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University renews pledge for diversity in space

The University of Leicester has today (Tuesday) reaffirmed its commitment to driving diversity in the UK space industry, following publication of the 2020 Space Census.

The first results of the 2020 Space Census, funded by the University, have been released by the Space Skills Alliance and the Space Growth Partnership’s Space Skills Advisory Panel to coincide with British Science Week.

Space Park Leicester, set to open later in 2021, has already committed to a number of projects designed to widen participation in space research and manufacturing, including a pioneering Space Engineering Technician apprenticeship programme, and recognises that meaningful change must be driven earlier in the ‘skills pipeline’.

The survey of more than 1,500 people across industry, academia, government, military, and non-profit organisations establishes – for the first time – the demographic make-up of the UK space sector.

Key findings include:

  • Women are significantly under-represented (29%), particularly in industry (22%) and military (17%). This reflects trends among STEM students and graduates.
  • Trans people make up about 1% of the sector, on par with estimates for the wider population.
  • LGBQ+ people appear to be well represented (10% vs 4-7% in the population at large). About a quarter say they are not comfortable being open about their sexuality. Younger people are more likely to identify as LGBQ+ (20% of 18-24s vs 5% of 50-54s).
  • Ethnic minorities are under-represented (11% vs 14% in the population at large), particularly in industry and government, and compared to STEM graduates.
  • Foreign nationals make up just under a fifth of the workforce (18%), most of these (12%) are Europeans, who are three times more likely to be changing jobs because of immigration issues such as Brexit.
  • Disabled people are under-represented (8% vs 15% in the wider workforce), but most (87%) are comfortable being open about their disability.
  • The sector skews slightly younger than both the workforce as a whole and the STEM workforce.
  • People from more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds are overrepresented, with the proportion of privately educated people more than twice the national average.
  • Carers are under-represented (6% vs 15% in the wider workforce).
  • Space is significantly less religious than the country (34% vs 58% in the population at large).

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

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:

“Space is one of the UK’s fastest growing sectors and this timely research shows that more needs to be done to ensure this thriving industry benefits from a truly diverse workforce, providing employment opportunities to people of all backgrounds.

“I look forward to continuing working closely with the sector and across government to encourage those under-represented, including women and those from minority ethnic backgrounds, to pursue STEM careers, while ensuring we open up viable pathways for careers in space.”

Dr Gillian Butcher leads on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) for the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy. She said:

“As scientists we know the importance of data. This Census data is therefore invaluable for us as a School to enable us to make progress in our EDI commitments.

“The University funded this research in order to understand where we’re currently at and where our strengths and weaknesses lie in relation to the sector, and take action accordingly.

“While there is data available for academic subjects such as physics, chemistry and astronomy, having data specifically for Space Science, including industry, will allow more appropriate benchmarking and prioritisation of areas for action.

“We are proud to reaffirm the University’s commitment to widening participation in this sector.”

Heidi Thiemann, Director of the Space Skills Alliance and University of Leicester alumna, said:

“We are delighted to be presenting this first snapshot of the space sector’s workforce.

“Data like this is vital in identifying where there is still work to be done in making the sector inclusive and ensuring that applicants from all backgrounds are able to take their careers to new heights.”

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

Results of the Space Sector Skills Survey, published in February, also highlighted the need for the education system to provide more relevant and accessible routes into the industry to help the sector improve its diversity and meet its skills needs.

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