To celebrate International Women’s Day 2018, some of our female staff talk about pushing for progress, overcoming career challenges, achieving work/life balance and excelling.

Antoinette Johnson

calendar-icon 8 March 2018

Antoinette Johnson, Staff Development Assistant

Antoinette works with the Learning and Development manager in the HR team to help plan, organise and deliver training and development for staff across St George’s, University of London.

Initially she wanted to be an airline pilot, so studied Air Transport Operations and Management at university

She said: “I graduated with a first but I couldn’t afford the fees to go to flying school, so after three years of doing a variety of jobs I started working as a course officer for three MSc Aviation Management courses at City University.”

Antoinette’s mum was an engineer so it wasn’t strange for her to believe she could be a pilot in a male-dominated profession with the support of her mother.

She said: “I was a very focused and bold child so when teachers would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said ‘a pilot’, they’d ask me what I really wanted to be and I’d say it again - ‘a pilot!’

“I didn’t doubt my ability but as a black woman I have had to constantly defend and convince others of my career choice. I always felt like I had to work harder and think outside of the box which I guess has become a great asset now.”

Antoinette’s experience at a flying school after she graduated was the first time she cracked under the frustration of being a minority.

She explained: “After the Managing Director of the flying school said ‘what on earth made you think you could fly’, I cried tears after I left his office out of anger, because I felt like the tests were comparing me to white male pilots and that wasn’t me.

“It just didn’t seem fair that sponsorship opportunities were out of the grasp of anyone who didn’t fit the mould.”

During her time as a course officer, Antoinette ran modules in Dubai, Bahrain and Germany.

She said: “Although I loved my job, I was approaching 30, still not flying and felt like a complete failure.

“I applied for a cabin crew job at British Airways just to get in the air and told a friend that if I didn’t get it I was leaving the country.”

Antoinette was devastated when she received the rejection, but stuck to her word and spent three and a half years in New York, living from day to day, cent to cent and air mattress to couch.

She said: “It was hard. I had no idea what I was doing but I absolutely loved the freedom I had to meet people, speak with them and help them. That’s when I really got in to the development of people both personally and professionally.”

Outside of her job as Staff Development Assistant, Antoinette is an author, speaker and coach.

She said: “I focus on the balance between my work and my wellbeing - that’s why I work part time. I work out at the gym and I make it important to spend time alone.

“I spend a lot of time in the Cayman Islands which is my place to hang out in my hammock and completely relax.

“I live to inspire and encourage others and when I come to work I don’t turn that off, it doesn’t change. This is me and whether it’s a full conversation, a listening ear or just a smile, I want to do my best to brighten someone’s day everywhere I go.”

Antoinette used to think success was having the left seat in a cockpit of a Boeing 747, flying around the world with four stripes on her shoulder, able to tell everyone she was a pilot. Now she views it very differently.

She said: “It’s having peace wherever I am and with whatever I’m doing. My top tip would be to define yourself by the life you live rather than the job you do and title you have.

“Also, don’t take other people’s words and behaviours personally. It’s amazing how much time and energy we spend reacting to other people’s moods and personalities and how much that robs us of peace and the freedom to be ourselves, especially as women.”