Anne Lillywhite is Director, Aerospace Engineering at Honeywell.

Anne Lillywhite, HoneywellHoneywell is a global technology company, whose aim is to make air travel safer, more efficient and reduce costs.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I grew up in the French Riviera, in the beautiful city of Cannes – where I got my first degree. I then moved to Lyon, where I studied to become a research and development engineer. My first job was in Paris, but I soon moved to Toulouse to work for Motorola – my beginnings were in telecoms engineering. I decided to make the move to aviation in 2008, and I haven’t looked back since.

I have been at Honeywell for almost three years now as director of engineering for Europe, based in the Czech Republic, and I currently manage around 300 engineers. We work on cockpit systems, as well as navigation and sensors technology for international aviation manufacturers. Every day is different at Honeywell, which is something I really enjoy. I get to meet and work with interesting and diverse people. I could never work in a company that has just one kind of person – this is one of the reasons that Honeywell is so great to work for.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In short, no! It’s an interesting question, because it’s always what you would like to do. You think that you’ll sit down and make a rational plan, which isn’t always what happens. Having said that, I have made my big career decisions based on mature thinking. For example, when I decided to leave telecoms for aviation it was something that I really thought through. Although it was still engineering, it was as if I were changing from one industry to another. When you leave one company for another, it’s something that needs careful consideration. However, when it’s within a company you tend to go with the flow a bit more and can’t always plan what’s going to happen.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I was very young when I began my career. I got my degree at 21 years old, and I wasn’t always taken seriously. It took me a while to build my credibility. At the time I felt that, especially in the tech industry, you had to work a bit harder to be taken seriously as a woman, whereas for a man it seemed by default they were credible. Luckily, at Honeywell I feel very respected – I don’t feel any less credible for being a woman. They truly believe in the importance of diversity. Also, being a mother of two can present challenges! You really do need to be very organised. I think that this has actually made me a better engineer – my time management has improved massively, which is so important when you’re taking on a big project. This is also something that is valuable for managing a big team. You need to be able to have oversight of what everyone is doing and where that fits into the bigger picture.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

At one of my previous jobs, there was a project that my boss didn’t want me to take on. In the end, we compromised and did it – but with much fewer staff than I had envisaged. I was proud of our success, as I felt that I had proven my capabilities. It also taught me that the biggest challenges build the biggest team bonds!

At Honeywell, I am proud of the results I’ve helped drive as part of our team. So far, we have reached every milestone that we have set. However, what I would say I am most proud of is bringing diversity to the team. I feel like I am shaping the landscape a bit here! We hire a range of people from different backgrounds, which I feel has improved the team. In the last year for example, I have hired engineers from all over the world – America, Greece, Italy, India and France, and we are constantly expanding and looking to improve the diversity of our team. Diversity of people is key to diversity of thought. Diverse teams generate better ideas and enable innovation.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I take inspiration from Apollo 13 – failure is not an option! My mindset is that I never fail, I learn. I am very passionate, I believe that you can always reach your goal, even if there are obstacles along the way. Every step is simply a learning. I think that my energy and dedication have been instrumental in my success, and I also believe it’s important to be inclusive. Get help and engage people, if and when you need it, to get the best results.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I think that mentoring is great. I mentor a lot of people, from employees in Czech Republic to students back in France. I think it is a valuable way to learn. I’ve always had mentors that contribute in different capacities to my growth, which I think is fantastic.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I like to think of it in this way: we need to make a sandwich. We must build on equality from the bottom up, but we really need it top down as well. From the top, what could make a great difference is if we had the female equivalent of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos. We have a lot of great C-suite women, but the day that we have a female equivalent of these figures, that would make a tremendous difference. To change things from the bottom up, I think that it is important for organisations to diversify their hiring practices. This is what Honeywell has done, and I can see such a difference in the diversity of thought. There is no doubt that this is the best way forward.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

My greatest piece of advice to my younger self would be to not leave anyone behind. It’s so important to take the time to make sure everyone on your team is on board and up to date with what you’re doing. I found that I could sometimes get caught up in how great an idea was that I didn’t take the time to make sure everyone understood and was included. Sometimes it is very important to slow down.

Something else that I have learned with time is to acknowledge and act upon feedback. When it is constructive, feedback is a vital way to learn and grow within your career.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I love being at Honeywell, and I think it is a truly fantastic company to work for. I feel trusted as both an engineer and a leader. As for the future, I am looking forward to continuing to bring success to the company. Whether it’s as the leader of this team, or in the next role that remains to be seen. Although I am very focused on results, I also care very much about people and think that our drive for diversity is, and will continue to be, a key effort for the future.