There is a lack of racialized communities — including people who identify as women, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and people with disabilities to name a few — in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
For example, research has found that:
- Less than 2% of Indigenous Canadians work in STEM occupations, according to The Conference Board of Canada
- Women only earn 20% of bachelor’s degrees in physics, engineering, and computer science, according to the American Association of University Women
- Only 8% of STEM workers are Hispanic and 9% are Black, according to Pew Research
These figures are troubling for all STEM-based industries, especially the space sector.
“The recent changes and the rapid evolution of the space industry demands a fresh look at current workforce practices,” according to the Space Frontier Foundation. “We need diversity in our workforce to build a sustainable and representative space future … [one] that is representative of the richness and diversity of planet Earth.”
Diversity and inclusion are not simply “feel good” issues. There is evidence that the representation of different genders and cultures is good for business. For example, McKinsey research revealed that companies with high rates of racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to financially perform better than their respective industry medians.
This finding was substantiated by the Harvard Business Review, which also reported that organizations with above-average total diversity in their workforces had higher rates of innovation.
Another benefit of having a diverse workforce is greater employee retention. A Deloitte study found those workers who are satisfied with their organizations’ diversity and inclusion efforts are more loyal and likely to remain with their employer for more than five years.
Diversity matters in the space industry
Specifically for those of us working in the space sector, efforts to increase gender and cultural diversity have significant ramifications.
Kenneth Bowersox, former astronaut and now Deputy Associate Administrator for NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, cited a flight simulation program that was saved from failure simply from having different perspectives.
“Having somebody in the crew who is different is extremely powerful, and they can really help you,” Bowersox said in a NASA panel discussion.
Diversity also promotes economic growth in the space sector.
“It helps us build better teams, it helps us build better products, it helps us build a better industry, and this industry needs more diversity, badly,” said Melanie Stricklan, CEO of Slingshot Aerospace, in a Space Foundation panel discussion.
Here at Telesat, we believe diversity and inclusion efforts promise another benefit: A diverse space industry can lead to greater discourse among different countries as we try to gain collaboration in the space frontier. We see first-hand the need to work closely with multiple government agencies and commercial partners around the globe. Our different perspectives spur continued growth, innovation, and shared thinking.
That is why in 2021 we initiated an annual national Women in STEM scholarship program to encourage greater diversity in our industry. Each year, Telesat awards several $5,000 scholarships to full-time, undergraduate students to encourage women into STEM careers.
“Having a workforce that leverages Canada’s rich diversity is a key contributor to Telesat’s – and Canada’s – long term success,” said Dan Goldberg, President and CEO of Telesat. “We recognize there is more work to do to achieve this important goal. We are committed to fostering Canada’s highly-skilled and diverse STEM talent.”