In recent weeks we have seen Richard Branson fly into space with Jeff Bezos to follow shortly. Elon Musk speaks openly about establishing a human-presence on Mars with SpaceX intended as a first step. There is great excitement about what space holds. As space is becoming open to civilian travel and space tourism, there is also considerable activity and fund-raising with a view to industrialising space. While a number of female scientists and engineers were interviewed in the course of the recent NASA landings on Mars, the latest wave of space travel and its media coverage has been very much dominated by men, and in particular by a handful of highly successful business men. What does this connote? As space travel moves into the hands of civilians, it is entrepreneur billionaires that are setting the pace, and there are very few female billionaires.
While male entrepreneurs turn their gaze to the heavens, we see strong female leadership in saving the planet. Christiana Figueres played a pivotal role in achieving the Paris Accord and in the run up to COP 26 a number of female climate change leaders made very clear that the perspective of women needs to be fully taken into account in Glasgow 2021. The rapid success of Chapter Zero, the Directors’ Climate Forum, has benefited from high levels of engagement, including from female Non-Executive Directors a number of whom are earlier in their Board career and determined to see climate change firmly on the Board Agenda. The purpose of this Overture is not to polarise but to warn of the dangers of lack of diversity. While there seems to be something of a dichotomy between men exploring space and women saving the planet, this would be a great shame. There is tremendous value in space exploration. The much respected late Stephen Hawking stressed the importance of space travel for the preservation of the species. As Yuval Noah Harari has written in ‘Sapiens’, our track record of exploration has contributed to our success as a species, but it is also a track record of great destructiveness. It would be the greatest pity to export our mistakes into space. The film ‘Hidden Figures’ indicates, there is absolutely a role for women in space exploration, although it may get overlooked. Just as there was a role in the first moon landing, there is also a major contribution to be made in the governance of space. As in any good Board, diversity and gender balance can increase effectiveness. Space represents an opportunity and a challenge we can’t afford to get wrong. At the same time, saving the planet needs all the entrepreneurial ingenuity that we can find. Let’s make sure the drive and ambition that is propelling business leaders into space, is also being applied to find solutions to climate change and the loss of biodiversity.
In short we need both men and women to provide leadership in space and, more urgently, gender balanced leadership to guide us through COP 26 and to bring clear focus to the needs of the planet.