NASA Astronauts On Historic Spacewalk: ‘We Are Just Doing Our Job’

ISS Expedition 61/62 main crew prepares for launch at Baikonur Cosmodrome
Sergei Savostyanov/TASS

Last week two astronauts, Christina Koch, and Dr. Jessica Meir made history for being the first all-female team to make a spacewalk and replace a failed power control unit on the International Space Station.

Koch had hit the headlines earlier this year when she was due to participant in another first, an all-female "extra-vehicular activity" (EVA) with colleague Anne McClain. This mission, however, was aborted as a suitable-sized spacesuit was not available in time for McClain.

During the space expedition on October 18, 2019, undertaken by Koch and Meir, President Donald Trump mistakenly declared the trip as the first of its kind with a female astronaut flying to space. In reality, Koch has already carried out four spacewalks, and Dr. Meir became the fifteenth woman to walk in space. 

The response from Koch and Meir was robust not for its correction but because of the level of understatement with the words: "For us, this is really just us doing our job."

Meir stated: "We don't want to take too much credit because there have been many other female spacewalkers before us. This is just the first time there have been two women outside at the same time. ... For us, this is really just us doing our job.

"At the same time, we recognize that it is an historic achievement and we do, of course, want to give credit to all those who came before us. There has been a long line of female scientists, explorers, engineers and astronauts, we are following in their footsteps to get us where we are today."

She added: "We hope that we can provide inspiration to everybody, not only women, but to everyone that has a dream, a big dream and willing to work hard to make that dream come true."

This powerful statement packs punches, not just for these two astronauts but for so many women whose outstanding success is witnessed solely through the gender lens.

2019 is the final year in this decade, and it has been a year filled with women breaking barriers. In sport, the high profile Women's Football World Cup. The Rugby World Cup has removed gender designations from the 2021 World Cup Tournament moving forward. In science, one of the most powerful images, the photo of the Black Hole was captured by Katie Bouman, whose programming helped to capture these images. Marvel Studios launched its first feature female-fronted superhero film, Captain Marvel, which broke box office records during its opening weekend. And political conversations have been eclipsed by Greta Thunberg, environmentalist, and activist, taking on political leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York.

The achievements of these women are not only inspirational because they have broken barriers in fields dominated by men, but also because they demonstrate individuals at the top of their game who also happen to be women.

Ten years ago, we conducted a piece of research with 300 women across a range of sectors, public, private, and charities to understand the barriers to leadership facing women. Our findings identified similar obstacles faced by women, irrespective of their industry. Typical examples highlighted a disconnect with the leadership in their industry who did not serve as role models, blocked career opportunities, and the lack of champions spotting and nurturing female talent. Our research also found women created barriers for their career through not stepping up for leadership opportunities, mainly where they felt they did not trust the system regarding promotions and appointments.

Ten years later, research by McKinsey shows progress across many areas, namely a significant increase in the number of women at C-suite, increased flexibility, and commitment to gender diversity. The same piece of research also identified areas where a lot more work still needs to be done, particularly around better representation among women from ethnic minority backgrounds and perceptions of gender still being a barrier to advancement.

Two values remain at the heart of engagement: opportunity, and fairness. The report, based on data collected since 2015 and including at least 600 hundred companies, identifies these two elements as universal values underpinning engagement, longer tenure, and recommending the company as a great place to work. McKinsey, go even further by stating opportunity and fairness stand out as the most significant predictors by far. 

Over the last ten years, a disproportionate amount of energy has been spent debating the pros and cons of quotas, targets, or whatever other labels used. More often than not, the uneasy silence falls around the discussion when tokenism applies to women in leadership. 

Most women maintain meritocracy matters; they want to earn their roles and the respect of their colleagues. 

Most working women aspire to success based on results and recognize their gender can be a barrier rather than an enabler. The achievements in business, science, art, sport, politics, are powerful signals of progress and need celebrating. The successes across these fields serve as powerful reminded the heavy lifting is succeeding, and the increased range of role models inspire the younger girls and school children. 

So let's set the agenda for the next ten years, where in 2029 we look back at 2019 and a quaint time when we celebrated the first woman / women who . . . (fill in the dots). Why? Because by 2029 leadership and attainment by women will not be seen as headlines, but business as usual, as a result of women and men, dreaming big dream, working hard and just doing their jobs.

