly women have to work really hard at getting their fair share of promotion and much more so than men who can almost take it for granted. It’s much harder, I think, for working mothers who have so much to juggle. But I’ve always believed in meritocracy and nothing beats hard work and determination if you want to succeed. Just don’t ever give up.”

To what extent is it becoming easier for women to succeed in aviation?

“I do hope that the precedent of some very successful women in aviation is paving the way for others. Carolyn McCall has set a tremendous example at the helm of EasyJet and has just started a campaign to promote more female pilots.”

What would she say to someone at the start of their career in aviation?

“You have to be really strong to last in this business. It’s not for the faint-hearted as there is just so much thrown at you that you cannot predict or necessarily control – geopolitical uncertainty, fluctuations in oil and currency, fierce competition, ash cloud. But it’s a fantastically rewarding business, with true professionals and wonderfully talented people. And it’s great fun.”