A panel at the Satellite 2021 conference in Maryland focused on diversity and inclusion. From left to right: Erin Weber, ABL Space Systems general counsel, Debra Facktor, Airbus US Space and Defense Inc., Josephine Milward, Seraphim Capital head of research, Giselle Stewart, Boeing senior manager diversity and inclusion, Meredith LaBeau, Calumet Electronics Corp. chief technology officer, and Karina Perez Molina, founder of the Zed Factor Fellowship. Credit: Satellite 2021 screenshot

SAN FRANCISCO –Attracting and retaining a diverse workforce may take effort but it can help companies succeed, according to panelists at the Satellite 2021 conference.

Diverse teams perform better, said Debra Facktor, head of Space Systems for Airbus US Space and Defense Inc. “It’s just a fact. Their stock price is higher. Their returns are better. It points to the collaboration and innovation that comes out of bringing new voices and perspectives to problem solving,” she added.

Meredith LaBeau, Calumet Electronics Corp. chief technology officer, said that is especially true in engineering and manufacturing next-generation electronic systems. “If you don’t have a diversity of opinion, insight and intuition, you’re never going to break down those boundaries and those boxes to get you to that next level of commitment to what you’re going to design and fabricate,” she said.

Companies that succeed in attracting women and people of color also should be thinking about retention, said Karina Perez Molina, co-founder of the Zed Factor Fellowship, a nonprofit focused on helping aspiring aerospace professionals from unrepresented communities.

“If you have turnover in a year or a year and a half, you’re not getting the full potential of someone developing and learning and bringing new ideas to the company,” said Perez Molina, who is also an Aerospace Industries Association director.

Instead of bemoaning the fact that people of color or women are leaving an organization before moving into management roles, organizations should create programs or initiatives “to pull people through so that the likelihood of seeing those faces at leadership levels have increased,” Stewart said.

Retaining a diverse workforce requires effort, but it’s more necessary than ever given the changing labor market, Perez Molina said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted millions of Americans to move or to look for new jobs. Employers, meanwhile, posted nearly 11 million job openings in July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“You are going to be limited in your ability to attract top talent if you’re not thinking about attracting talent that looks like the community that you serve,” said Giselle Stewart, Boeing senior manager diversity and inclusion. “People have options and opportunities.”

Panelists said company leaders can promote diversity and inclusion by fostering diverse management teams.

Seraphim Capital has two female advisors on its investment committee. “It’s made a difference in our level of discussions for the investment committee,” said Josephine Milward, Seraphim Capital head of research. “When you have different perspectives, you make better decisions and you have better investment returns.”

Managers should bring people into the conversation who might otherwise be overlooked, Facktor said.

“This goes back to when we’re little kids and get invited to the birthday party or picked last for the sports team,” Facktor said. “People feel like they don’t fit in or maybe they’re just shy. How do you get those ideas into the mix to create a diverse team with different perspectives?”

Boeing, for example, is encouraging employees to seek out opinions that may be different from their own and to create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing and listening to other people, Stewart said. “It’s a very basic habit that anybody can apply.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...