Carie Lemack: The Human Side of Space — Diversity, Passion and Progress at the 2019 Women in Space Conference

Carie Lemack

Carie Lemack

Carie Lemack Speaking at Women in Space

DreamUp CEO and Co-founder Carie Lemack reflects upon the Women in Space Conference, which was an opportunity for scientists and engineers to showcase their work in the field of space and planetary sciences and to highlight the achievements of women and non-binary researchers.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend the 2019 Women in Space Conference hosted by Arizona State University in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was an incredible two days filled with seminars and panel discussions showcasing a diverse set of voices within the space industry. I’m always inspired by the immense network of professionals, educators and students who all share a passion for space. Here are my main takeaways from the conference:

Diversity

A notably present aspect of the conference this year was how diverse the industry has become, which was evident in the group of attendees, the speakers and the overall enthusiasm encompassing the event. It was a comforting reminder for me that we all benefit from diversity, particularly when we have diverse boards and teams. A 2015 study published by global market index provider MSCI showed there are business-related benefits to having women on a board. Of the 4,200 public companies included in the survey, those that had “strong female leadership,” as the study described, saw a 34.6 percent greater return on equity than companies lacking a critical mass of women in leading positions.

As an advocate for education, I couldn’t help but think about how the classroom is a vital place to start implementing the promotion of diverse ideas. Children benefit from seeing people who look like them having successful careers within their aspirational occupations. Seeing such broad representation in gender, ethnicity, orientation and lifestyles among conference attendees, many of whom were students well on their way to continue diversifying STEM occupations, is incredibly promising.

Passion

The energy of the conference was electric, characterized by the speakers who passionately shared the important work they were doing and the many women who brilliantly displayed their love of space through shimmery dresses covered in stars and elaborate astronaut costumes. Nothing captured the energy of the conference quite like the Girls in STEAM event Friday night, when we looked up in the night sky to see the International Space Station (ISS) flying over us.  No telescope is needed to witness that man-made wonder. It was a wonderful reminder that our passions aren’t just theoretical, there are actually humans up there, like Flight Engineer Anne McClain, currently performing the work we’re all passionate about on the ISS.

Progress

Though significant progress has been made on behalf of women in science and space, we’re not there yet. Ten years ago, only one-third of the Astronaut Candidate Class were women, and today it’s almost half. A 2018 study conducted by the PEW Research Center revealed not only have women made significant progress in representation among STEM occupations, but the share of women varies widely across STEM job types. In 2018, women were 75 percent of the health tech industry and nearly half of the workforce in mathematical and life science-related occupations. However, women remain largely under-represented in engineering, computer and physical sciences. Most notably, women make up only 25 percent of the computer science industry, which is the fastest-growing and most prosperous branch of STEM occupations. Additionally, the study found that black and Hispanic populations are still underrepresented in the STEM workforce, across all job types.

Looking forward, we know there’s much more work to be done to diversify the scientific community. However, conferences like Women in Space are an important reminder that progress is not idle, and as long as we continue to gather and collaborate, we will be able to reach these goals.

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