These Teenage Girls Are Ready to Change the Male-Dominated Aerospace Industry

A team of girl scouts from the San Gabriel Valley in California, were one of the few all-girl teams.

A team of girl scouts from the San Gabriel Valley in California, were one of the few all-girl teams. Team America Rocketry Competition

Currently, only 24 percent of aerospace professionals are women.

Kelsey Webb is a long way from her small town in South Texas.

The 14-year-old freshman from Three Rivers stands confidently in a sea of hundreds of science students packed into a warm room near the Capitol on this muggy May morning. She's displaying the pink-and-white rocket that her team spent nine months building. The next day brings the real task: the Team America Rocketry Challenge, the world's largest rocketry competition.

Two things stand out about Webb. The first is her rocket. It's hard to tell the difference between the dozens of rockets designed by hundreds of middle and high school students to fly 825 feet and land safely with two eggs inside. But her team's rocket has the signatures of the town's 20 breast-cancer survivors—a touching tribute to their small community of 1,800 people.

The second is that she's a girl. "Hard work and right attitude," Webb says are what got her here today. But a look around the room shows the challenges of a boy-filled competition for a field dominated by men.

The room, in many ways, reflects the aerospace field overall. Just 24 percent of aerospace professionals are women, according to a 2013 Aviation Week Workforce Study. Worse, a University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee) study found that only 11 percent of practicing engineers are women.

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics industries have a gender-gap issue, and aerospace is not immune. And that fact bothers Kara Chuang, a 16-year-old sophomore on a team from the San Gabriel Valley in California, standing among other competitors in the Hart Senate Office Building.

"By doing competitions like this, by promoting STEM, it introduces girls into a mainly man-dominant field," said Chuang, who is on a team filled with fellow Girl Scouts. "We can do just as well as them."

"We can do just as well as them."

Chuang is a member of one of the few all-girl teams at the competition. Her teammates stand around her, all confident in their career hopes and with the knowledge they deserve to be there. While there are science programs in their schools and they were able to compete here, they also acknowledge that not everyone has those opportunities.

Her teammate Hannah Kim wants to fix that. "Women don't have as much access to these fields in general," the 15-year-old freshman chimes in. "What we'd like to do is open up programs in public schools that will help students learn about these competitions and choose based on their interests."

Kim wants to be an aerospace engineer one day, but she's one of the few who actually do. According to that same Aviation Week study, just 12 percent of engineers in the aerospace industry are women.

The problem for many of these girls is not a lack of funding in aviation programs. Rather, it's a lack of corporate outreach to children at early enough stages in their education.

Susan Lavrakas, director of workforce for the 336-member Aerospace Industries Association (one of the event's sponsors), says this is her priority. She wants to get girls and women in STEM subjects and recruit them into their industry.

"We are very frustrated. Those are not acceptable numbers," Lavrakas said. "We need to reach girls when they're in elementary school. By the eighth grade, they've already made choices or are making choices that would make it impossible for them to pursue an engineering degree."

Lavrakas, who has been in the aerospace industry for 32 years, said her organization is focusing on new metrics and best practices to change the way the industry allocates funds to programs that actually work and reach women at the right ages.

"Even though our companies collectively dedicate an excess of $160 million a year, we feel that we're not seeing a return on that investment," she continued. "Statistics nationally are not changing significantly."

"We are very frustrated. Those are not acceptable numbers."

Just last year, there was a 30 percent increase in women studying engineering. But there's a difference between getting women to study in the field and getting them to actually practice it. While 20 percent of engineering graduates are women, just over 10 percent work for related companies.

Another concern for the aerospace industry is that women are leaving early, citing lack of advancement and hostile working environments. A Catalyst industry report shows that 41 percent of women leave aviation after 10 years. Just 17 percent of men do the same.

Webb's team and the team of Girl Scouts didn't end up winning the competition that took place 45 minutes outside of Washington, shooting rockets into the cloudy Saturday sky. But just by being there, maybe they can inspire other girls to find their calling in an industry that can one day be their own.

Reena Flores contributed to this article.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.