07 March 2014: To mark International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March, female space scientists are being celebrated in a bid to encourage more women to join the industry.
The Beyond Earth Festival at London’s Science Museum from 7-9 March features the work of scientists and engineers who develop and use the latest technology to explore the vast expanse of space.
The event aims to help change the perception of jobs requiring advanced science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) skills as being male-oriented.
It comes after a British parliamentary report warned last month that women are significantly under-represented in senior scientific academic posts and high-tech industries, with seven in eight STEM-related jobs filled by men.
Women working in STEM roles at Inmarsat have added their support to IWD’s bid to inspire the next generation.
Miranda Mills is President of Inmarsat Aviation and has spent her entire career in the aeronautical business. “Things have changed a lot in the 20 years that I’ve been in the industry – when I started out as a graduate engineer I was the only female in the building that I worked in out of over 300 employees,” she said.
“Now I’m rarely the only woman in a meeting. At Inmarsat Aviation we have females in all types of roles from channel development, marketing and market analysis to product development and programme management.”
Miranda thinks the prospects are good for girls with a head of STEM subjects. “I believe that having a grounding in technology makes you more credible in tech industries. These sectors are innovative and creative environments, often developing products and services which benefit the environment and enhance people’s lives.”
As Head of Product Management for M2M and handheld satellite phones, Ali Grey is responsible for processing customer requirements for new services into feasible engineering projects.
She was actively encouraged to study technical subjects at her single-sex grammar school before taking a degree in industrial design engineering. She worked in houseware product design and ran her own business developing applications for the web before joining Inmarsat as a contractor 12 years ago.
Ali is positive about the opportunities for girls with an aptitude for STEM subjects. “A lot of my contemporaries were technically-minded and went into a wide range of highly-skilled jobs at which they have been very successful,” she said.
For Eirini Dimitroula, who manages real-time operations in our Network Operations Centre – monitoring and co-ordinating activities to ensure our satellites deliver optimal quality of service – the key is getting away from gender stereotypes at the earliest possible age.
“In Greece, no-one would say ‘you can’t do that’ but as a girl studying electrical engineering I was seen as unusual – one of eight girls and 50 boys in my university,” she said.
“I had a natural tendency for physics and maths, I loved astrophysics as a kid – it was clear that I would do something in engineering. And why not? In my job I need to understand equations and formulae, find solutions to problems – there is no physiological reason why I should not do that.”
Head of Maritime Product Management Carole Plessy-Gourdon and Satellite Control Centre (SCC) Operation Engineer Alessandra Rossetti both feel the gender disparity is worse in the UK than in continental Europe in both STEM education and professions, and that the value of technical skills deserves greater recognition.
“A quarter of engineering students in France are girls because it opens doors to a lot of careers – it is a classic route to take,” said Carole, who came to Inmarsat as an aeronautical engineering intern 15 years ago. “An engineering background is often a prerequisite for a commercial role there – yet in the UK it can actually hinder you.”
In her own job Carole says an understanding of the satellite network’s technical constraints combined with solid commercial understanding are both vital in delivering new Inmarsat Maritime products and services.
She is hopeful that the expansion of the technology industry in the UK will open up new opportunities.
Alessandra only noticed a gender imbalance when she came to university in London, and was one of four female students in an intake of 20. At high school in Italy, science subjects were studied equally by boys and girls.
She did work experience at Inmarsat and 10 years on has progressed up through the SCC team, but is keenly aware of how few British female engineers she comes across while working with other aerospace companies.
“It never occurred to me that science and women may be alien to each other,” she said. “I grew up with Star Trek and the space shuttle programme – so they have a lot to answer for when it comes to my career choice!”
Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce commented: “Inmarsat strongly supports diversity in the workplace in all its forms, including gender diversity.
“We believe it shouldn’t matter whether you are male or female in terms of career opportunities and we are determined to provide a workplace environment in which both men and women can thrive. We recognise the need to provide flexibility in the development of career paths and we are committed to providing all staff with skills and experience development to optimise their chances of meeting their true potential and of advancing within the organisation.
“We support any move to encourage more girls to view STEM subjects as both intrinsically worthwhile at school, and as leading on to exciting, challenging and socially important careers.”
Beyond Earth Festival: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk