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#SpaceWatchGL Opinion: Say YES to diversity and gender equality in the space sector: a look at the Diversity and Gender Equality Project Group of the SGAC

Photo Credit: Antonio STARK (KangSan Kim).

By Maelys Beliazi, Pauline Delande, Yulia Akisheva

Diversity is difficult to measure and quantify, given all the aspects and shapes it takes, yet it is easy to observe the lack of it in many fields including the space sector.

If the space sector and all its disciplines should be used to help improve life on earth and observe it (amongst other purposes), shouldn’t it be represented by all terrestrial individuals equally? In an ideal world, yes! But history and social biases have prevented our progress towards this perfect world, and we find ourselves today with a space sector still dominated by cis white-male individuals.

The good news is, we can work together and make a giant leap towards achieving gender equality and greater diversity in the space domain! Our core purpose at the Diversity and Gender Equality Project Group is to reach for inclusive and active participation of women and other minorities in the space sector by 2050, and this cannot be quantified by any number – or rather, not a number that makes sense today. In fact, we believe there is a need for a global diversity index (evaluating career progress and opportunities for minorities, diversity in decision-making roles, etc.) – that we could use to evaluate the progress of SGAC and other space actors on diversity (and correlate it with the impact of our activities). However, even with this index tool it would be very hard to say what we should aim for by 2025 – because diversity is reflective of people and how they want to be represented, just like inclusiveness is reflective of the ways in which people want to be treated. Inevitably, this will change and so our work will continue. Overall, the main goal of our project group is to make sure everyone is heard at all times.

The Diversity and Gender Equality Project Group was officially created in July 2021, and is the 11th and last SGAC Project Group to date. 

A little bit of history

This Project Group was previously known as the SGAC: Our Giant Leap Initiative. As such, we organized our first kick-off event SG[France]2020 in September 2020 at ISAE-Supaero in Toulouse, France. We received great feedback on it, despite the difficulties faced by the organizing team due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The main outcome of this event was 71 recommendations that later grew into specific activities and projects within our Project Group. For example, the recommendation “Reach out to schools and other institutions providing early stages of education as part of the outreach strategy” became the sole purpose of the PADAWANS long-term activity within our Project Group.

Between SG[France]2020 and our officialization as Project Group in July 2021, our initiative made many remarkable steps and engaged in beautiful collaborations. For instance, a few members participated in SpaceGen United 2020, SpaceGen United 2020, SG[Egypt]2021 and the Asia-Pacific Space Generation Online Workshop as experts for the workshop “Diversity and Gender Equality in space”, and will act again as such this year for SG[India]2022. In the context of the on-going European astronaut selection, a massive communication campaign was launched – which included several motivational posts to encourage more women to apply in the selection, but above all a webinar series with several episodes explaining the importance of a greater diversity in the astronaut profession and giving tips to candidate astronauts (available on the SGAC YouTube channel). Our initiative and Project Group also had the opportunity to present in the context of several international events such as IAC 2021, the Summer Space Festival 2021, and the Edinburgh Women in Space Conference.

The Diversity and Gender Equality Project Group in numbers

79 active members – with 47 brand new recruits!

More than 300 supporting members on our online Slack discussion group.

5 long-term activities:

  • RESEARCH:

The RESEARCH team is dedicated to finding the best common practices to embrace diversity and foster gender equality, such as exploring and better defining the role and importance of diversity officers within major companies and organizations of the space sector. We aim to set up working groups with many SGAC partners in order to implement recommendations specifically targeted to their organization types. By working together, we can foster change! This team is led by Yulia Akisheva and Pauline Delande, both also acting as Co-Leads for the whole Diversity and Gender Equality Project Group.

  • PADAWANS: 

The PADAWANS long-term project aims at introducing to young children and their parents, from all walks of life, a multitude of professions and profiles in the space sector by inviting them to share hands-on experiences with SGAC members in their classrooms. We believe that meeting SGAC volunteers with diverse profiles who work in space will help the children project themselves onto our starry field. “You can’t be what you can’t see”, Marian Wright Edelman. This long-term project is led by Clara Moriceau.

  • DIVINAS: DIVersity IN Astronaut Selection

The DIVINAS long-term project focuses on the diversity in astronaut and other space mission recruitment. Here, we consider whether there is any bias in the selection and training of astronauts. And, have you thought about the impact of social media on the astronaut candidate applications from minority groups? The DIVINAS team has! This long-term project is led by Tania Gres.

  • FIGURES: Fill In the Gap in hUman REsearch in Space

The FIGURES long-term project aims at contributing to closing the gender data gap in spaceflight research and exploration. How can we send a crew to Mars before we have caught up on the knowledge (and data) about the female body, women psychology and non-binary people in space? Through research and experiments, the FIGURES crew is answering these questions. Read more about sex-disaggregating data and the preliminary work of FIGURES pages 48-51 of the Our Giant Leap Magazine 2021. This long-term project is led by Nicolas Soulard.

  • COMMUNICATION AND OUTREACH

The Communication & Outreach team embodies all communication activities of the Project Group. Work on diversity and inclusion has to be reflected in various forms of communication to reach a wide audience. Listen and communicate to all, in space and beyond – this is what our efforts are about! This team is led by Maelys Beliazi.

