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  • Writer's pictureAdele Gammarano

Empowering Women Aspiring to Work in the Space Industry

Guest Article by Adele Gammarano, British Interplanetary Society Member, Diversity & Inclusion ambassador for Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter (WiAAC).

“Sharing my journey is something that I am proud of, and hopefully can help other people to be inspired, be motivated, be determined and persevere with their personal mission! I would like to share with the Space Industry the best practice learned from the Aviation Industry by interviewing the people who are closely involved and for being strong representatives and advocates of empowering women.” - Adele Gammarano

In the Aviation Industry according to International Air Transport Association (IATA), women represent just 5% of pilots worldwide, and only 3% of CEOs. How often in our career do we lose hope, faith, feel insecure or not strong enough to make the next step?

Numerous people continue to guide me through what has been an inspirational journey with words of encouragement, and their time spent with me has benefit, not just me as a person for my professional growth too. Whilst many people have had a meaningful impact, I would like to shine the light particularly upon Katherine Courtney for being a STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Maths) ambassador and continuously inspiring me and others. Thanks to all these people who I met at work, outside work, on events and online webinars, I am now in the position to give something back to empower and inspire others. We should remind organizations and reiterate the message, to stop categorizing gender balance as a ‘corporate responsibility’

I organized the first South-East Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter event at Gatwick Airport in March 2019, focused on ‘personal growth and development’. The most rewarding part was the engagement it created. I will never forget Kimberley Fok (electrical engineer), who was sitting in the audience and left us some feedback: “It was very inspiring and motivating to people like me who are fresh in the industry to have the courage to speak up, regardless of how many years one has spent in their careers, each of us is a change maker to change the stereotype in the industry”.

David Swain (Passenger Services Lead at Gatwick Airport) added, “You could really feel the energy in the room and people definitely walked out of the event with a new sense of purpose and what could and should be possible to achieve for women in aviation. I personally feel so privileged to be able to come to such events and listen to the stories of the women who really have faced barriers in their personal development to move on in their careers. I am fully behind making a difference for all people by focusing on inclusion, it should be part of every business’ DNA”.

Organizations should think about appointing a D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) lead. This event took place because of the perseverance of volunteers who went the extra mile to make it happen - sadly not every company yet understands the full importance in creating and supporting a D&I lead position. For organizations to understand their own internal culture a great deal of engagement is required; they need to collect ‘soft data’ from people and ask their opinions. Each one of us, not only senior leaders, HR or the board should drive gender balance, and D&I. Visible role models, mentoring and networking are so important to individual development.

For individuals interested in pursuing a passion or career path even in a new industry, start on the path of discovery by looking to people who are already thriving in that field for inspiration and guidance. It might take some time to get the answers that you need, but people from the industry will recognize your passion and you would be amazed by the support you receive.

Be strategic, be proactive, be visible, ask for support, start connecting and networking. Nowadays we need to look at things from a different angle, the new norm during COVID-19 has forced us to communicate more digitally, how can we make the best of it? Whatever digital platform you use they are far more interactive, you can raise your hand, pose some questions, take notes and view the recordings if you miss any parts. You can share instantly your observations, and even if you cannot feel confident to speak, then you can type in your question. So in fact, now you are closer to your inspirations than ever before!

No one is able to give you a decision on what the best route for you is; even I went through a bit of a bumpy journey. For example, in 2016 when looking for an inspirational topic to cover for my thesis, my course director suggested I cover something related to human factors, perhaps something including ‘cross-cultural in a cockpit environment’. I remember walking out the door and saying to myself: “Thanks for the advice but no this is not the right choice for me.” I needed to find something to engage my creativity, encourage my curiosity and explore areas that, at the time were a bit futuristic. I didn’t give up. I started to look for lectures and became a member of the British Interplanetary Society. I was privileged to hear the inside story at the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) from Art Thompson, Project Director for the record-breaking Red Bull Stratos project: the first human to go through the sound barrier without an aircraft. This is what I was looking for and finally I submitted a thesis on the future of Space Tourism.

At other times, I should have sought and taken advice. I declined the kind offer of one of my bosses to have a mentor for my professional growth because I was too proud (foolish of me in retrospect). Sometimes you’re just not ready to take that advice yet. Then later on, I had two lovely mentors in my life.

