Empowering all Women, in Space and on Earth

Diversity at ESA

At the European Space Agency, the continued, strong support of all, including Directors and managers, has contributed to implementing relevant actions and achieving important results that will be further pursued and enhanced to ensure that ESA can move even faster in this direction.

In recognition of its strong commitment to make the Agency a more diverse workplace, ESA was presented with the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) Excellence in “3G” Diversity Award at the 71st International Astronautical Congress (IAC) on 14 October 2020. As outlined by IAF, ESA’s application was considered of exceptional merit and the IAF “Award Subcommittee was impressed by the accomplishment of the European Space Agency within the diversity area”. On behalf of ESA’s Director General, the award was accepted at the Paris office of the IAF by Chief Diversity Officer Ersilia Vaudo, who discussed the challenges that ESA faces in combining the different aspects of diversity as well as the opportunities that the current demographic configuration will offer to inject young and diverse energies into the work of the Agency.

ESA’s efforts on diversity include gender, generation, and geography, as well as backgrounds and disabilities.

As we have just commemorated the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, among all the activities undertaken in the framework of the D&I initiative at ESA it is worth recalling the special focus which has been put to make the Agency a welcoming and inclusive place for disabled people. ESA is working to attract talents with different abilities, striving to ensure a collective effort in reducing those visible and invisible barriers preventing greater inclusiveness.

In 2019, actions have been taken allowing to welcome people with physical disabilities and ESA has proceeded to a targeted recruitment of young people in a number of ESA establishments across Europe. Before proceeding to the recruitment of people on Young Graduate positions, a pilot internship programme for students with visual impairment was implemented at ESAC in 2018, as a way to test approaches and to draw lessons useful for other establishments as well. Relying on the support of a local organisation providing services for the blind and people with serious visual impairment, ESA hosted the first trainee working on automatic classification of X-ray sources in June 2018, and the programme has been repeated in 2019, thus leading to an increased awareness of the challenges related to disability inclusion.

Since October 2019, ESA is part of The Valuable 500 – a global initiative striving to place disability inclusion on private and public organisations’ agenda. Launched at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Summit in Davos in January 2019, The Valuable 500 movement seeks to include 500 global leaders to hold them accountable for disability inclusion by committing to putting disability on their board agendas. The initiative has already gathered several companies, including Virgin, BBC, Boeing, Microsoft, Royal Bank of Scotland, Sanofi, all committed to support disability inclusion and equality.

Moreover, ESA has been official partner of the first IAU Symposium on “Astronomy for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion” which took place on 12-15 November 2019. Organised by the International Astronomical Union in the occasion of its 100th anniversary, the Symposium aimed to be a roadmap to action, highlighting, inter alia, the role that gender diversity and inclusion play in producing better science, to contribute for competitiveness and innovation and to focus on specific steps leading to change on the field. Building on the results of the Symposium, ESA, IAU, ESO and SKAO teamed up to organise the first SARA Space and Astronomy Research Accessibility online event in November/December 2020, focusing on the links between space science and astronomy, inclusion and disability. A follow-up workshop will take place in April 2021 at the European Space Astronomy Centre, ESAC, and it will be the first of a series of workshops focusing on diversity and inclusion aspects in this professional community, to discuss and generate recommendations on advances in tools, programmes and schemes improving access to research resources and training researchers and young professionals with disabilities in space and astronomy.

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