Liz Seward is a senior strategist for Space Systems at Airbus Defence and Space, and her background is in physics and engineering. The Airbus Space Systems division is responsible for all aspects of satellite manufacturing. Elizabeth is also the Chair of Women in Aerospace Europe’s UK group, bringing together women and men who are interested in supporting and getting involved in a more diverse and equal workforce within the space sector.
“…Some of the exciting projects at Airbus today include designing and building the European Mars Rover, ExoMars, developing cutting edge communications payloads or working on ways to reduce debris in space…”
From space geek to space strategist
I have always been a space geek and interested in physics so when I found a university course in physics with space science and technology at the University of Leicester, I knew it was the one for me.
I joined Airbus as a graduate thermal engineer, then worked in the advance projects team before moving to business development marketing and now strategy. I really enjoy the big picture view and in my current role I get to influence our UK space strategy.
In my role as strategist for Space Systems I have a remit to look at the UK view of our space manufacturing strategy. It is a very interesting time with the impact of Brexit on our institutional business and the opportunities from the growing global space markets. I’ve only been in the role for two months so I’m learning fast.
Space sector opportunities
We are seeing some aspects of the space sector change very rapidly at the moment. There are new launchers aiming to lower the cost of reaching space, more investment in space enabling start-up companies, and strong public and government support for exciting projects. All this means that the space industry is changing and companies need to adopt faster ways of working.
Championing gender balance
Airbus is a strong supporter of diversity. There are many studies that show that a diverse team is stronger and that a diverse management team leads to a more profitable company, which Airbus is actively embracing. When we look at the gender balance in Airbus Defence and Space in the UK, we see that at the lower levels we match the ratio of graduating engineers, with about 30% women.
The company is actively working to support and increase the number of women at higher levels of the organisation. One initiative is an employee led group called Balance for Business where we can support employees and actively tackle issues.
Women in Aerospace Europe
Women in Aerospace Europe is an organisation focused on the space industry, aiming to expand leadership opportunities for women and increase their visibility in the sector. WIA-E welcomes women and men as members, where the men can be key allies in changing the status quo.
In the UK, our local group is focused on three initiatives. Creating a network of women across the space industry, promoting female experts in the UK and addressing unconscious bias. We run workshops and networking events around the country and online for members of the group.
Some events are for members, and anyone can join online at http://wia-europe.org/. Other events are open to our full UK mailing list – to join this visit our signup page at: http://eepurl.com/daSjPD. We send out a monthly newsletter with details of events and partner events.
Advice for girls and women interested in careers in the space sector
Working in the space industry is really exciting and there are so many different careers possible. There are jobs for engineers or physicists, but other relevant subjects include geography, law, languages, and so many more. Some of the exciting projects at Airbus today include designing and building the European Mars Rover, ExoMars, developing cutting edge communications payloads or working on ways to reduce debris in space.
My advice for girls would be to focus on subjects you enjoy, if you go to university join one of the great societies like UKSEDS and if you are more practical, apply for an apprenticeship scheme in the industry. For women interesting in moving into the industry, there are some great opportunities across the UK.
One good tip is to apply for any job where meet around 70-80% of the criteria. Companies often advertise for their perfect candidate, so don’t be put off if you don’t meet all the experience or ‘must have’ requirements listed. Instead think of how you could learn them on the job and put it in your cover letter. Do join one of the organisations that support women in industry. As well as WIA-E, groups to consider are WISE, WES or the Royal Aeronautical Society. We all work together on some topics to give our members the best support possible.