“Space is for the benefit of all humankind” is one of the basic tenets of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. In theory, the premise of something being untainted by human prejudice is beautiful. Nevertheless, that premise is far from being a reality. Not just geopolitically, but within the space industry as well. How can space benefit all humankind when the industry has not been particularly inclusive? Of course, no one should be faulted for overlooking this contradiction. No industry is perfect; systemic issues are reinforced throughout decades. As a truly global industry, it is easy to mistake global participation for overall diversity. However, the truth about diversity is that the concept of it is not monolithic. Diversity exists on a spectrum of race, gender, disability, and other historically marginalized groups. Over the past year, there have been multiple initiatives within the space industry to address equity, diversity, and inclusion. While admirable, these initiatives have been performative at best. Performative activism is one reason why these initiatives will not accomplish much because they focus on the lack of diversity for diversity’s sake without working towards an understanding and solution. Mindfully approaching this problem should be a concerted effort done over a period of time. This is one reason why the Diversity Action Team (DAT) was created in 2020 — to better educate SGAC on the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion. A few months shy from the first anniversary of DAT’s creation, it is only fair to give our fellow SGAC members an update lest we become guilty of the same performative activism I just mentioned.

As anyone reading this likely knows, SGAC is an organization of over 14,000 members in more than 150 countries worldwide. Like many organizations of this size, SGAC cannot rely solely on members’ goodwill to understand diversity and change the culture to a more inclusive one. As a result, DAT is working on analyzing the results of SGAC’s previous surveys on diversity as well as the creation of a new survey to be issued among the organization. DAT members will also be conducting outreach to Project Group leads and other SGAC team leads in order to:

  1. identify areas where we can improve our approach to diversity and inclusion and
  2. establish goals for our organization and clear metrics by which to measure our progress towards those goals on, at a minimum, an annual basis.

The main objective is to identify clear areas where we can work to improve our approach to diversity and inclusion. Ultimately, DAT will release a report on the status of diversity within SGAC, including recommendations for improvement.

With that said, the point of this contribution is to build an understanding of why it is important for as many members as possible to continue participating in our survey and outreach efforts. Generally, the best diversity and inclusion strategies start with collecting data. As surveys are one of the most effective ways to collect data, it will allow DAT and SGAC to understand the representation and dispersion of people from different groups throughout the organization. When done well, surveys provide hard numbers on people’s opinions and behaviours that can be used to make important decisions. Within the context of SGAC, this may include members’ perceptions of inclusion and where our diversity-related shortcomings may exist (such as during the onboarding process or during the General Assembly). The fact is that surveys give everyone a voice, and engaging members to voice their concerns will help with engagement in the long term. 

Moreover, survey and outreach efforts will help to identify which diversity and inclusion topics could have the greatest impact on the organization. For instance, this may allow SGAC to create a plan in which training for members and leaders is one component. While the value of diversity is something inherent to SGAC, without data to reference, DAT will be unable to make a strong case for why diversity and inclusion understanding is necessary and worthwhile for the organization. For anyone curious about the drawbacks organizations and industries encounter by not fully realizing diversity and inclusion, here is a great breakdown provided by TalentLyft on some of the value diversity has on an organization:

  • Diversity ensures a variety of different perspectives. The more diverse an organization correlates to more access to a variety of different perspectives. This is extremely beneficial when it comes to planning and executing strategies. 
  • Diversity increases creativity. Exposure to a variety of different perspectives and views leads to higher creativity. Case in point, look at SGAC’s Our Giant Leap (OGL) initiative and the work they are doing to address gender equality in the aerospace sector. OGL recently launched an amazing magazine on International Day of Women’s Rights.
  • Diversity increases innovation. Diverse and inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market. 
  • Diversity allows for faster problem-solving. According to Harvard Business Review, diverse teams are able to solve problems faster than cognitively similar people. 
  • Diversity allows for better decision making. When diverse teams make a business decision, they outperform individual decision-makers up to 87% of the time. 

There is literally power in diversity, but without any surveys and outreach efforts to back it up the power in diversity just becomes anecdotal. The ability to ensure that space is for the benefit of all humankind depends upon the existence of a robust commercial and scientific space sector. To fully support the talent pool of young professionals worldwide that are necessary for the future of space development and exploration, DAT needs as many members of SGAC to participate in the action. To recap, in the upcoming months, DAT plans to meet with external experts and groups interested in improving diversity, meet with internal SGAC teams, analyze previous surveys and issue internal surveys on diversity, as well as release our findings in a report. DAT will be putting an emphasis on the ‘Action’ in Diversity Action Team because globally increasing diversity in aerospace is the right thing to do from a humanity perspective.

If you have any suggestions, comments, clarifications, or would like to reach out to DAT, please feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]. Remember, DAT is not interested in increasing diversity just for the sake of diversity; this is about understanding and changing the status quo towards the development of a better space culture community.