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The Space Skills Alliance is a think-tank working to address the skills shortage in the space sector.

It was set up in September 2019 by Joseph Dudley and Heidi Thiemann, who previously created SpaceCareers.uk, an award-winning early careers jobs and advice website for the sector.

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Press > Press Release

First report on the experiences of women in the UK space sector

The first report on women in the UK space sector has been published today by the Space Skills Alliance and the Space Growth Partnership​'s Space Skills Advisory Panel to coincide with World Space Week, which this year has a theme of ‘Women in Space’. It can be accessed here: spaceskills.org/women-report.

The survey of more than 1500 people across industry, academia, government, military, and non-profit organisations understands, for the first time, the experiences of women working in the UK space sector. This is the third in a series of reports analysing the results of the 2020 Space Census. It presents a deep dive into the demographics and experiences of women in the UK space workforce.

Key findings:

    Demographics

  • Women make up 29% of the space workforce and they are younger on average than men.
  • There is more ethnic diversity among women in space than among men (14% of women vs 9% of men), primarily driven by people of Asian descent (9% vs 5%), and women are more likely to be from outside the UK (23% vs 16%).
  • Women are more likely to identify as LGBQ+ (15% vs 7%) and more likely to be open about it (80% vs 72%).
  • Women are more likely to have a disability (11% vs 9%) but are less likely to be open about it (20% vs 9%).
  • Education and work choices

  • Women are more likely to be influenced to join the space sector at school or by a teacher (30% vs 21%) or at a space camp such as Space School UK (7% vs 3%) and are more likely to have been privately educated (19% vs 15%).
  • Women are more likely to have completed work experience or an internship (21% vs 14%), less likely to have completed an apprenticeship (2% vs 7%) and more likely to have studied a degree (91% vs 89%).
  • Women are more likely to have studied science, particularly physics (42% vs 31%) or geography/geophysics (12% vs 5%) and much less likely to have studied engineering, particularly electronic engineering (4% vs 14%) or computer science (3% vs 9%).
  • Female physics and aerospace engineering graduates are more likely to join the sector than their male peers in those subjects (24% of physics undergraduates are women but 33% of women in space studied physics).
  • Women are more likely to be in administrative, educational, or scientific roles, while men are twice as likely to have an engineering role and slightly more likely to be in management.
  • Women are more likely to work in non-profits, government, and academia than in industry or the military. Those in industry are more likely to be working in the downstream sector.
  • Experiences of discrimination

  • Women feel less welcome in the sector than men. 47% of women feel ‘always welcome’ compared to 79% of men.
  • 41% of women in the space sector have experienced discrimination or prejudice of some form, compared to just 10% of men.
  • Young women are the most likely both to have experienced and to have witnessed discrimination.
  • One in five mothers (21%) has experienced pregnancy or child care related discrimination, compared to just one in a hundred fathers (1%).
  • Half of women (50%) have witnessed an act of discrimination, compared to a quarter of men (27%).
  • The pay and promotion gap

  • Women consistently earn less than men, a gap that widens with age and seniority from £1k in junior roles to £9k in senior ones.
  • Women are less likely to be promoted to senior roles (20% of women vs 43% of men), even controlling for age.
  • Women in the space sector are no more likely than men to be changing jobs.

Kathie Bowden, Skills Lead at the UK Space Agency and Skills Champion on the Space Skills Advisory Panel, said:

The recent launch of the Government’s National Space Strategy proves there is a firm commitment to grow the UK’s successful space sector, which is already worth £16.4 billion a year to the UK economy and employs more than 45,000 people.

But, as this report shows, there is a great deal of work to do, not just to encourage more women into the sector, but to make sure they are fairly rewarded once they join. A diverse workforce will be vital to reach the goals set out in the strategy and put the UK at the forefront of the global space sector.

Gemma Wilson, Regional Growth Manager at the Satellite Applications Catapult, and member of the Space Skills Advisory Panel said:

The Satellite Applications Catapult believes that great results can only be achieved through a diverse workforce. As part of this we’re committed to tackling gender discrimination and we continue to work hard to make the Catapult an inclusive and welcoming place to work, for all members of staff.

However, it’s clear from this report that we as a sector can be doing more to encourage girls into space and to make the everyday working environment better for women in particular. This can only be achieved through sector-wide collaboration to increase women’s representation in the workforce and educating our people leaders and employees to recognise discriminatory behaviour and support an overall change in approach and attitude.

Heidi Thiemann, Director of the Space Skills Alliance, said:

This is our first proper insight into the experiences of women working in the UK space sector. That fewer than half of all women feel welcome and more than 40% have experienced discrimination is incredibly disappointing, and shows that our sector must improve if it is to offer fantastic careers to all. I hope that this data can help the sector take collective action to become a more welcoming place for everyone to work.

The findings will inform national policy and sector strategy, feeding directly into the Space Sector Council and the UK Space Agency.

The Census was carried out between October and December 2020, and was funded by the University of Leicester. The latest report on pay in the space sector was funded by the UK Space Agency and Satellite Applications Catapult.

Further reports will be released in coming months focusing on other aspects of the Census results.


Notes to editors

  • All the 2020 Space Census results are available at spaceskills.org/census
  • The 2020 Space Census logo is available for download here.
  • The Space Growth Partnership is a collaboration between industry, government and academia.
  • UKspace is the trade association of the British space industry.
  • The Satellite Applications Catapult is an independent innovation and technology company, created by Innovate UK to drive economic growth through the exploitation of space.
  • The first result from the census were released in March this year, and further results looking at experiences of discrimination, and reasons why people join and leave the space sector will be released over the coming months.
  • The Space Skills Alliance is a think-tank working to address the skills shortage in the space sector.
  • It has published research on skills needs and advice on recruitment for space companies.
  • It was set up in September 2019 by Joseph Dudley and Heidi Thiemann, who previously created SpaceCareers.uk, an award-winning early careers jobs and advice website for the sector.
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