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Boosting Diversity In The Aerospace Industry

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REBECCA KEISER joined the US National Science Foundation in 2015, initially heading the Office of International Science and Engineering. She previously worked at NASA as a special advisor on innovation and public-private partnerships, among other positions, and at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She holds a PhD in International Studies, an MSc in Politics of the World Economy, and a BA in Japanese Studies. She spoke with ITU News.

ITU NEWS: Your bachelor’s degree is in Japanese studies, and then you went on to an illustrious career working in science and technology policy in the White House, NASA and at the US National Science Foundation. That’s quite a change of course. What excited you about science and technology policy?

REBECCA KEISER : I fell into science and technology policy work through a happy accident. When I was working on my PhD in international stud‑ies I received a fellowship from the US government to do my dissertation research in Japan. The fellowship required me to work for the federal govern‑ment for a year after I received my PhD.

I began seeking federal employment in the late 1990s. It was an exciting time for the International Space Station as the international agreements were being negotiated. NASA was looking for a Japan specialist to assist with these agreement negotiations and other collaborations. It was the perfect fit, and NASA brought me on.

Even though my employment was initially for just a year, I fell in love with science and technology policy and remained at NASA for 16 years (for three of which I was on loan to the Office of Science and Technology Policy). The happy accident changed my life, and I am so pleased that it did.

ITN: Tell us about the work you do as Chief of Research Security Strategy and Policy at National Science Foundation (NSF). 

RK: NSF created the Chief of Research Security Strategy and Policy (CRSSP) position in March 2020, and I am the first to fill the position. NSF is concerned that there are some governments that are employing tactics that can destroy the research ecosystem, which is based on principles of research integrity such as transparency, openness, and merit-based competition. Unfortunately, some governments have established programmes with contractual obligations that compel researchers to breach the principles of research integrity.

The CRSSP’s position works to develop policy to make NSF disclosure policies as clear as possible, to communicate the importance of research integrity to the research community, and to emphasize the importance of international collaborations that are based on such research integrity principles.

We seek to work with our international partners to foster research integrity and maintain our vibrant research ecosystem.

ITN: How is Women in Aerospace supporting more girls and women to take up careers in the space industry?

RK: Women in Aerospace (WIA) focuses on many aspects to encourage more girls and women to enter a career in the space industry and to continue in the sector. WIA offers programmes that focus on career development at all levels including webinars on key issues such as negotiation, conflict resolution, and working in a virtual environment. We hold programmes featuring women leaders in aerospace who talk about key aerospace issues as well as their own career paths. Additionally, we focus on creating and maintaining networks with other WIA members who can provide support and mentorship.

Through the WIA foundation, we provide scholarships to outstanding female college students to encourage them to enter careers in aerospace.

Through the WIA awards, we acknowledge outstanding women in our industry. There is always more that could and should be done, and WIA seeks continual input on additional ways in which we can serve the aerospace community to encourage more girls and women to enter and remain in aerospace positions.

ITN: How can governments and/or the private sector better foster gender equality and diversity and why do you think such goals matter?

RK: I believe that gender equality and diversity need to be viewed as efforts that will improve a company or an organization rather than viewed as an obligation. Diversity brings fresh ideas and innovation. It brings a healthier work environment. It helps a company or an organization grow.

Right now, too many entities view gender diversity as something they have to do, rather than something they want or need to do for the benefit of the organization.

When employers see diversity as beneficial to the workplace, they can then focus on the infrastructure to encourage and maintain that diversity. This requires conscious effort, with a focus on aspects such as ensuring there are female role models throughout the organization, making sure that there are opportunities for women and men to participate in key projects and be part of teams, and that the performance assessment process is inclusive and equitable.

It takes a lot of work, but in the end, hopefully organizations will see the great value that diversity brings.

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