As NASA works on a mission to send the first woman and person of color to the moon, ENR Editor-in-Chief Janice Tuchman exchanged emails with Janet Petro, director of Kennedy Space Center, to explore how diversity plays out in the agency itself.
ENR: Does the Artemis goal of landing the first woman and person of color on the moon reflect NASA's policy for employees?
Petro: At NASA and Kennedy Space Center, our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility has been paramount to mission success. The entire NASA leadership team stands behind this commitment. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared a very clear message: “We embrace diversity because we understand that different opinions, backgrounds and perspectives create an enriching environment that fuels innovation and personal growth. Every difference of opinion, background or perspective is an opportunity to learn and build relationships … It’s also how we achieve missions of unparalleled complexity and ambition that inspire the world.”
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ENR: How has this played out in your personal journey at KSC?
Petro: Since the beginning of my professional journey, I have been in the minority of the organization I belonged to—whether it was flying helicopters in the Army or working as a mechanical engineer or program manager in a commercial aerospace company. I often found myself either the only female, or only one of a couple. There weren’t many minorities either. I also have a sibling with a disability, so I am acutely aware of how physical limitations can affect a person’s opportunities. I am, therefore, profoundly committed to promoting opportunities for growth for all. A big part of this is ensuring an environment where everyone feels included, has a voice and feels safe to express their opinions. I have mentored numerous minorities along their professional journeys, and as director, I am committed to leading Kennedy Space Center to have a diverse and inclusive environment where everyone can thrive.
ENR: Do you see diverse teams as more innovative and better at problem solving?
Petro: KSC has embraced the link between diverse teams and innovation. We reinforce this message with our entire workforce by including it as one of our DEIA Crucial Topics: “NASA sees DEIA as a mission imperative. Our commonalities unite us as a team, and the universe of our differences gives us the perspectives and insights that mitigate group think and confirmation bias.”
ENR: How do you encourage diversity in hiring and then retain that diverse workforce?
Petro: It is crucial that we are more intentional about hiring and recruiting. In an environment that is highly competitive for talent and with technologies that are evolving quickly, it is critical that we overcome our natural tendencies to look to sources of talent with which we are familiar. All selected individuals will continue to be among the well-qualified, and therefore it is crucial that we are intentional about identifying diverse sources of talent to be among that pool. Employee Resource Groups are a significant part of the retention equation to promote equity and acceptance, remove barriers and provide information to the workforce. They provide insight to leadership at all levels on the concerns of the entire workforce.