Empowering all Women, in Space and on Earth

These Women #ChooseToChallenge! – Do You?

On 8 March 2021, the first global WIA event was held in a virtual format to celebrate International Women’s Day and brought together sister organisations from US, Canada and Europe.

Chaired by Eva Martinez, vice-president of WIA Canada, it was the first global WIA event of this kind and saw participation of members from more than 40 countries from around the world.

During a short round of greetings, President of WIA Canada Valerie Wilson, President of WIA Europe Luisella Giulicchi, and Chair of WIA Rebecca Keiser highlighted the particular challenges the COVID pandemics has posed to women regarding their professional standing and work/life balance.

Nancy BarberLuisella Giulicchi further pointed out that doubts about the need for a dedicated day to globally celebrate women’s achievements should be put to rest considering the work that still needs to be done to forge gender equality. The global WIA event, as many other dedicated events held on this day, was therefore a much needed opportunity to raise awareness as well as to inspire women in the aerospace sector with exceptional role models as the distinguished speakers present at the WIA global panel.

On that note, Eva Martinez introduced the three panellists of the evening: Nancy Barber, Operating Officer at Bombardier Aviation (retired), Pamela Melroy, Colonel at US Air Force (retired), and Simonetta Di Pippo, Director of UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).

The three remarkable women gave a brief account of their professional vitas, pointing out the challenges and milestones they experienced as women making a career in a male dominated sector.

In particular, Nancy Barber shared a list of her top 10 rules of leadership lessons she has learned during her 22-year career in the aviation business. Among them she listed:

  • Be at the table and use your voice
  • Embrace difficult situations, as they provide experience
  • Find a mentor to guide you and a close ally to support you.

Next, Simonetta Di Pippo looked back at 35 years of her professional growth in the space sector. She reflected both on her work during the early days of the Italian Space Agency as well as on her appointment at the European Space Agency as the first female director since its establishment in 1975. One of the founding members of Women in Aerospace Europe, Simonetta Di Pippo achieves her most recent accomplishments as the Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs.

Pam MelroyReflecting on her experiences, Pam Malroy, who had joined pilot training only shortly after it was opened to female applicants, and over the years advanced to Space Shuttle commander at NASA, stressed that leadership can’t be learned from a book but only from practicing it. Having been put in charge of things and people she regularly found herself at the deep end, but stubbornness and a clear focus on her dream has kept her going through many discouraging moments.

Pam Malroy underlined the necessity of a well-functioning support system as it can be found in a global network as WIA – something she has much missed during her early years. She pointed out how crucial a growing network of friends and colleagues can be to one’s career development. And while this is something that men create naturally, women have lacked for a long time.

Responding to panel questions, the speakers discussed possible actions in which participants could drive change towards a gender-equal world and the particular impact of COVID pandemics on women and their careers.

Nancy Barber has called on participants to educate themselves on unconscious bias. Her recommendation included the video “What does my hair scarf mean to you?”.

SSimonetta Di Pippohe was supported by Simonetta Di Pippo, who stressed that unconscious bias was a complex and necessary topic to discuss when striving for a gender inclusive and quality-minded recruitment.

Pam Malroy, who today is actively mentoring women in her field, also stressed the bias in relation to talent recruitment. She urged participants to start a list of competent women they encounter in the course of their professional life, so they it can be consulted each time a recommendation for an open position is requested.

At the end of the event the panellists were asked to share the piece of advise they would give to their younger selves. Their answers included:

  • Take a deep breath and carry on – it’s going to be ok!
  • Learn to ask for help!

The general take away of the event was that we have to challenge stereotypes, forge inclusive behaviours, and continue to make positive impact as individuals and as a community. As Simonetta Di Pippo has summed it up: Don’t wait for someone else to do your job!

For those who were not able to join the event, the full recording is available here:

  • IWD Part 1 – WIA Leadership Opening Remarks & Self-Introduction of Panelists
  • IWD Part 2 – Moderated Panel Discussion and Closing Remarks

The questions that were posted to the chat were passed along to the panellists and kindly made available online by WIA Canada here.

We invite you to hear these inspiring role models, and to continue celebrate and support women’s achievements!

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