Photo Credit: SGAC.

What have we achieved so far?

Our Project Group has a great vision for the future of the space sector, but you may ask – what have we achieved so far? Five of our proudest latest achievements are listed below.

1.Presenting our latest PADAWANS and DIVINAS research at IAC Paris 2022

In September 2022, for the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) Paris 2022, PADAWANS and DIVINAS received the opportunity to present their latest research – a unique approach to outreach activities in schools, and an extensive research on different aspects of diversity in astronaut crews.

2. Organizing the first international hackathon to tackle gender inequalities through space

From August 14-15 2022, we organized the Our Giant Leap Hackathon in South Korea – a unique business-oriented space & social competition happening under the general theme: “How can space technology and know-how help make a leap forward towards gender equality on Earth?“. Look for #OurGiantLeapHackathon on social media to learn more about this unique event.

3. Inspiring the next generation as winners of the 2022 ESAxBarbie bursary

With this great award, PADAWANS will organize and partially finance outreach activities with SGAC volunteers all over Europe – to inspire the next generation and show them that space is for all. Apply to be one of the ten lucky volunteers to host workshops with young school children and their parents until October 13th, 2022.

4. Starting our very own podcast – to educate and raise awareness on our core values

In June 2022, our first official Project Group podcast was initiated, starting with a first episode teaching listeners how to enter space coming from an underrepresented group. Listen to our first two episodes on Spotify – more coming soon!

5. Proudly wearing the LGBTQIA+ flag colors for Pride Month 2022

Everyone in the space sector should feel welcome – to make that message resonate, we celebrated Pride Month 2022 on social media. The RESEARCH team shared historical facts on the movement, and prepared a fun quiz

Our views on our actions and progress

As young space actors, and advocates for change, we strongly believe our actions are making a change – our vision is to thrive for gender equality and more diversity in the space sector, and to inspire other sectors to do the same, therefore spreading our actions at a global scale.

It is important to underline as well that getting to where we are now has not been a smooth ride – we have faced looks of disinterest from many space organizations, or have had doors slammed in our faces for wanting to change the sector too much. But, discussion after discussion, by connecting to the right people and getting surrounded by other advocates for change willing to lend us a hand, our Project Group and activities found their place and meaning in the space sector.

Thank you, to our amazing community of giants, for all the energy and strength they bring us!

What’s next? 

As an initiative, and more recently a Project Group, the Diversity and Gender Equality Project Group has achieved many steps: but don’t expect us to stop there!

We will progress on our activities and projects, keeping in mind our core objectives:

  • 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 and organizations ready to pursue the search for solutions to existing problems

Stay tuned as well for the publication of the second Our Giant Leap magazine, this time focused on Diversity, which will be published in October 2022 (the first magazine focused on gender equality and was published in March 2021). 

Have a project in mind for us? Want to collaborate? Don’t hesitate to send us your inquiry at [email protected].

And make sure you frequently check our list of open vacancies, as we often have new ideas and opportunities to involve SGAC members in our activities.

Maelys Beliazi: Photo courtesy of author.

Maelys BELIAZI graduated in 2019 from a Master’s degree in GNSS at ENAC (Toulouse), Maëlys now works at Safran Electronics and Defense as a GNSS Systems engineer in the region of Paris. She acts as Communication team lead for the Diversity and Gender Equality Project Group of the SGAC, and loves the creativity she can express through this team – while making a giant leap for humankind! 

Email: [email protected]

 

Pauline Delande; Photo courtesy of author.

Pauline DELANDE  is a graduate scholar from INSA Toulouse (Mechanical Engineering) and ISAE-Supaero (Space Systems Engineering). Currently, she is working at CNES in Toulouse as Satellite Operations Engineer for Earth Observation Satellites. Her role is to carry out satellite operations, ensure subsystem and equipment performances (for both platform and payload) and investigate anomalies. Previously, she has been part of the SEEDS 6-month student European program to design facilities to produce propellant by exploiting lunar in-situ resources and during a 6-month internship at CNES, she has been working on an Zero-G experience to test the deployment of CubeSats during a parabolic flight campaign. 

 Within the Space Generation Advisory Council, Pauline has worked as Membership Manager, SG[France]2020 Deputy Event Manager and Space Generation Congress 2022 Programming Team. She was also the National Point of Contact for France from 2019 to 2022. She is now one of the 2 Co-Leads of Diversity and Gender Equality (Our Giant Leap) Project Group since 2021

Yulia AKISHEVA; photo courtesy of author.

Yulia AKISHEVA is an aerospace engineer by training currently pursuing a PhD in Protective Use of Regolith for Planetary and Lunar Exploration, or PURPLE in short. This PhD is supported by the European Space Agency (ESA), TRAD Tests & Radiations and ISAE-SUPAERO under the ESA OSIP collaboration platform.

Yulia is invested in fostering international cooperation and outreach about space. She contributes to building a more diverse and inclusive aerospace sector as a volunteer at Space Generation Advisory Council, where she is a team member and co-lead of the Diversity and Gender Equality Project Group, otherwise known as the Our Giant Leap initiative.

 

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