“Your passion is waiting for your courage to catch up” – Quote by Isabelle Laflèche

An Interview with Jacqui Sutton: Co-Chair of the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter (WiAAC)

Brief overview of the WiAAC

The Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter was launched at Farnborough International Air Show in 2018, with companies and organisations within the UK’s aviation and aerospace sectors making a commitment to work together to build a more balanced and fair industry for women. Two years on, the Charter has over 200 signatories and backing from Government, industry and academia.

How do we ensure senior management have a vision and framework to work with, what support could you offer? Signatories of the Charter commit to supporting the progression of women into senior roles in the aviation and aerospace sectors by focusing on the executive pipeline and the mid-tier level. They recognise the diversity of the sector and that organisations will have different starting points. Each organisation should therefore set its own targets, as appropriate, and implement the right strategy for their organisation; and they will be required to publicly report on progress to deliver against any internal targets to support the transparency and accountability needed to drive change. We support our signatories by conducting and providing them with the results of up to date research into gender balance and diversity across our industry; sharing details of relevant events, initiatives and news; and publicising examples of best practice.

What are your learnings that you can share with the Space Industry to drive gender balance, overcome challenges and understand opportunities? The Charter brings together women and men working at all levels within aviation and aerospace who have experienced first-hand the benefits of diverse, forward-looking and collaborative workforces. We’ve witnessed the importance of role models: strong, visible female leaders inspiring the next generation of female pilots, engineers and CEOs. We’re championing the power of micro-interventions, including targeted mentoring and coaching for women at pivotal points in their career, to increase the number of women progressing into senior positions. And we’ve learnt that creating opportunities for individuals at all levels and organisations of different sizes to pool learnings, ideas and resources is one of the most powerful ways to effect meaningful change.

Can you summarise the networking events you facilitate and explain why they are so important for the Organizations?

Since the Charter was founded, we’ve hosted and participated in numerous events, workshops and seminars – from our very first seminar held at the Royal Aeronautical Society in September 2018, when Charter signatories came together to discuss ways to get more women into aviation and aerospace; to the panel discussion and series of breakout sessions we hosted at FIA Connect in July to discuss maintaining the focus on diversity and inclusion during COVID-19. Occasions like this enable organisations and leaders to learn from one another, assess progress and agree priorities. We are planning to host a new series of virtual events later this year, so keep an eye on our social channels for more details!

An Interview with Katherine Courtney: Chair of Multiply Space and Former CEO of UK Space Agency

Could you introduce yourself? I'm a wife, mother, senior executive, NED, strategic advisor, start-up mentor, STEM Ambassador, career coach and space enthusiast.

What is your involvement in the Space Industry?

I'm the former Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency and my current portfolio includes: Board Chair for the Global Network on Sustainability in Space; Chair and NED roles with space-related start-up and scale-up businesses; Global Advisor with Avascent; and Founder of PrimarySpace - a STEM engagement charity. I work to help inform government space policy and support space businesses to innovate and grow.

Before you joined the space sector, was it difficult to learn about the industry?

I think the UK space sector, although growing fast, is still a little bit of a closed community where everyone knows everyone else and news travels fastest by informal channels. It's also a sector where government plays a significant role in setting strategy and shaping business opportunities. It isn’t always easy for those new to the industry to understand what is going on or being said. I think the space industry needs to get better at raising its general public profile and reaching out to non-space audiences.

What information do you think women who could join, but don’t realise the opportunity, would welcome - over and above job adverts?

Space careers have been seen historically as specialist roles that require unique and scarce skills. However, the real problem for rapidly growing space companies today is that they are competing with other advanced manufacturing and digital businesses to recruit and retain the same skills.

I believe women in other industries, whether they are technical specialists or generalists, would respond well to more outreach from the space industry - for instance, more space sector representatives being visible in non-space events and publications. That would help to demystify space and make space careers seem more accessible. Initiatives such as Women in Aerospace also help.

Why would you encourage other women to consider a career in the space industry?

The space industry - as with many high tech industries - has a long way still to go on diversity and inclusion, so the more women who take an interest in joining the sector, the better!

As for why I think the space industry is a great career choice for women?

Space science, data and services are critical enablers of so many other industries - and we use them all day in our everyday lives - and yet most people are ignorant of that. The exploration and utilisation of space are some of the most impressive and innovative achievements in the history of humankind and space is set to play an even more vital role in the future. Just consider how important satellites have become for navigation, communications and preserving the environment on our home planet! Who wouldn’t want to play a part in that?!?

