Opening careers in STEM and access to space

These are exciting times for our three space companies, Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit. Which is, of course, down to the talent, drive and commitment of the amazing people who work for us. 

I wanted to pick out just one of the stories about our people, in the hope that her incredible personal journey will inspire others. I’m delighted that Julia Tizard, who I first crossed paths with in Mojave in 2004, has been promoted to the position of Vice President, Virgin Galactic. 

Back then, I had flown to Mojave to watch SpaceShipOne’s XPRIZE flights. Meanwhile, Juls was at a conference in Vancouver while still a student at Manchester University. Her passion for opening access to space compelled her to rent a car and drive to a desert unknown to see for herself the first private effort to reach space. 

As I wrote to Juls upon her promotion, it was a life-changing event for us both. While finishing her doctorate in astrophysics, she persistently asked to join Virgin Galactic and did not stop until we said yes. She worked with our small team on Half Moon Street in London and emigrated to Mojave, where as operations manager she established the practices and team for our eventual commercial service in Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Space brings out the best in people. Astronauts who have seen our home planet from space know that we are not defined by artificial borders and affiliations but by our shared humanity. On our home planet Earth, we can do better. All workplaces benefit from a diverse and inclusive work force, and there is much to do to recruit and retain talented engineers from underrepresented communities. A recent study indicates that we are still not seeing an increase in women pursuing STEM degrees. That will contribute to the persistent gender pay gap and slow down the pipeline of women who can earn senior leadership roles. 

Championed by leaders like George Whitesides, Mike Moses, Enrico Palermo and now Dan Hart at Virgin Orbit, we are striving to open access to STEM for a new generation of future scientists, engineers and space explorers. It’s encouraging that in an industry underrepresented by women, Virgin Galactic has appointed a female Vice-President – and just a few days ago The Spaceship Company appointed Melissa Hanson as a Vice President. Since 2012, Galactic Unite has offered scholarships and mentoring to strengthen the industry with diversity and inclusion. But we are fully aware companies all over the world, including Virgin, have more to do to acknowledge and support women professionals. 

Just as young Juls toured her father's facilities where he designed wind tunnels to test aeroplanes, the next generation are encouraged to learn more and get inspired by our work and our fleet of space vehicles. At the same time, only when young girls see top leadership roles earned and filled by women will they be inspired to study sciences and engineering and apply their creativity, communication skills and teamwork to space exploration.

I’m excited to see our businesses continue that work in the years to come. And I’m looking forward to standing by Juls and Melissa and the team’s side in future flight tests!

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