Diversity in A&D is not where it should be

October 13, 2016

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By Susan Wright, Aerospace & Defense Advisory IT Managing Director, PwC

Growing up, my parents always told me the sky was the limit. I’d imagine they weren’t unique in their determination to instill in me a belief that I could achieve everything I set my heart to through hard work and dedication. But their perspective was a little more literal – my mother worked for NASA and my father spent his career as rocket engine designer.

Ever since I was young, I’ve lived and breathed aerospace. I grew up knowing that this is an industry promoting the cutting edge of technology and innovation. One rooted in patriotism and one that houses so many career possibilities – from engineering to government relations to environmental sustainability, manufacturing and beyond.

In my own career, I’ve taken advantage of that by holding positions within various departments, from nuclear ship modernization to information technology to environmental compliance to acquisitions. I’ve also made it a priority to do what I can to mentor others and share as much as possible about the opportunities that exist in our industry. The 2016 Aviation Workforce Study, which PwC sponsored, found that one of the main reasons students don’t pursue a career in aerospace and defense (A&D) is because they’ve never known anyone who works in the industry and, as a result, don’t recognize the magnitude of opportunities. When I think about my upbringing and how I got here, that makes perfect sense, so we need to spread the word.

The A&D industry needs talent. Diverse talent. Skilled talent. STEM talent. If the perception is that a career in A&D only involves airplanes, submarines and factories, and if we aren’t educating students about next manufacturing and IoT and the myriad career paths this one industry holds, our numbers aren’t going to rise in the way we’d like them to.

The Aviation Workforce Study also found that while the number of female engineering executives rose from 5.1% in 2014 to 10.98% in 2016, the number of women in A&D overall has dropped, from 23.7% in 2014 to 21.9% in 2016. Within engineering, only 4.3% of respondents identified as African American; 5.5% identified as Latino. Unfortunately, these numbers look similar to how they did 30 years ago.

So how do we move the needle? From my perspective, there are three ways we can start:

  1. Change perceptions: We thrive on technology and innovation, so we need to appeal to those drawn to the thrill of Silicon Valley and demonstrate the attractiveness of A&D jobs being invested in states like Arizona, Florida and Georgia.
  2. Help employees manage the cost of the education they need: A&D isn’t sheltered from the student loan debt crisis impacting this country. Fifty-five percent of the young professionals who answered the Aviation Week Workforce Study indicated that they used student loans. Businesses can offer programs to address this. PwC has.
  3. Focus on diversity: Attrition rates in A&D are higher for women than they are for men. Additionally, they are higher for black and Hispanic professionals than they are for white professionals, making it critical to create an environment in which these populations can excel, including through leadership development, programs that support women, and skills-training. Also important is supporting and celebrating the many ways women and diversity have enhanced our industry, through events such as the Women in Aerospace (WIA) Annual Awards dinner, which PwC also sponsors.

A few weeks ago, I attended WIA’s conference, Aerospace 2016: Innovation in Aerospace. While there, I sat next to a young man from Jordan who asked me directly, “Can I fit in here?” I answered immediately with a resounding yes. And not only that, but that we needed him to.

I’d argue it’s up to us to help make sure that happens.


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