Diversity should be the first, not the final, frontier in NZ space industry

A focus on bringing in women and minority groups now would help ensure that the engineering teams don’t look like they did in the 1950s.

retro astronauts with rocket on planet

As the New Zealand space sector takes off, is now the time to bake in diversity, before traditional hiring patterns become entrenched?

Spacebase, a company focussed on developing the space ecosystem in New Zealand, recently brought together a panel of entrepreneurs and academics to address the diversity question.

Commercial basis of space industry poses diversity challenge

According to a Deloitte report, the estimated revenue of the New Zealand space economy was $1.8 billion in 2018-19, representing 0.3 per cent of global space-economy revenues. While the report noted that the space economy supports about 12,000 full-time roles, it doesn’t provide a breakdown in terms of gender and ethnicity. It does note that more than 60 per cent of respondents to its survey were commercial companies, which points to an industry funded primarily by business rather than government.

Yen-Kai Chen, a New Zealand representative on the Space Generation Advisory Council, points out that diversity is hard to mandate in private companies. “The New Zealand space sector is in its early phase, so we have a great opportunity to do it differently from traditional space countries. … [It] is commercially led so while it is much easier for the public sector to execute gender and ethnic quotas and create jobs in rural regions, companies are not obliged to do this,” he says.

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