How are women represented in New Space leadership?

The space sector is currently undergoing significant changes, one of which is the advent of “New Space.” The term refers to the emergence of new, nimble firms that are more risk tolerant than the large government contractors that dominated the sector during the Cold War. A longstanding issue in the space sector, and in STEM fields more generally, is gender parity in the workforce – STEM leadership seems to be dominated by men. What is the crossover of these two issues, New Space and gender parity? To learn more, we spoke to Adele Fox, who works as Head of Marketing at EVONA, a space-sector recruitment firm based in England. She discusses recent research regarding women’s representation in New Space. She also talks about opportunities to address gender parity and ways to consider working in space-sector recruiting.

Based on EVONA’s research into the New Space sector, in which sorts of companies do women typically occupy senior positions?

EVONA is a specialist recruiter, working exclusively within the space industry. We have the privilege of working with inspirational, brilliant women all over the globe as they pursue their next career move.

It’s well documented that women make up a fraction of the workforce in the space sector and across STEM industries as a whole. We know that only 38% of our role placements identify as female. Our research shows that only 17% of senior roles in the New Space sector are filled by women and that 70% of those were founders or co-founders who effectively put themselves in positions of power by creating successful companies. This means that only 5% of senior roles in the New Space sector are filled by women who have been hired into those positions.

Anecdotally, we could see an emerging trend in the kinds of organizations that candidates would apply to according to their gender. We also anticipated the likelihood of gender balance within certain types of companies. There seemed to be more affinity for women to apply for roles within Earth observation, data research, space debris, or tourism. As a generalization, it seemed organizations concerned with nurturing humanity on Earth were where most women felt a natural affinity. This stood in contrast to companies devoted to launching, building, or exploration, which seemed male-dominated. We felt we would encounter more women in senior positions in Earth observation and data research, so we decided to do some analysis.

When we analyzed the kinds of organizations that have women in senior executive positions in the New Space sector, we saw there is a disproportionate number of women in research, data application, or Earth observation organizations compared to the overall industry. The largest percentage of women in senior positions in New Space is seen in the Earth observation sub-industry, where 29% of the senior workforce identifies as female. Earth observation companies occupy only 14% of the overall sector breakdown and represent the third largest sector, according to a 2017 Morgan Stanley report. Women’s disproportionate representation in Earth observation thus indicates there seems to be a draw for women to move into these types of companies. The largest sub-sector in the industry is satellite launch, which occupies 20% of the sector. In satellite launch, though, EVONA only saw 10% of people identifying as women. As predicted, research sectors also seem like popular companies for women to move into. In research, 9% of senior positions are held by women, even though the sector only accounts for 4% of the overall industry.

Happily, the second largest sector that draws women is one that we may associate more with traditional male roles, building and hardware, with 22% of senior positions filled by women.

What are some opportunities to address gender parity in the space industry?

In order to address gender parity in the space industry we need to invest in education. We need to educate those with outdated perceptions, teach young girls that space is for everyone, and encourage more women to move into the space sector.

It is widely known that there is a shortfall of women studying STEM subjects, so part of the issue comes from a lack of supply. Stereotypical norms and cultural beliefs dampen girls’ desire to study STEM subjects and graduate into STEM careers. Part of the solution is to inspire future generations and show young girls they will have a place in STEM sectors. We do this by pushing to the fore strong role models that champion the role of women in the sector. We need to have this filter down to early childhood education. The message “there’s space for everybody” needs to be heard and we all have a pivotal role in making that voice as loud as possible.

Companies are changing for the better. Positively, we can see more organizations employing family friendly policies and remote working opportunities, which have greater synergy with a working parent’s lifestyle. Typically, where the primary caregiver is still female, this encourages women back into the workplace in greater numbers while happily also teaching our daughters a new “normal.” We believe it will be those organizations that embed this flexibility into their culture that will be the most successful in achieving true gender equality. A happy workforce is a strong workforce, and equality is a basic driver of satisfaction.

As responsible recruiters in the space sector, we have a role to emphasize the qualities of the person and the value their skills will bring, irrespective of their demographics.

What advice do you have for people who want to recruit for the space industry?

Space is a growing industry, and with greater commercialization comes the opportunity to transfer your skills into the sector. If you’re currently working in recruitment, or in any business function for that matter, understand that your art is transferrable and the principles are the same. Don’t let the intimidation of not measuring up to your peers who have recruited in space for a while stop you from progressing your career. If you already have a desire to work in the sector, then grow your knowledge as much as you can and look for mentors who might be able to help you. Finally, reach out to us – we’re currently recruiting and we could be just the company for you.