Cornwall’s Women In Space (Part Three)
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021 we spoke with three extraordinary women leading the charge in developing and enabling considerable growth in the UK Space industry from the very heart of Cornwall.
In part three of our interview series, Gail, Mel and Kat share five leadership lessons they have learned from their experience as women in the STEM industry.
Gail Eastaugh, Programme Director, AeroSpace Cornwall:
- Convey the enjoyment and enthusiasm you have for STEM or Tech to as many people as possible. I have two goddaughters who are mad about space – maybe they always would have been or maybe it’s the International Space Station puzzle I gave them when they were five or the Apollo 50 concert I took them to in 2019. Children respond brilliantly to people having fun and enjoying themselves and I don’t think as adults we’re any different. I think it’s great that some of the most successful people on the planet are tech ‘geeks’ who love what they do – what could be more inspiring?
- Be the best you can be at the time – never become complacent or stop learning from those around you. It’s sometimes tempting to think that i) you’ve achieved your goals , you’ve made it and can sit back or ii) you’ll never achieve your goals and lose motivation – in either case review your goals regularly and amend them to your current situation. Technology changes all the time – I think we should too.
- Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, but don’t make a habit of it if you want to instil confidence in those around you. Thankfully we’ve moved on from the 90’s when being tough and in control at all times were seen as leadership traits to aspire to. Some of the best breakthroughs I’ve been involved with have happened when I’ve had no idea what to do and reached out to my team and we’ve moved forwards together. This won’t work all the time – being able to communicate a decisive vision is really important to ensure everyone is secure and motivated to go on the same journey.
- Be curious and explore as often as possible – my parents, like many, used to dread the constant ‘why, why, why?’ questions when I was a child. As an adult I’ve refined these questions into ‘how, when and what’ but I think I ask just as often, the difference is now I can ask hundreds of people to share their experiences and knowledge – I’d recommend protecting some time each week to challenge your own thinking and others... who knows perhaps a lunar rover that blows bubbles may have a use!
- Celebrate success – it’s cliched but we really don’t do it often enough in the UK. I think we could learn a lot from our colleagues over the pond and adopt a more positive attitude to our own achievements – if we don’t give ourselves a pat on the back why should anyone else?
Dr Kat Hickey, Senior Business Development Manager, Goonhilly Earth Station:
- Don’t assume just because somebody is more senior that you should always listen to them. (Infamously, I had a professor in my undergraduate studies who – as one of many similar incidents – would thoroughly congratulate my male fellow student on having received the best exam grade, despite the fact that I had achieved exactly the same grade and points. No further comment required.)
- If something seems a bit challenging, seeing it through rather than giving up might still be worth it. (I could have decided that being the only female and only foreigner in the entire company was too hard – it was hard! – but having stuck with it I now absolutely love my role and enjoy working with all of the team.)
- Seek out mentors – male and female – who support you as a person throughout your career - its always a good idea! (In my time at university, particularly during my MSc/PhD my supervisors all encouraged me to find my own path while supporting where they could without judgement of my choices, which was invaluable in giving me a good sense of self and finding a career path that worked for me.)
- Practise makes perfect! If there is something that makes you feel a bit nervous (say, maybe, public speaking – in my undergraduate studies I got incredibly nervous each time I wanted to ask a question in a research seminar, particularly with more advanced students or faculty) then try to take any opportunity to practice, maybe in low pressure environments at first, but slowly try to make the effort also in situations where you might feel less comfortable and it’ll be second nature in no time.
- Don’t underestimate soft skills. Anybody who is reasonably motivated and puts in the time can pick up some subject specific knowledge and technical skills. However, commitment to a cause, showing effort, accepting challenges within the workplace, having a good attitude towards colleagues and tasks, and similar soft skills can go a long way and are much more difficult to learn. Adopt these from day 1 (alongside your technical knowledge, of course!).
Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall:
- Define your Purpose and filter everything through that. My purpose is Good Space, that my actions at Spaceport Cornwall support a launch that is responsible and uses technical innovation to benefit life on Earth. Everything I do, from our team’s culture, to who designs our website, to how our hangars are built, to the satellites being launched, is all filtered through ‘is this Good Space?’.
- You can lead with empathy and kindness. I’m done with the dinosaurs that believe that aggression and patronisation motivate a team to realise success. Whilst I wont be walked over, and can have difficult conversations, I truly believe if you show someone kindness, communication will be much easier, and progress can be made.
- Listen but don’t be silent. Stop and listen to what is going on around you, who is saying what, and what their motivations are. Asses this before making decisions, and then use your voice, and use it to thoughtfully challenge.
- Constantly Engage with other leaders outside of your industry. I get so much of my motivation and mentoring from other leaders around me, especially from other industries. From Si at Eden Project to Luke at Newquay Orchard, to Lucy at Cornish Lithium, and at home my partner Ben who leads his socially sustainable events and catering businesses, I thrive on their stories of success and failure.
- Creativity is 100% required in STEM, and should be championed. STEAM is the way forward. Building a team in a tech industry requires a variety of skills. Having a team of solely technical experts will not bring success.