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It’s time for women to make space exploration history

April 12, 2022, 6:45 PM UTC
NASA’s Artemis program–named after Apollo’s twin sister–will send the first woman to the moon.
Red Huber—Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on women’s employment in the United States while the United Nations estimates that 47 million women and girls have been pushed into poverty due to the pandemic.

If current trends continue, the World Economic Forum forecast that it will take nearly three centuries to close the resulting economic gender gap, even though the world’s educational gender gap looks set to be almost completely diminished within 13 years.  

While these setbacks are very real and a cause for concern, I also see reasons for hope. There is a much broader understanding of the power of being inclusive and incorporating diverse points of view in decision-making than at any other point in our lifetimes.

As people and corporations continue to find effective ways to accelerate a more equitable world in the communities where we live and work, they are working together to help overcome any barriers to achieving equity for all.

Authentic diversity

My parents met at Boeing while working on the Saturn V rocket in support of NASA’s Apollo program, which put the first person on the moon, and I’m proud to support NASA’s return to the moon through the Space Launch System, the most powerful rocket in the world. NASA’s Artemis program–named after Apollo’s twin sister–will send the first woman to the moon.

When I started my career at Boeing in the 1980s, there were very few women in leadership positions not just in Boeing, but across all industrial companies. I was told early in my career that I didn’t fit the leadership mold. I laughed too much, and I smiled too much. Women were supposed to look a certain way. Act a certain way.  Now, there’s a general recognition that being authentic is probably the most valuable form of diversity we have.

Companies, including Boeing, are also more open to considering flexible and remote work arrangements than ever before, which has the potential of enabling many more women and men to balance their demands at home with those in the office. Nearly 25% of professional jobs in North America paying $100,000 or more are expected to be remote by the end of this year, up from more than 15% today, estimates career site Ladders. Less than four percent of these jobs were remote before the pandemic.

In addition, shareholders are pushing companies to embrace diversity. Exchange-traded funds and debt financial products based on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria are becoming mainstream, as sustainability-linked funds and bonds attract record inflows.

The world’s heightened interest in equity and inclusion is propelling companies like Boeing to disclose and improve their gender and racial pay gaps. While Boeing has fared better than the U.S. labor market in terms of female retention–with women exiting at a lower rate than men in the second half of 2021–we also know that our female representation at 23% is not where we want it to be, even if it is on par with the aerospace industry.

Making history

Women earn college degrees at higher rates than men. Yet they account for only 28% of researchers in STEM fields globally, 20% of the international space industry, 13% of the world’s engineers, and five percent of commercial pilots.

Nevertheless, our management team has resolved that we must–and will–do better. So we are holding ourselves accountable by revising our hiring processes, expanding our benefits, and continuing to share our diversity metrics and progress toward our aspirations transparently. We know that what gets measured gets done, and this is one important way to keep inclusivity front and center so that our organizational charts reflect our values.

We celebrate the historic and game-changing contributions of women trailblazers in aerospace. From our company’s first female employee Rosie Farrar, who stitched together linen wings for the early B & W seaplanes in 1916, to this year when our first-ever engineering team led entirely by women supported an International Space Station spacewalk

Early in my career, I was often the only woman in the room. Now, I am joined by more than 30,000 women with talents ranging from manufacturing to data analysis to rocket science. Boeing, like many companies, is more committed to formally incorporating diversity and inclusion everywhere from the factory floor to our C-Suite, where 32% of our executives were women in 2021, a higher percentage than at any other time in our 105-year history.  

It’s up to us as leaders to make sure we are driving diversity at all levels of our companies so that women will have the opportunity to make history, especially in fields where the demand for skills outstrips supply, like aerospace and engineering.

Today, as we stand on the precipice of returning to the moon and exploring deep space, we are also dealing with untold hardships and humanitarian issues on earth. We need to ensure that women can contribute to making progress on both fronts.

Leanne Caret is the executive vice president of Boeing.

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