Inspirational Woman: Sara Pavan | Director of Strategic Relationships Programmes, AirHelp

Sara Pavan is the Director of Strategic Relationships and Programmes at AirHelp, the world’s leading travel technology company supporting passengers with flight disruptions. In her role, she identifies areas for collaboration, creation and change to help the industry tackle and reduce the impact of travel disruption.

Sara joined AirHelp in October 2023, after working for 18 years at Amadeus IT Group, starting as a Product Account Manager, and progressing to Director of Strategic Partnerships and Corporate Partnership.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I am of Italian origin and have been living abroad since I was 21 – starting in Copenhagen, before heading to Australia, Nice, Madrid, Stockholm, Dallas and now back in Madrid. I love exploring new countries, finding cultural diversity to be extremely enriching. I am passionate about travel and technology, with over 18 years of experience in the industry and a strong background in Strategic Partnerships & Innovation, which started initially at university and built up further throughout my time at Amadeus IT Group.

I am highly interested in discovering and exploring new ideas to shape the future of travel and have actively participated in the creation of incubation and acceleration programmes to help airlines, travel agencies and hospitality players test new ideas, diversify and grow.

I have also worked in exploratory research on emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and IoT, fostering the exchange of ideas and best practices among technology, industry and institutional stakeholders.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes and no…I have career goals in mind and the guiding principle to accomplish them, however, I leave a lot of room for spontaneity so that I can follow opportunities as they come along, explore different interests, take calculated risks, and trust my intuition. Planning helps you set and clarify what you don’t want to do or become. Ultimately your path is defined by the opportunities that are presented to you along the way, the ones that you are open to see and those that you eventually take on.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Every time I change job, location, or company I see it as a personal challenge. These changes push me out of my comfort zone and make me face the uncertainty of the unknown, as well as question whether I will like it and be good at it or bring value. At first, simply the idea of taking a move seems impossible, however, then you realise it is precisely those changes and moments of concern that can open the door for growth, both professionally and personally.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My biggest career achievement to date relates to evolving my professional profile in different directions. I started in product management, before moving to sales, strategy, ventures, innovation, partnerships, and ultimately industry relations. All of those roles are very different from one another and helped me build a diverse skill set, gain valuable experience, expand my network, and discover new opportunities for growth and advancement.

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

Being curious and always pushing my boundaries, has led to continuous learning and helped me build resilience, adaptability and confidence.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology? 

Technology is constantly evolving, which makes continuous learning key to moving in this space – always be on top of the latest trends, tools, and technologies through online courses, workshops, seminars, and reading industry publications. It is critical also to build a strong professional network within the technology industry. You can do this by attending events, joining online communities, and connecting with professionals in this field, as this can lead to new opportunities, mentorship, and valuable insights.

What barriers for women working in tech are still to be overcome?

The main barrier is the lack of inspiration and role models of women in technology leadership. Many young women may not see themselves as fitting into the tech community or envision themselves pursuing roles in this sector because they haven’t been exposed to the representation of women thriving in these fields.

With visible female role models and mentors in tech, it’s easier for women to imagine themselves succeeding in such roles or even considering them as viable career options. The absence of women in leadership positions further reinforces the perception that tech is a male-dominated domain. As a result, many women may not feel inspired or encouraged to pursue careers in technology, leading to a significant gender disparity across the industry.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Companies should highlight and celebrate the achievements of women in technology to inspire and empower other women in the industry. They should also provide mentorship and sponsorship programs to provide valuable support and guidance for women within their businesses. Hosting networking events, workshops, and affinity groups to help foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie among women in the organisation.

In an ideal world, how would you improve gender diversity in tech?

I would start with education, promoting STEM programmes and interest among girls from a young age, and providing opportunities for hands-on learning, exposure to role models, and mentorship programs to encourage girls to pursue interests in technology fields. At the company level, I would push to establish leadership commitment to gender diversity as a way to ensure women’s inclusion in initiatives that are part of the organisation’s strategic priorities. This will ideally foster a pipeline of diverse leadership talent that will help identify and develop high-potential women for executive roles in tech.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech, e.g. podcasts, networking events, books, conferences, websites etc?

The good news is that there are more and more valuable resources to support people (men and women) in their professional tech development and networking. Specifically focused on educational tools for women, Girls Who Code is an organisation with the mission to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a programmer looks like and does. It offers many relevant programs worldwide, including summer immersion courses, specialised campus programs, after-school clubs, college loops and several books, to help girls learn and develop a career in technology.

The Women in Tech series of events, summits and seminars, which are organised worldwide, are also a good reference point, as they empower women attending those events to learn new skills, make valuable connections, discuss innovative trends, promote intersectionality, and access motivational leaders.

Read more from our other inspirational profiles here.