The highly ambitious and at times futuristic space sector is not a steady cruise for all; for many, it is a bumpy ride. All across the world, women and minorities in the space sector often learn to overlook the stigma of discrimination and accept it as the burden of a traditionally white male dominated work space. But, as we look into the future of space, we see the need for change.
From this necessity, Our Giant Leap was born within the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) in 2019. As the topic is global, it requires a truly international and long-term initiative. This has been realised through the creation of the Diversity and Gender Equality (Our Giant Leap) Project Group in 2021.
This Project Group works on the topics of diversity, inclusion and equality within the aerospace sector.
The global space sector is rich and distinct. However, it is not homogeneously diverse, remaining largely dominated by specific types of people and industries with certain backgrounds and cultures. As an example, the SGAC Membership Report 2019/2020 shows that from the 90 SGAC respondents of the survey, 60% are from Europe and the North and Central America, while the other regions are less represented: only 13% from Asia-Pacific, 13% from Africa, 10% from South-America and less than 3% from the Middle East. In addition, in some areas of the world, space is limited to only a few particular profiles.
However, research shows that increasing inclusivity leads to more innovative solutions. Therefore, not only is this vision beneficial for individuals – with access to the same opportunities no matter who they are and where they are coming from – but it has a highly positive impact on the entire community.
In addition to being underrepresented in the aerospace sector, minorities and non-conforming individuals who identify as such might face additional barriers through discrimination, racism, inequalities of treatments, exclusion…
When investing further into the topic, one may soon realise that the meaning of diversity is quite complex, influenced by a multitude of factors: nationality, culture, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental disabilities, language, educational background… A careful approach is therefore needed. As a result, this Project Group focuses on tackling diversity first from a geographic perspective, taking into account nationality, culture and language. As the Project Group will grow and more research will be carried out, it will broaden the focus to consider other aspects of diversity.
“If you are human, then gender issues are your concern” is one of the phrases in the up-coming communication campaign of Our Giant Leap. We regretfully realise that awareness still needs to highlight that gender equality concerns not half but the entire population. Little effort is required to realise that bringing equality, independence and power to women and reducing gender discrimination creates more economic power to society as a whole, as well as the clear moral and ethical imperatives. Furthermore, no country today has reached gender equality, and so it is a global issue, even though it can be quite unique depending on the local culture and social norms. Achieving gender equality requires a complex approach.
In addition to being underrepresented, women currently working in the space sector have to face many issues: harassment, discrimination, bias and… inequalities. 21% of engineering alumni who participated in the POWER study (a total number of 3700 participant) left the field after several years of working, indicating working conditions and climate, lack of advancement opportunities or low salary as the main reasons for leaving.
Not only are such issues outdated and far from the needs of a modern aerospace industry, but they can also discourage or disrupt the efforts of young women to enter associated educational programs, or pursue their careers in the aerospace domain. Therefore, not only is it important to close the gender gap in terms of representation, but also vital to build a more inclusive work environment if we want to make women stay.
In collaboration with SGAC sponsors and partners, the Diversity and Gender Equality (Our Giant Leap) Project Group will benefit from the motivation, ideas and great energy of its network, i.e. students and young professionals aged 18 to 35 years old from all over the world, to work on concrete and long-term activities to inspire, promote and engage a more equal, diverse and inclusive space sector:
- Raise awareness and break down stereotypes within and outside SGAC
- Tackle concrete concerns raised by minorities in the space sector
- Provide concrete recommendations for implementation in industry and academia, and setting an example through SGAC
- Inspire and provide avenues for young people from all horizons (gender, background, nationality, age, status…) to join the space sector
- Enrich the aerospace industry by advocating for gender equality, diversity and inclusion
- Create a lesson learned and practice platform on how we can reach out regarding diversity (trainings, presentations): facilitate and educate SGAC volunteers
- Set up a network of people interested ready to pursue the search for solutions to existing problems
The Diversity and Gender Equality (Our Giant Leap) Project Group is also answering several of the 10 SGAC principles: “embracing diversity” (principle 4) as primary objective, but also “working together” (principle 1), “making a positive impact” (principle 5), “being proactive” (principle 9) and “fostering improvements” (principle 10) as secondary objective
Note that the Project Group will also contribute to answering part of the following UN Sustainable Development Goals:
- SDG #4 Quality Education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
- SDG #5 Gender Equality: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls
- SDG #8 Decent Work and Economic Growth: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
- SDG #10 Reduced Inequalities: Reduce Inequalities Within and Among Countries