Tips for Preventing Discrimination in NASA5 min read

Discrimination is a problem everywhere, especially in the workplace. In 2018 alone, there were over 76,000 charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about discrimination. Even some of the most prominent businesses and agencies in the world, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), deal with discrimination in the workplace.

Discrimination covers a variety of factors and can impact many groups of people. It’s often based on things like race, ethnicity, gender, and religion. In order for NASA and other businesses to prevent discrimination, it’s important to know exactly what it is and how it should be handled.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the ins and outs of discrimination, as well as what NASA is already doing and what can be done.

What Is Discrimination?

According to the Human Rights Commission, discrimination is treating someone unfavorably because of one or more of their characteristics that are protected by the law. It’s important to understand the differences between discrimination and harassment. While the former describes the unfair treatment of a category of people, the latter involves direct, targeted action against a specific individual.

Many times, people are discriminated against based on gender or sexual orientation. Sexual harassment can be a big problem in the workplace, especially when it comes to confusion about consent. Consensual sex is freely given, reversible, specific, and informed. It’s also important to keep in mind that sexual harrassment and discrimination are two different things. Sexual harassment is any type of unwanted sexual behavior that you don’t consent to.

For astronauts and other employees working for NASA, there are many opportunities for discrimination to take place. It can occur during training or if a person is denied certain rights or opportunities because of one of their characteristics.

NASA has struggled with gender equality for years. The agency started in 1958 and didn’t see its first female astronaut, Sally Ride, until 1983. Let’s talk more about NASA’s efforts to end discrimination and to be more inclusive.

Gender Equality in the Workplace

As stated above, NASA has had its fair share of gender equality struggles over the years, but so have most businesses and organizations. The fact that it took over 20 years for the first female astronaut to head into space is a problem on its own. Unfortunately, Ride continued to experience harassment and discrimination for much of her career.

The numbers simply aren’t great when it comes to NASA and female astronauts. Only 49 women have flown into space with NASA. Compare that to the 266 men who have done the same, and it’s easy to see that systemic issues exist. On paper, it doesn’t make much sense: Women use less oxygen than men. Further, they are lighter, which makes travel into space easier, and typically consume less food.

So, with all of these positives, why haven’t there been more women in orbit? There are many factors that have likely come into play over the years that have kept women out of space in the NASA program. In the 1950s and 1960s, when NASA was “launching,” women were viewed in a different light. There were unfortunate stereotypes about a woman’s place being in the home, and women certainly weren’t frontrunners in science and engineering. Some of those stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes persist today.

Thankfully, NASA has made strong efforts to be more inclusive toward women. NASA’s 2013 class of astronauts featured four men and four women. Additionally, almost half of the astronauts from the last two classes have been made up of women. That’s the kind of equality an agency like NASA needs to encourage young girls and women to participate in engineering and STEM programs. This will help future generations of women push forward and continue to make positive changes in the field of science.

Employing and Hiring Immigrants

Discrimination comes in many forms, and it isn’t just against gender. Our country is facing a difficult time right now when it comes to talking about immigration. No matter what side of the political field you’re on, it’s important to understand that if immigrants are working with you, they deserve the exact same rights and treatment as anyone else.

Immigrants have made a huge impact in the U.S. for years. They start up 25% of all new businesses in the country. But, under the current administration, there seems to be a larger threat of deportation than ever before.

So, what is NASA doing to help immigrants looking for employment? While NASA’s policy is to hire U.S. citizens, they do offer employment for foreign nationals through their International Space Partners (ISP) program, and immigrants can also pursue employment through NASA’s contract vendors.

Leadership That’s Out of This World

Like so many other agencies, NASA has a long way to go when it comes to getting rid of discrimination completely. But, the agency is built on solid leadership, which can make a huge difference in how discrimination is handled. Leadership training can change the entire culture of a company or organization.

While NASA offers different types of leadership depending on the area of employment, the agency itself has shown great leadership in setting clear rules on how to file discrimination complaints. NASA’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, showcased his own leadership just last year by issuing a policy statement that affirmed the agency’s commitment to equal opportunity, specifically among educational facilities and research programs that are funded with NASA’s help.

It’s clear that NASA has taken active steps to make some changes within the industry. Because it’s such a well-known and widely recognized agency, they can continue to pave the way for other businesses, organizations, and companies across the globe — and beyond!

Sam Bowman
Latest posts by Sam Bowman (see all)

Sam Bowman writes about science and tech. He enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.

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