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The fact that only 1 in 5 employees in the aerospace sector is a woman holds back the industry

This week, the Australian space summit celebrates some of our country’s strengths and achievements in the space industry. But it takes place in the shadow of significant cuts in space technology investment announced in last week’s federal budget.

Space technologies play a vital role in meeting many national priorities, such as climate and disaster resilience, connecting regional Australians, contributing to regional security and driving economic growth. Yet the industry faces a branding problem: most people think of rockets and astronauts rather than the satellites we depend on worldwide.

This leads to a government misunderstanding about the importance of space technologies for the problems we are trying to solve. It also makes it more difficult to recruit talented people for the field.

So, how do we find enough people with the skills needed to grow this critical technology sector?

Why diversity and inclusion matter

The answer is to give a new priority to recruiting talent and expanding diversity and inclusion in the space sector.

The aerospace industry needs workers from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, but struggles to attract diverse talent. This is due to a misconception that the space offers only STEM-related jobs, as well as the predominantly white and male composition of the aerospace industry, government and academia.

This not only impacts the workforce pipeline, but potentially also the sector’s funding, due to a limited view of what kind of solutions the space sector can provide to society’s biggest challenges.

This is a pressing public relations issue for the space industry. It needs to rethink how it markets itself to the public in order to better recruit for a host of positions in areas such as space law, policy, technology management, social anthropology and archaeology, business, arts, communications and more.

The sector must also make diversity a priority. Just currently one in five employees in the aerospace industry is female. First Nations Australians also remain sidelined, despite the fact that most of our ground-based infrastructure for space systems resides on Indigenous land.

We need greater inclusiveness of perspectives from people of different genders, sexual orientations, and ethnic and linguistic backgrounds, as well as people with disabilities. Research shows that diverse and inclusive groups lead to more trust, democracy and innovationless ‘groupthink’, more positive work environments and more employee retention.

In addition, greater diversity could make it easier to tell the story of why space technologies are important to society. This would help in terms of government funding and the industry’s ability to rise above its weight globally.

A national conference on diversity in space

Last month, we brought together more than 200 experts from the aerospace industry, government, academia and community to discuss these issues at the first-ever national conference on gender equality and diversity in space.

Participants agreed that diversity is a missed opportunity for the space sector. Many of the challenges facing the industry can be addressed by recruiting from a more diverse talent pool and ensuring different perspectives are provided integrated into technology design and solutions.

Here are some of our top recommendations:

1) Improve working conditions and create informal networks

Policy changes can help with diversity recruitment, such as addressing poor organizational cultures, offering fair leave policies, and improving current promotion and hiring policies.

But informal networks are also important. In several countries there are networks for women in space, such as The United States And New Zealand, which have proven essential to developing a more diverse workforce. A new Women in Space Network is launching soon in Australia.

2) Don’t just pay lip service to diversity

Diversity must be put at the center of programs and policies, both in the space sector and in governments at the federal and state/territory levels. The space industry also needs to better explain the importance of its work to government agencies.

3) Establish procurement policy for diversity

This includes minimum goals to support women-owned and First Nations-owned aerospace companies and give preference to aerospace companies that demonstrate improvements in the diversity of their workforce.

Australia is in danger of falling behind

In 2025, Australia will host the International Astronautical Conference, the largest annual conference for the aerospace industry in the world. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate our leadership in advancing a values-based, diverse, equitable and sustainable space industry.

But if tangible action is not taken now, the Australian space industry risks falling further behind our international counterparts.

The Australian Space Agency is currently working with a number of organizations including the Global Institute for Women’s Leadershipthe ANU Institute for Space and the Australian Space Management Centreto develop its own policy for diversity in the space sector.

This is a step in the right direction, especially in light of the latest budget. But the industry also needs to do more with diversity data transparency, as well as tangible commitments and actions.

To this end, we conduct research into improving diversity in the space sector.

We invite everyone in government, industry and academic positions to join us participate in a survey to describe their experiences with inclusion, diversity, equality and access to their work. This input will contribute to Australia’s statement on diversity and inclusion in the space sector.

The conversation

This article has been republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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