NASA and Women of Color: Recruitment, Building a Pipeline, and Ensuring Inclusion and Diversity in the Workforce
The cultivation of diversity and inclusion is both a management philosophy and core value for all of NASA’s education, equal opportunity, and human capital efforts. A diversity of skills and talents in our future workforce is critical to NASA’s success. Agency-wide efforts to promote and advance the principles of diversity and inclusion serve to maximize individual and organizational potential. Such efforts do so by fostering awareness, understanding, and respect for individual differences. The knowledge, expertise, and unique background and life experiences, including the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of each individual, serve to strengthen the Agency, as described below.
Data on Women of Color36 at NASA
At NASA, approximately 62 percent of the workforce occupies positions in Science and Engineering (S&E), and the vast majority of these S&E professionals (89 percent) are Aerospace Technology (AST) engineers. As shown in the table below, for the period covering Fiscal Years (FY) 2008 through the first half of FY 2012, women of color comprised between 5.4 and 5.6 percent of the AST engineering component of NASA’s workforce.
Table E-22-1 Women of color’s representation in AST occupation of NASA’s workforce from FY 2008-2012.
|FY 08||FY 09||FY 10||FY 11||FY 12|
|Total AST Engineers||9657||9909||9990||10167||10229|
|Women of Color||5.4%||5.4%||5.6%||5.6%||5.6%|
|2000 Census Relevant Civilian Labor Force (RCLF) Women of Color||2.3%||2.3%||2.3%||2.3%||2.3%|
Note: RCLF includes general, electrical, computer, electronic, and aerospace engineers.
Differential analyses conducted by NASA to prioritize outreach, recruitment, and advancement efforts identified potential barriers for women of color at NASA, particularly in AST occupations. For example, Hispanic and Asian American women comprise less of the general engineering series (OPM series 801) than expected, based on the RCLF, and no African American females were selected as physical or space scientists (OPM series 1301 and 1330) in
36 Women of Color includes African American, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Native Hawaiian, and American Indian.
the last fiscal year. The data also indicate a lower-than-expected representation of women of color in the higher grade levels (GS 14, GS 15, and SES/ST/SL) of AST occupations, in comparison to the RCLF. NASA has established planned actions for focused outreach, recruitment, and advancement in its Model Agency Equal Employment Opportunity Plan and Model Center EEO Plans.37 For example, some of the actions in the Agency plan include improving women’s participation in leadership development programs, short-term rotations, and other developmental assignments; apprising the Executive Resources Board and other senior councils regarding lack of diversity in senior level positions; improving the participation of underrepresented groups in student programs that lead to potential employment with NASA; coordinating education and awareness events to showcase success stories of women and help eliminate negative stereotypes; and examining the nomination processes for Agency honor awards to ensure all employees have equitable opportunities to be recognized. In addition, there are a number of other efforts that NASA is undertaking to increase the recruitment of women of color, as well as to build a pipeline to ensure there is a future workforce that is well represented by women of color. These are discussed below.
Enhancing the Career Progression of Women of Color at NASA
Research has identified some of the challenges in terms of recruitment and advancement of women in the fields of science and engineering. There are inherent biases and stereotyping that exist for women of color in the science and engineering workplace. In addition, there are challenges related to the lack of mentorship and isolation. While there is a need to ensure that more women of color choose to study in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, which will be addressed later, there is also a need to focus on recruitment and retention of women. NASA is working to develop an Agency-wide hiring and recruitment plan that will address issues involving diversity, including women of color. This plan will build off of some of the best practices that already exist in the Centers.
Of particular note is the Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) effort on the recruitment front. JSC has employed numerous initiatives to increase recruitment of women of color. They developed the “Recruiting Working Group” to enhance collaboration between Human Resources, Education, and the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity (ODEO) in recruiting underrepresented populations, including women of color. The group meets quarterly to discuss recruiting strategies and recruiting schedules. They routinely work with the Education Office to pipeline top performing interns, including women of color, into the co-op program. They also conduct focus groups with minority co-ops, including women of color, on ways to enhance recruiting and onboarding practices.
Additionally, JSC is conducting a study of best practices in minority recruitment, retention, and executive advancement to gain insight from Fortune 500 companies, aerospace companies, and other government organizations. They are in the process of analyzing the study report and plan to implement some of the lessons learned.
Last year, JSC initiated five Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Three of the groups are race based (African American, Asian Pacific American, and Hispanic). The groups are:
• Fostering responsibility, engagement, and connection for all employees involved by asking them to assist with recruiting and onboarding activities.
• Providing a path for feeling connected and valued.
37 The Agency plans can be found at http://odeo.hq.nasa.gov/documents/NASA_Model_EEO_Agency_Plan_FY12-13.pdf
• Providing an environment where members can participate in activities that continually improve the workplace.
• Providing leadership development and networking opportunities.
Education at NASA: Building a Pipeline
NASA has long recognized the potential contributions of minorities and women as a largely untapped resource to support the STEM workforce. NASA’s education programs and projects support the academic training of qualified future workers necessary for accomplishing the Agency’s missions. Many of these projects specifically target recruitment and retention of women and minorities. In turn, NASA seeks to leverage the Agency’s student development pipeline to facilitate entry-level hirings on the basis of proven performance.
