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Space diversity initiative builds steam with new leadership and K-12-focused National Space Day




Space diversity initiative builds steam with new leadership and K-12-focused National Space Day

A growing effort to attract more women and people of color to the space industry has seen some of the first results and a new opportunity to rally: National Space DayOn May 3, thousands of students will learn that not only can they do space activities, but they really need to start doing them now.

Space crew 2030 is a joint effort between the Space Foundation and Aerospace Corporation, which essentially amounts to a promise that they – and all of their 29 corporate partners from now on – will transparently report their workplace demographics, hiring and recruiting, and work together to find ways to bring a more diverse audience to the notoriously homogenous space industry.

The effort now also has an executive director in Melanie Stricklan, formerly of Slingshot Space (and the Air Force), who now leads the organization full-time.

In an announcement Monday, Stricklan and colleagues from Aerospace, Space Foundation and Airbus US showed off some key metrics they hope to improve: not just endpoints like a diverse workforce, but an inclusive workforce pipeline that anyone with an interest in the sector can join.

Stricklan and the others showed in one voice that this is not a superficial thing about DEI; the aerospace industry could face a labor crisis in the coming years as one generation retires and the other doesn’t really take its place.

“When we think about our country’s intellectual property and global leadership, it’s synonymous with leadership in space,” Stricklan told me in an interview for the occasion. “We need the best staff and we want to build the best talent base in the world. This is not quota based; The best space personnel in the world come from a meritocracy perspective.”

In other words, they strongly support the view that diversity on the supply side of the labor market leads to a stronger workforce on the other side.

That’s why Space Workforce 2030 started with the basics: collecting and understanding the data to establish a baseline. They leveraged Aerospace’s research analytics prowess to process incoming data from dozens of companies participating in the initiative, standardizing it and producing results they can reliably compare from year to year. This in itself is an achievement, it must be said: these are not companies known for their openness and transparency. But as an Airbus representative noted, they see workforce collapse as a serious long-term threat that needs serious long-term solutions.

Early numbers show modest increases and some troubling misses – which is more or less what you’d expect from this organization’s first real year of operation. From 2022 to 2023, the share of female tech workers increased from 18.5% to 19.4%, while the share of people of color in that category rose from 32.7% to 34.1%. Applications for internships increased by a factor of ten!

On the other hand, the number of women who actually interned in the sector remained the same, while the number of women who moved from intern to staffer fell by as much as 4.5%. You can read the rest of the most important statistics in the report itself.

So the question is: why? Were these small profits meaningful and the result of these companies’ efforts? What explains the decline in the number of female interns other than the increase in job applications?

There isn’t really a definitive answer, because the reality is that this data is only just beginning to be collected and researched. A big part of the effort is simply making these numbers available so everyone can be honest and work together about where improvements can be made. Only when multiple companies and organizations share this data publicly can the group say: wait, this company has been steadily improving its internal conversions for a few years – what are they doing right? Hopefully this would provide the other companies with useful information.

A big part of the challenge of getting people into space is letting people know it’s even an option, and Stricklan and her colleagues are confident that this includes K-12 education, not just students and job seekers. So they organized one National Space Day curriculum with videos, information for teachers and a host of other materials designed to show children of all ages and backgrounds that they can indeed build satellites, rockets, lunar landers and maybe even go into space themselves.

It’s May 3 and they’ve enlisted the help of former JS contributor Emily Calandrelli (who is awesome) to create and promote content for the occasion. Stricklan told me that thousands of teachers have signed up and they expect a lot of engagement next month.

Amazingly, Congress even managed to pass long enough to propose a resolution in honor of National Space Day. Hopefully they agree that this isn’t the kind of partisan bickering that should derail.

Space Workforce 2030 leaders and partners all emphasized that this is a long-term effort that is just beginning – hence the focus on children who have been ineligible for internships for a decade or more. That also means they still have a lot of levers to pull to improve their results and add more data to the stack.

“One thing I would like to do is expand into both government and non-profit organizations. They have multiple points of contact to reach people who just don’t understand that there could be a future for them in a STEM-related career.” Stricklan told me. She mentioned the Office of Management and Budget (which has a ton of data), NOAA and the EPA (lots of interesting jobs), and several others they are talking to or looking to approach.

It is good to clearly recognize that we may face a talent crisis in aerospace and adjacent industries – and be willing to admit that there is still much work to be done. More information about the Space Workforce 2030 effort can be found here.