Women in Space – The Initiative

Guest Post courtesy of Jeanna Heeraman, Digital Executive, Builtvisible

For a long time now the global industry has suffered from a noticeable imbalance between men and women in STEM related fields, in particular engineering and aerospace. The discrepancies in numbers do not just start at working age; with many fewer women in general studying STEM related subjects at school and university level. Recently, a new Telegraph Jobs Women In Space database was launched to promote female role models in the space industry to help showcase STEM and aerospace careers for young women, and address the imbalance between the sexes. 

STEM Education

Figures for the number of women studying STEM subjects from an early age have been consistently low. The dynamics of society may not have helped with social stereotypes of pastimes and hobbies, like the boys playing with Lego whilst young girls play with dolls, influencing future career choices. There are a number of high profile initiatives such as WISE which aims to increase the number of women working in STEM from 13% to 30% by 2020. However the challenge is particularly tough and requires significant input from school age.  In the UK, at A-Level there is general parity between boys and girls studying Biology and Chemistry. When it comes to Physics A-Level some figures suggest that only 1 in five students is female and as many as two thirds of Maths students are male. Furthermore it is estimated that only 12% of all students at undergraduate level studying engineering or technology are female.

Employment

STEM careers are the subject of many reviews now from independent groups and governments alike. As well as low levels of representation, the dynamics of a female career, which typically include breaks to raise a family, have led to high levels of women leaving STEM careers part way through. Some estimates suggest it could take between 50 and 80 years to address the gender imbalance.

In the aviation and aerospace sectors female employees remain low. In 2009 the Women in Aerospace and Aviation Committee (WAAC) was set up to help improve female representation. At the time it was estimated that less than 6% of qualified engineers in the UK were female. The report from WAAC also found that the number of female pilots in the UK was consistently low, around 4% of the overall pilot population.

Women in Space Database

Historic Heroines

The Women in Space database has been created as a resource to highlight the wonderful careers of female role models who have excelled in careers in the space industry. The database is split across two themes, the Historic Heroines and the Modern marvels. The Historic Heroines details all those women who have experienced space travel and fulfilled missions whilst the Modern Marvels covers those women who work in the many job roles today and for space agencies such as NASA. The profiles of each woman include a picture, detail of their careers to date and some video footage; very engaging. There are some great examples of women who have excelled in STEM fields to realise their dream careers.

Anita Sengupta – at 37 years of age Dr Sengupta has had a high profile career and is a Project and Payload Manager at NASA but more importantly she is responsible for launching, testing and developing an ultra-cold quantum gas facility which is due for take-off in 2016; technological innovation. She has previously worked on the Mars Rover Mission, New Frontiers Lander Mission and the Discovery Mission. Dr. Sengupta, who previously worked for Boeing, has a Bachelor’s degree and PhD in Aerospace Engineering and her STEM inspiration is remarkable.  

Mary Ann Esfandiari – after completing studies in Astronomy and Physics at undergraduate level, followed by postgraduate studies in Computer Sciences Mary Ann Esfandiari has enjoyed a forty year career working for NASA. Having attained numerous leadership positions including data management and information systems, Esfandiari is currently Deputy Associate of Flight Projects for Space Communications and Exploration at Goddard.

Kathleen Howell – Kathleen Howell serves as a wonderful example to anyone who would dream of a career in space travel. Having graduated from university with a degree in Mathematics, Howell spent two decades as a stay at home mother before teaching Maths in elementary, middle and high schools. In 1998 she decided to redesign her career and became a software test engineer at NASA. Today, at the age of 59, Howell is a Flight Operations Engineer with duties that include coordinating aircraft maintenance, facilitating modifications and mission planning.

Modern Marvels EngineeringThese are just a sample of some of the many wonderful career role models on the Women in Space database so if you are looking for more inspiration the database is a great place to start.

“The women in space database comes courtesy of the Telegraph Engineering Jobs team who worked in collaboration with Builtvisible. If you are a female working in the space industry today feel free to contact the engineering team on womeninspace@telegraph.co.uk with your profile for upload.”