NASA assists minority institutions and faculty through multiyear research grants and provides scholarships, internships, mentoring, and tutoring to underserved and underrepresented students. Through the Minority University Research and Education Program (MUREP), students attending minority institutions, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), participate widely in the Agency’s research and education programs and its overall mission. Many of these efforts have also had notable success in attracting women. Since 2001, the Harriett G. Jenkins Predoctoral Fellowship Project (JPFP) has sought to increase the number of graduate degrees awarded to underrepresented and underserved persons, women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in STEM disciplines. The ultimate goal is to increase the U.S. talent pool by developing a more inclusive, multicultural, and sustainable STEM workforce. JPFP has supported 210 students since its inception, of which 74 percent have been minority candidates and 60 percent are women.
Having greater numbers of female, underserved, and underrepresented students participating in NASA programs supports the entry of these students into the scientific and technical workforce, as well as their pursuit of advanced STEM degrees. The Motivating Undergraduates in Science and Technology (MUST) project awards scholarships and internships to undergraduates pursuing degrees in STEM fields. In FY 2010, the MUST project hosted 100 students: 55 percent were women, and 27 percent of the scholars self-reported being the first in their family to attend college.
In FY 2010, 5,605 participants in NASA higher education programs self-reported being a member of an underserved or underrepresented race or ethnic group. This represents 35 percent of the total number of higher education students served by NASA in FY 2010. NASA’s solid recruitment efforts of students meet or exceed the percentages of underrepresented minorities pursuing higher education studies in STEM fields nationwide, according to the National Science Foundation Report “Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2011.”
In FY 2010, of all higher education students served by the Agency, 6,042 participants self-reported being women. This represents 39 percent of the total number of higher education students served by NASA in FY 2010. Within the Space Grant program in FY 2010, of the 12,410 Space Grant participants who self-reported their gender, 4,773, or 38 percent, were women. There were 5,697 higher education students receiving direct awards through Space Grant, with 41 percent being made to female students. Additionally, there were 4,617 significant awards (i.e., $5,000 or more in support or more than 160 hours of participation in an activity)
made to higher education students through Space Grant in FY 2010, with 38 percent being made to female participants.
NASA also has an opportunity to inspire and engage learners through its unique people, resources, and facilities. Several projects, focused on middle and high school learners, have been successful in engaging girls of color.
The NASA Science Engineering Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) is a national, innovative project designed to increase participation and retention of historically underrepresented K-12 youth in the fields of STEM. SEMAA is located at community colleges; Historically Black Colleges and Universities; Hispanic Serving Institutions; Tribal Colleges and Universities; high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools; and science centers/museums in urban and rural cities throughout the United States. In 2011, 40 percent of the SEMAA participants were young women of color (49 percent total female participation).
NASA's Summer of Innovation (SoI) project and Mary J. Blige's Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN) both show students the possibilities available if they follow their dreams and reach for the stars. The SoI project is part of the President's Educate to Innovate Campaign. It started in 2010 to help keep middle school students engaged in fun and stimulating STEM-related activities during the school break, and over 45,000 learners have participated in activities over the past two years.
Policy memoranda could further encourage agencies to collect data, benchmark results and best practices, and share information regularly among decision makers. Where possible, participation in programs should be tracked and evaluated. Following participants will focus their attention on the outcomes and benefits of Agency initiatives in recruitment, career progression, and training for women of color.
Agencies should also be encouraged to ensure that internship programs and other educational partnerships expand the pool of minority and female candidates. Many opportunities for minority women arise as a result of successful career pursuits of the women who came before them. Minority women pursuing STEM degrees and working in STEM careers should be encouraged to mentor girls as early as elementary or middle school and guide them to pursue the fields of mathematics and science.
NASA is actively involved in the Administration’s comprehensive effort to improve STEM education in America. Through the National Science Technology Committee’s Committee on STEM, NASA is collaborating with other Federal agencies to identify interagency STEM education goals, and to define objectives and strategies to coordinate Federal investments in STEM education to efficiently achieve those goals. One of the priority areas identified is supporting groups traditionally underserved in STEM fields.
Title IX and Title VI Compliance Programs
NASA recommends, as a matter of policy, that Federal agencies with the authority to provide Federal grants to educational institutions, establish and sustain vigorous civil rights compliance programs under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), as amended, and
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 (Title IX). These compliance programs need to implement a compliance assessment strategy that includes conducting full compliance reviews of their grantees under the combined statutory mandates of Title VI and Title IX. This strategy will allow for the differential analysis of how institutional policies and practices impact Federal financial assistance beneficiaries by gender and also how women of color are specifically impacted.
In this regard, NASA conducts a robust Title IX compliance program of the Agency’s university and college grant recipients to ensure equal opportunity on the basis of gender in STEM programs. Consistent with NASA’s Title VI/Title IX programs, NASA recommends:
• combined Title VI/Title IX compliance reviews, including appropriate findings and recommendations to the head of the institution;
• agencies’ Assurance of Compliance forms required from all grant recipients should contain text requesting specific information from grant selectees on their compliance with equal opportunity obligations. This information should be obtained prior to the award of grant funding; and
• agencies enhance their civil rights compliance programs with a strong technical assistance and outreach component.
While progress has been made to increase the number of women of color at NASA and in the fields of engineering and science, there is still work to be done. NASA’s focus on education to build a strong pipeline, as well as the development of an Agency-wide plan on recruitment and hiring, will build upon the existing work. Diversity is a core value at NASA, and the Agency will continue to work to ensure an inclusive environment with opportunities for all.