Now Is the Time
By Jandria Alexander|September 2020
Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to innovation and creativity, principles that guide the aeronautics and astronautics fields. In the face of recent racially charged injustices, we have a critical opportunity to pause to assess where we are as a society and where we need to be as an industry. As so many long-standing space-related barriers have been shattered — including the first all-female spacewalk in October 2019 made by Jessica Meir and Christina Koch and the first commercial-based space mission and recovery — the potential in our industry is endless.
Martin Luther King Jr. succinctly stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” It is hard to envision a just future when our community remains plagued by inequity and systemic discrimination. In a time reminiscent of the Civil Rights Era, society has taken to the streets in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement to demand change. Change begins with the steps we consciously make within our own communities. It begins here. Having been part of the aerospace community for over two decades, I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage the AIAA community to seize the moment to make everlasting change. Real change is achieved through persistent dialogue, empathy, education, and most importantly — action.
The aerospace industry owes a substantive amount of its success to its diverse citizenry. Black women such as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson made it possible to put man on the moon, yet their thanks were belated by decades. Diversity is not achieved by meeting a quota for the inclusion of people of differing races, genders, and so on; diversity is achieved when those people have an equitable seat at the table. Diversity and inclusion in the aerospace community is pivotal for everyone to see themselves represented at every tier.
AIAA is the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession, encompassing nearly 30,000 members hailing from 91 countries and welcoming the support of 95 corporate members. With such a global, strong internal community, now is the time to build upon the progress of our past and our recent milestones to boldly chart the way forward. While we take pride in our diverse membership and in educating the community about diversity and inclusion, we still have a significant way to go. We must epitomize a diverse leadership full of role models to establish a positive mentoring and nurturing environment.
Now is the time to shape the future of the aerospace industry by utilizing and optimizing the contributions of the entire workforce. Taking a step in this direction, AIAA created the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group with the aim to encourage participation and collaboration across all genders, ethnicities, and races to enhance our representation of the entire industry. I encourage all members to collaborate with this working group to improve the overall success of our industry.
To meet the challenges of the 21st century and rise to the expectations of civil unrest, we must continuously strive for a diverse workforce. Successful execution of this is dependent upon an environment that promotes individual respect, values dignity, and encourages professional growth. The complexity of aerospace problems is not diminishing; it is surging. The power to meet rising challenges head on and overcome them lies in diversity. Multifaceted problems demand multifaceted solutions, which can only be derived from a group of people with different identities, strengths, backgrounds, and ideas. This is the meaning, the benefit, and the celebration of diversity.
While many programs target increasing diverse engagement in the STEM fields, we must do more. We must direct our effort at supporting and retaining new entrants to the aerospace workforce to ensure a sustainable future for the industry. Our efforts to increase diversity in the workforce must be coupled with an increasing support of a culture of inclusion. Failure to do so is not an option; our ability to attract, develop, and retain a quality diverse workforce is the key to the industry’s continuing success.
Over the past two years, AIAA has hosted 159 Diversity Scholars from underrepresented backgrounds to attend AIAA forums. The AIAA Diversity Scholars Program seeks to provide opportunities to underrepresented university students who have an interest in or are pursuing an aerospace degree to attend an AIAA forum, the goal being allowing Scholars the opportunity to experience first-hand the breadth and depth of opportunities across aerospace-related fields.
Our industry is well equipped to tackle the challenges that lay before us. I applaud the actions already taken in the commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion. Each of us has a vital role to play in onboarding diverse staff; creating a culture of inclusion to assist in retention; providing deliberate mentoring, advocacy and sponsorship; and holding ourselves and our industry accountable to addressing diversity and inclusion challenges. This industry has proven that the sky is no longer the limit. We will not only rise to the occasion—we will soar. ★
Booz Allen Hamilton
Chair, AIAA Diversity and Inclusion Working Group
Each of us has a vital role to play in onboarding diverse staff; creating a culture of inclusion to assist in retention; providing deliberate mentoring, advocacy and sponsorship; and holding ourselves and our industry accountable to addressing diversity and inclusion challenges.Jandria Alexander, Booz Allen Hamilton Chair, AIAA Diversity and Inclusion Working Group