In many fields, women are underrepresented in leadership positions compared to their level of participation in training programs and lower-level positions. In aerospace, their absence is even more marked. Next Monday evening, the newly launched Paris branch of Women in Aerospace Europe will hold an event focusing on leadership opportunities for women in this field. Guest speaker Isabelle Duvaux-Bechon will share insight gained from her long career in industry and in a variety of programs across the European Space Agency.
Engineers, scientists, space law professionals… Simonetta di Pippo (@sdipippo), president of Women in Aerospace Europe (@WIA_Europe) makes it clear that everyone – women and men – in a whole range of related fields belongs in this organization. Growing from an original membership of 30 people, WIA-Europe now counts more than 250 members working for gender balance on all levels of the aerospace sector. On Monday evening, 8 July, the local Paris branch will host a discussion on leadership opportunities for women in this sector. Isabelle Duvaux-Bechon, Head of the Future Preparation & Strategic Studies Office at the European Space Agency (ESA), will speak about insights gained from her three decades of very broad experience across the agency.
To help it set roots around Europe, Women in Aerospace has founded local groups in Leiden, Bremen, Munich, Brussels and, most recently, in Paris. The occasion was celebrated with a launch in the French capital on 24 May. ESA astronaut Jean-François Clervoy (@astro_JFrançois) echoed Simonetta di Pippo’s thoughts that evening, saying that space is not just about rocketry: heart surgeons, veterinarians, divers, geologists and artists have all participated in the development of the field. And just as the contribution of a range of specialties is necessary for the growth of the sector, more balanced input from men and women is also needed. Looking back at his own spaceflight experiences, Clervoy recalled the simulator exercises designed to train astronauts for potential disasters in space. These could be “nasty scenarios where you have ten malfunctions at once. Gender didn’t matter. Your life depends on the competence of others.”
A question from the audience raised the point that, in politics, women may take a different approach from men, adding a valuable dimension to the field; might the same be true for space? Jean-François Clervoy does feel he observed some gender differences in leadership among his flightmates. On his second spaceflight, the astronaut whose mission he was joining, a woman, told him what her weak points were and where she could use his help. “She was integrating me into the team.” In contrast, on his first flight, the commander was a man, who was also used to flying alone; he took a long time to adapt to working in a team environment.
Even allowing for individual differences, the future of space research and exploration will clearly benefit from the knowledge and experience of more women at every level. Simonetta di Pippo is optimistic: “As we get more and more women (involved in space), it changes the environment, and a positive loop starts. I’m confident we’ll get the right gender balance.” To explore some of the challenges and possibilities for women leaders in aerospace, WIA-Europe’s Paris group invites members and non-members alike to take part in the discussion Monday, 8 July at 19h00, at the brasserie Le Flore en L’Ile (RSVP by Friday, 5 July). For more information, visit WIA-Europe: Leadership Opportunities for Women in Aerospace.
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