Space is also changing…rapidly! We are seeing the sort of disruptive change in the space industry today that we witnessed with the advent of the internet or mobile telephony a few decades ago. Investment and innovation are ramping up and there are skills shortages right across the space industry landscape - from large corporates to new start-ups and the professional services that support them. Women joining the industry now have excellent prospects for personal and career development.

How do you manage to have a successful career while balancing work and family life?

With difficulty. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can have it all and do it all, equally well, all at the same time. That’s not true, at least not in my experience. Working largely from home whilst living with three young children and an elderly dementia sufferer, I find work-life balance is less like a perfectly balanced set of weighing scales and more like a graphic equaliser. When one aspect of my life dials up, I find I have to dial something else down to keep my equilibrium and stay healthy and productive. I also stay out of my work email and off my work phone at weekends and on holidays, which are focussed on family. If there is an emergency, people who need to reach me have my personal contact details. In practice, there are very few emergencies that can’t wait until Monday morning.

An Interview with Rosalind Azouzi: Head of Skills and Careers at Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS)

The RAeS Women Committee have created a successful mentoring scheme, can you explain why this was created and what has been the feedbacks so far?

The Alta mentoring scheme was created by the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), University of the West of England Bristol, Airbus UK, the Royal Air Force and Little Blue Private Jets as a result of a one-year, ESRC-funded Knowledge Exchange project and the matched financial and in-kind contributions from the industry partners. The aim was to provide a mentoring scheme for professional women across the industry, based upon what women wanted from mentoring and drawing from the research responses which indicated that women in the sector were looking for ways to connect with potential mentors more easily to support their career development. This led to the development of a blended programme which offers an online platform for women to connect and face-to-face opportunities for mentors and mentees to share knowledge.

How can women get support and be inspired?

Alta is a blended online and face-to-face mentoring programme. Being online helps to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, development of individual capabilities and aligning these with the mentor’s expertise. This is particularly relevant to aerospace and aviation whereby women may have limited opportunities to connect with other professional women within their companies; those in SMEs may even be one of the only women at their company. The matching platform offers a safe and secure environment, through which communications and meeting dates can be organised alongside supporting materials, such as an Alta handbook, videos and mentor/mentee training. Any professional women in the industry wishing to join Alta registers to join dedicated platform and the request is moderated by staff at the Royal Aeronautical Society. The applicant will answer a range of questions and then receive possible mentor matches. Once matched she will proceed to begin the mentoring. This is supplemented by virtual and (when safe to do so again) face-to-face events with inspirational talks from women leaders, speed mentoring and further networking and career development activities.

Let's explain to our audience why diversity isn't positive discrimination, and talk about ideas to target women to encourage applications: what could the industry do more of to attract women candidates than we do today?

Providing opportunities to attract, retain and support people who are underrepresented in the sector, such as women, is not about trying to exclude anyone else – it is to help remove barriers to entry and progression which some people face more than others, whether they are societal, practical or borne out of stereotypical views regarding gender and the workplace. In aerospace end aviation we often see that women are under-represented in technical, flight deck and senior leadership roles, yet the positive impact that more diverse and gender balanced teams have in creating stronger businesses is well documented in various studies. A more successful organisation benefits all employees. By looking to provide more inclusive recruitment strategies and a more inclusive work environment, such as enabling work-life-balance and adapting language in recruitment advertising, as well as ensuring we have more visible role models from non-traditional backgrounds, aerospace and aviation companies will be in a strong position to meet the challenges which Covid and environmental sustainability targets will bring. Companies who sign up to the Women in Aerospace & Aviation Charter will become more attractive to female applicants and by supporting activities such as Alta will help provide a practical tool to retain talented women and enable exchange of thought, ideas, in turn building stronger foundations for more women progress into senior roles in the future.

This article and the interviews it contains were kindly submitted by Adele Gammarano who is the Integration Manager at London Gatwick Airport where alongside her executive responsibilities as a project manager she leads on Diversity and Inclusion for Women in Aviation and Aerospace Chapter (WiAAC). Adele also shares a passion with most of our readership: the UK Space Industry, where she sets most of her focus on UK Spaceports, and has some great advice below for lessons we as an industry can learn from UK Commercial Aviation, including but not limited to the significant benefits of creating a truly equitable working environment for everyone on the team.

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