The aerospace world has come a long way from the boys’ club it once was, but there is still a long way to go. Today, 24 companies, including major old and new, like ULA, SpaceX, JPL and Rocket Lab, committed to improving diversity and inclusion, with regular check-ins to keep each other honest.
The Space Workforce 2030 commitment is just that, a commitment, and not a shared set of concrete actions, but getting a couple dozen major space companies to agree on the exact steps they need to take would take years. Therefore, the companies agreed to “significantly increase the number of women and employees from underrepresented groups in our collective technical workforce” and in senior leadership positions; work with universities to improve the diversity of aerospace engineering programs; and sponsor K-12 programs that reach at least 5 million children annually.
To reduce the chance that this is all just lip service, each company will aggregate their employment target numbers and present them at the Space Symposium each year. They will also meet to share best practices and try to convince others to commit.
I have already witnessed the last promise in action; I was moderating a panel of interesting people from the space industry while this announcement was going out, so I asked for their thoughts on engagement and what is needed in the world of DEI. Here are their comments (slightly edited):
Melanie Stricklan, CEO of Slingshot Aerospace (signed):
It helps us build better teams, it helps us build better products, it helps us build a better industry, and this industry needs more diversity. seriously. When we started Slingshot, my goal was to be 50/50, 50% male and 50% female, and we hit that goal. It’s led by leaders, we have to make sure that every person we hire who is a leader in this company buys DEI. So it’s not just a CEO saying, “Hey, we want this,” you have to cultivate on a regular basis.
Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab (signatory):
I was hesitant to sign that pledge because I wanted to see what real work was being done, because there are a lot of signs of virtue in a lot of this stuff. I am the father of an eight-year-old girl and I see stereotypes literally evolving in front of my eyes. So at Rocket Lab, many years ago, we said, ‘Okay, we’re going to require that 50% of all our interns be women.’ And that’s great, you can order something, but if you don’t do the work it’s a complete waste of time. So the team went out and we visited, I think, something like 200 schools… you have to get there real early, you have to build the pipeline. Actually create the change, not just some kind of signature of the change.
Jessica Robinson, co-founder of Assembly Ventures:
For women in particular, if you can see it, you can be it. But I’m not sure this group really appreciates how weird it is that we’re three women on this panel… we don’t get a chance to sit together as investors on panels very much. At our core, with the power of the stock market, what’s really critical for us is making sure we find the best companies that are going to change the world and how we operate. And boy are we stupid if we don’t go looking for great founders in great places that haven’t been seen before! So we’re mentors in a program that supports LGBTQ founders, I do a batch of work to support female founders and investors, and in Detroit, my hometown, we work a lot with young students, students of color, to expose them to STEM.
Meagan Crawford, Managing Partner of Spacefund:
Early in my career as a startup executive, I was often the only woman in the room, whether it was in a space meeting or in the world of finance, so both worlds have a bit of an issue with this. Before I joined this industry, I was under the misconception that everyone was a rocket scientist and engineer, no offense. The reality is that there is much more to this industry, it is an industry like any other: we need accountants, we need marketing people, we need teachers, we need everything. So I like to interview women from all over the industry who have different backgrounds, these different career options. One of my favorite stories is from Kelly Larson, CEO of Aquarian Space; she started out as a yoga instructor, now she is CEO of a space company. That is an amazing trip! And I want women all over the world to know that regardless of their career, regardless of their educational background, there is a place for them in this industry.
Thanks to the panel for their input and insights on this issue and others.
Here is the full list of signatories as of this writing:
- Roy Azevedo, President Raytheon Intelligence and Space
- Payam Banazadeh, CEO of Capella Space
- Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab
- John Elbon, United Launch Alliance COO
- Jim Chilton, Senior Vice President, Space and Launch, Boeing
- Eileen Drake, CEO and President of AeroJet Rocketdyne
- Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic
- Tim Ellis, CEO of Relativity Space
- John Gedmark, CEO of Astranis Space Technologies
- Steve Isakowitz, CEO of the Aerospace Corporation
- Larry James, acting director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- Daniel Jablonsky, CEO of Maxar Technologies
- Robert Lightfoot, Executive Vice President of Lockheed Martin Space
- Dave Kaufman, President of Ball Aerospace
- Chris Kemp, CEO of Astra
- Will Marshall, CEO of Planet
- Dan Piemont, President of ABL Space Systems
- Peter Platzer, CEO of Spire Global
- Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX
- Melanie Stricklan, CEO of Slingshot Aerospace
- John Serafini, CEO of HawkEye 360
- Dylan Taylor, CEO of Voyager Space
- Amela Wilson, CEO of Nanoracks
- Tom Wilson, president of space systems at Northrop Grumman
- Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin