Girls encouraged to consider a space career

08 March 2017: To mark International Women’s Day today, women holding a range of roles across Inmarsat have spoken of their experience of succeeding in the space industry.

Payload Engineer and Antenna Specialist Sara Mugnaini

In a sector that, along with all those requiring science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) skills, remains male-dominated, their message to girls and young women everywhere is never see your gender as a barrier, and follow your passion – because the rewards are amazing!

Mary McMillan, Vice President of Aviation Safety and Operational Services, chalked up two firsts in a 20-year flying career – as the first woman chief pilot on a scheduled airline, and the first female standards captain. When she joined United Airlines in 1989, she was one of only 110 women out of 7,000 pilots.

Complement skills

The aerospace industry today is a much more attractive prospect for women, Mary believes. “One of the positives of our industry is it allows you to excel in areas that complement your own skills and interests, which I don’t think is true of a lot of other industries,” she said. “We measure performance in very objective ways regardless of gender or sociocultural factors.”

She sees her current role working with Inmarsat’s partners, airlines and air navigation service providers on the introduction of the next generation of enhanced satcom-enabled flight deck services as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”.

Mary added: “My career has been so good to me and I want other women to experience that as well.”

Change needed

Carole Plessy-Gourdon is now Senior Director of Digital Products, having joined Inmarsat as an aeronautical system engineer intern in 1998. For her, working in a male-dominated technical field has never been an issue: “Meritocracy and motivation often prevail over gender.”

But in the space industry as a whole, she would like to see change. “The workplace must allow female workers to adopt a different work style – they should not be expected to imitate male colleagues to succeed, nor should they be expected to display feminine traits but be allowed to be themselves and adjust work practice to suit a family life,” she said.

And her advice to young women considering a similar career? “Never be scared of asking questions, seeking support and mentorship when needed. Don’t be pushed into a role you dislike, and never apologise for being a woman.”

Role models

Key to challenging the status quo is seeing more senior level role models like Mary and Carole, says Sara Mugnaini, Payload Engineer and Antenna Specialist, who has been with Inmarsat for nearly two years. “The lack of female role models in the workplace tends to undermine women’s confidence as it drives you to think you have to emulate male behaviour instead of developing your own way of dealing with things,” she said.

“If you never see other women doing what you would like to do you will inevitably be pushed to believe it is super hard to achieve it and only exceptionally driven individuals will stay focused on the objective, keeping the numbers low.”

Sarah Cooke, Vice President, Group Tax and Treasury, believes it’s never too soon to encourage girls to follow any career path. “I arranged for my six-year-old daughter and her class to visit our network operations centre and was delighted when one little girl said: ‘What a cool place to work’. It’s a small thing but it can make a difference by piquing their interest not just in space but across STEM subjects.”

Gender balance

Being in finance Sarah is used to working in male-oriented world, and she is convinced that a better gender balance is essential. “It’s always good to have men and women in the room because we approach an issue in different ways.”

 

Zeina Mokaddem, Director for Regulatory and Market Access in the Middle East, Europe and North Africa, says women should be confident about the added value they bring to the industry.

“Having the basic skills is essential but I find commitment to excellence and creative problem solving are the pillars of success within the industry,” she explained. “If you have all that you will find fulfilment and success.”

For more information on International Women’s Day, visit www.internationalwomensday.com

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