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Women in aerospace, we need you!

Picture of Cornelia Hillenherms

Cornelia Hillenherms

CEAS Aeronautical Journal / Managing Editor

Since I started to work in aerospace R&D twenty-five years ago, a lot has changed with regard to the situation of women in our business community – on one hand. On the other, we can still often observe structures, a working culture, communication and behaviour, which is far away from being balanced and open to diversity.

To get the best talents working and leading our aerospace community, it continues to be vital to attract more girls to technical fields at a young age already.

Today, a significant number of women is visible in leading positions in the aerospace R&D (Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Sabine Klauke, Grazia Vittadini, to mention a few in alphabetical order), and they are stimulating other women to follow their careers in this sector, actively or just by being visible as role models. We also see more women pursuing university degrees in STEM fields and finishing their PhD degrees in engineering (from 11,3% in 2004 to 18,6% in 2019 in Germany according to the Federal Statistical Office). Even the number of female professors at universities offering aerospace engineering courses has increased from almost zero to about 14%. However, it is no secret that the so-called “leaky pipeline” still exists if we look at the percentage of women who graduate versus later career stages, e.g. post-docs, professors or industrial leadership positions.

However, the societal awareness, a growing exploitation of diversity benefits and a resulting bunch of measures to ease integrating professional and private live for all genders has improved the situation. In non-academic research institutions, the percentage of women in leading positions grew significantly, e.g. from 0,8% in 1995 to 21,1% in 2020 at the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers, which also includes DLR. The picture is pretty similar for larger industrial companies where flexible working time models have been established a long time ago.

Nevertheless, quite often a “24/7 availability” demand and “warrior culture” still prevails, at least when it comes to leading positions. These can lead to dissatisfaction and makes some career paths unattractive in particular for women. So, one important aspect is to continue changing the working culture towards more cooperation, effective communication, and compliance with private interests. Besides this, more flexibility is needed as individual solutions can help to enable a better balance, like for example shared leadership positions, part-time leadership, or the automatic rotation of leading positions. Moreover, to get the best talents working and leading our aerospace community, it continues to be vital to attract more girls to technical fields at young age already, as teachers, parents, grand-parents, relatives, and friends. This is a task for all of us. If you didn’t start yet, please do so today.


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