Kathy Bonneville, Managing Director, Accenture elaborates how airlines can leverage digital to bridge the skill and gender gap. We also discuss how airlines can help the workforce keep pace with the future, close the gender pay gap and economic inequities. And how technology that focuses on helping employees be more productive can have a significant impact on airline profitability.

Accenture Travel: You are the Managing Director, Human Capital-Aviation, at Accenture. Tell us the adventures & turbulences you faced from on-boarding into the workforce, to propelling where you are today?

Kathy Bonneville: My first job out of graduate school was as a compensation analyst in the Human Resources department for a large insurance company. Working for an insurance company in the 1980’s was a great way to learn about the HR function and business and the work world in general, as insurance companies were very structured and did things in a very deliberate and planful way.

Seven years later, I left the insurance industry and joined Northwest Airlines, which was a huge culture shock as the airline industry in the early 1990s was anything but structured and planful. I did learn a lot though, as we went through a leveraged buyout, IPO, expansion and profitability, then massive layoffs and pay cuts. That experience helped prepare me for the next 15+ years consulting in the aviation and travel industry.

I always knew I would end up in a consulting role. My top 3 StrengthsFinders strengths are learner, input and intellection which means that I love learning and in my role as a consultant I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of clients around the world, helping them address some of their most critical issues.

I feel very fortunate to have become a part of Accenture at a time when airlines have the capital to invest in their people and their infrastructure, especially digital, and I now have the resources, tools and capabilities to bring to my clients.

It’s also a great time to be in the Human Capital, or Talent & Organization space as people-related issues have risen to the top of the priority list for executives and their boards at most of our clients, including airlines, as they struggle to attract and retain the talent critical to competing in today’s constantly changing market.

AT: How can airlines help the workforce keep pace with the future as connected devices and artificial intelligence enhance travel & traveler experience?

KB: It is no longer a question of “if” but “when or how” airlines will leverage digital to keep ahead of rising customer expectations.

Most of the digital investments in the airline industry in the last few years have focused on customer-facing technology., but we have already begun to have conversations with several of our airline clients on how digital technology can also be used to improve operational performance, as well as, the employee experience.

From employee engagement survey results we know that airline employees tend to score high on engagement questions related to their job responsibilities and their ability to impact customer satisfaction. By enhancing the tools and resources employees use in their interactions with customers, we can positively impact the employee experience at the same time that we help to improve the customer experience.

Employees currently represent the largest expense at today's airlines so technology focused on helping employees be more efficient and productive can have a significant impact on profitability. These type of changes, however, may require more than just automating transactional activities and augmenting employees with technology, but may also require changing what and how airline employees do their work and reskilling these employees so they can focus on more value-added activities.

The unique roles in the airline industry, as well as, the highly unionized environment present additional challenges to using digital technology to transform how airline employees work. True transformation will require collaboration among all stakeholders, including union representatives, to ensure it is successful.

We are uniquely qualified to partner with our airline clients to identify opportunities and execute on them using a highly collaborative and structured process.

AT: EASYJET CEO recently said 1 he is taking a pay cut to put himself in line with the former CEO, who was a woman. This is a great case but only one. How can we close the gap of economic inequities?

KB: Experts agree that resolving the gender pay gap will require a multi-faceted approach involving individuals, businesses, government and academia.

Research by Accenture indicates that a combination of helping women become digitally fluent, better manage and make better career choices, and acquire greater technology and digital skills can help close the pay gap by 35 percent worldwide.

I also believe that since managers like to hire and promote people who are like themselves, getting more women on boards and in senior management positions can increase the chances of women advancing into higher paying positions. Coaching and mentoring by women and men can also have a significant impact.

The airline industry is surprisingly fairly balanced in terms of the total percentage of women and men employed. However, individual roles are very gender-biased and the higher paid roles like pilots are predominantly filled by men. Similar to roles that require a STEM subject degree or digital experience, efforts to increase the number of female pilots would have to start with educating and encouraging girls to enter these fields when they are still in secondary school.

Seniority-based pay systems in place at many of the airlines in the U.S. ensures equal pay for women once they are hired into these roles.

AT: Accenture research shows executives are currently less likely to make a direct connection between the digital skills they need but often lack and the online labor marketplace’s ability to fill them. How can travel companies overcome this challenge?

KB: Like most industries, digital technology will change the type of skills required by many employees in the travel industry, including not only customer-facing employees but those in operations and corporate functions.

Leveraging on-demand talent pools may be a solution for operations and corporate functions, especially in the short-term until current employees have been reskilled or work has been transformed.

Future hiring of more specialized roles like cabin crew will likely require changing the profile of the desired skill set to include digital fluency.

Accenture research indicates that data-driven personalization in the travel industry should create more demand for products and services, which likely means more jobs. Filling these new roles will require new sources of acquiring talent versus traditional channels.

AT: How do you achieve work-life balance?

KB: I love to travel so I have been fortunate to be able to indulge that hobby during my consulting career. When traveling to a new destination, I make sure to stay over the weekend at some point of the engagement so I have time for sightseeing. I am also an avid reader and have eclectic taste so I make extensive use of my Kindle while traveling.

My son and daughter were 12 and 8 when I started my consulting career, and they were both very active in sports programs, so those years were very hectic. I was also a single mother, but my dad moved in with us after my mom died so he was a great help in my early years as a consultant.

I shared my work experiences with my kids, so I think they grew up knowing that I enjoyed what I did and that it was important to me. Consulting can be a pretty demanding career but it also provides some flexibility in your schedule, so I think I was able to balance personal and work commitments and make sure my kids knew they were a priority. They are both in HR-related fields, so I think it must have had a positive impact on them.

I think my generation created some of our own unreasonable expectations for both personal and work commitments. I am happy for my son and daughter and their future families to demand more balance in their lives, and that companies like Accenture are changing to meet the needs and expectations of their workforce.

AT: Your favorite holiday spot to unwind is?

KB: There are too many to name – any place with great beaches, art museums, theatre, great restaurants or places to have a drink and people watch!


Kathy Bonneville

Managing Director – Accenture


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