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Last week two astronauts, Christina Koch, and Dr. Jessica Meir made history for being the first all-female team to make a spacewalk and replace a failed power control unit on the International Space Station.

Koch had hit the headlines earlier this year when she was due to participant in another first, an all-female "extra-vehicular activity" (EVA) with colleague Anne McClain. This mission, however, was aborted as a suitable-sized spacesuit was not available in time for McClain.

During the space expedition on October 18, 2019, undertaken by Koch and Meir, President Donald Trump mistakenly declared the trip as the first of its kind with a female astronaut flying to space. In reality, Koch has already carried out four spacewalks, and Dr. Meir became the fifteenth woman to walk in space. 

The response from Koch and Meir was robust not for its correction but because of the level of understatement with the words: "For us, this is really just us doing our job."

Meir stated: "We don't want to take too much credit because there have been many other female spacewalkers before us. This is just the first time there have been two women outside at the same time. ... For us, this is really just us doing our job.

"At the same time, we recognize that it is an historic achievement and we do, of course, want to give credit to all those who came before us. There has been a long line of female scientists, explorers, engineers and astronauts, we are following in their footsteps to get us where we are today."

She added: "We hope that we can provide inspiration to everybody, not only women, but to everyone that has a dream, a big dream and willing to work hard to make that dream come true."

This powerful statement packs punches, not just for these two astronauts but for so many women whose outstanding success is witnessed solely through the gender lens.

2019 is the final year in this decade, and it has been a year filled with women breaking barriers. In sport, the high profile Women's Football World Cup. The Rugby World Cup has removed gender designations from the 2021 World Cup Tournament moving forward. In science, one of the most powerful images, the photo of the Black Hole was captured by Katie Bouman, whose programming helped to capture these images. Marvel Studios launched its first feature female-fronted superhero film, Captain Marvel, which broke box office records during its opening weekend. And political conversations have been eclipsed by Greta Thunberg, environmentalist, and activist, taking on political leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York.

The achievements of these women are not only inspirational because they have broken barriers in fields dominated by men, but also because they demonstrate individuals at the top of their game who also happen to be women.

Ten years ago, we conducted a piece of research with 300 women across a range of sectors, public, private, and charities to understand the barriers to leadership facing women. Our findings identified similar obstacles faced by women, irrespective of their industry. Typical examples highlighted a disconnect with the leadership in their industry who did not serve as role models, blocked career opportunities, and the lack of champions spotting and nurturing female talent. Our research also found women created barriers for their career through not stepping up for leadership opportunities, mainly where they felt they did not trust the system regarding promotions and appointments.

Ten years later, research by McKinsey shows progress across many areas, namely a significant increase in the number of women at C-suite, increased flexibility, and commitment to gender diversity. The same piece of research also identified areas where a lot more work still needs to be done, particularly around better representation among women from ethnic minority backgrounds and perceptions of gender still being a barrier to advancement.

Two values remain at the heart of engagement: opportunity, and fairness. The report, based on data collected since 2015 and including at least 600 hundred companies, identifies these two elements as universal values underpinning engagement, longer tenure, and recommending the company as a great place to work. McKinsey, go even further by stating opportunity and fairness stand out as the most significant predictors by far. 

Over the last ten years, a disproportionate amount of energy has been spent debating the pros and cons of quotas, targets, or whatever other labels used. More often than not, the uneasy silence falls around the discussion when tokenism applies to women in leadership. 

Most women maintain meritocracy matters; they want to earn their roles and the respect of their colleagues. 

Most working women aspire to success based on results and recognize their gender can be a barrier rather than an enabler. The achievements in business, science, art, sport, politics, are powerful signals of progress and need celebrating. The successes across these fields serve as powerful reminded the heavy lifting is succeeding, and the increased range of role models inspire the younger girls and school children. 

So let's set the agenda for the next ten years, where in 2029 we look back at 2019 and a quaint time when we celebrated the first woman / women who . . . (fill in the dots). Why? Because by 2029 leadership and attainment by women will not be seen as headlines, but business as usual, as a result of women and men, dreaming big dream, working hard and just doing their jobs.

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Leadership change and diversity & inclusion expert working with organizations to create cultures where diverse talent thrives. Associate Professor at Henley Busines

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