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Simonetta Di Pippo, Director, UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA)

April 16, 2016 • Female Leadership In Our Time, Women in Leadership

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I believe that true passion has no gender and focusing on your goals and dreams helps you to overcome gender and cultural boundaries.
Simonetta Di Pippo is the Director of UNOOSA at the United Nations Office at Vienna (UNOV). Her experience includes serving as Director of the Observation of the Universe at ASI (2002 – 2008) and ESA Director of Human Spaceflight (2008 – 2011). Prior to her appointment at UNOOSA in March 2014 she was Head of the European Space Policy Observatory at ASI Brussels. Ms. Di Pippo holds a Master’s Degree in Astrophysics and Space Physics, and an Honoris Causa degree in Environmental Studies. In 2006 she was knighted by the President of the Italian Republic. In 2008, IAU named asteroid 21887 ‘Dipippo’. Ms Di Pippo is also the president and co-founder of Women in Aerospace Europe, Academician at the International Academy of Astronautics and lecturer in several important Universities.

 

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ON GENDER AND CAREER

I believe that true passion has no gender and focusing on your goals and dreams helps you to overcome gender and cultural boundaries. When I was young I always wanted a job which could motivate me throughout my career, allowing me to continuously learn and grow, and permitting me to be exposed to the world. I am happy that I’m up until today as passionate about my job as I was years ago and dedicated to it as during the beginning of my career. With this kind of commitment, the decision to follow a career in the space sector  became much easier.

 

ON THE ISSUE OF 16 PER CENT WOMEN IN AEROSPACE AND OUTER SPACE INDUSTRY

The number you are raising is truly worrying. Such a small percentage of women contributing to the aerospace field means that “Houston, we have a problem”. And unfortunately aerospace is not the only industry with these numbers. Science in general was for a long time considered a male sphere. This is not a question of different standpoints: it is a fact. The problem is deeply rooted in our perception of science and its representation especially the stereotype that girls just can’t do science are in the minds of our children by the time they reach junior high school.

My path wasn’t an easy one either. But I have always liked my job because it was intellectually challenging, and stimulating. I have concentrated on keeping my passion alive and I was, in a way, ready to fight for reaching the goal. I believe that I contributed a lot to the industry, but I feel that the field itself is losing by unconsciously excluding female scientists from its inner circle. My achievements encourage me to go further. After having spent 30 years in the field of aerospace, I can say that joining the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) in March 2014 has been very stimulating for me and added further challenges in my career. One of UNOOSA’s task is to promote the use of space-based data for improving the quality of life on Earth and this is truly rewarding. I hope my story can inspire other young women to pursue their dream career in science without any hesitation, and not only women!

 

GENDER AND LEADERSHIP

During my career I have always been true to myself and preferred to concentrate on the results. This might sound easy and come unexpected. But it is sometimes underrated how important it is to focus on one selves strengths as different rules, organizational issues, perceptions, expectations, can stand in the way of your success.

First of all, leadership by itself is the result of a long career journey. Professional knowledge accumulated over time, together with the qualities like integrity, commitment, understanding of the environment and ability to think outside the box when needed raise a good leader. These are qualities that are universally admired. The difference comes when we talk about the leadership approach and how the male dominated environment perceives a female leader.

The same approach by both genders can be perceived in different ways and often is misperceived. To name one example – If a man is authoritative and straightforward, he is a good manager and leader. If a woman uses the same approach, she might be perceived as aggressive. In these situations it’s even more crucial to concentrate on the results, like I did in my career. This method worked for me quite well.

 

ON THE FUTURE OF WOMEN IN THE AEROSPACE INDUSTRY

I strongly believe women have to trust themselves and believe in their strengths. That’s the primary and mandatory first step! Don’t listen to those trying to inject doubts in you. Try to separate yourself from the negative buzz around and concentrate on your results. Secondly, try to follow a simple rule that I use in every situation: If I have a problem, I fix it! And do not be satisfied until the task is fully completed. Thirdly, don’t only speak about rights, but also think about your duties, it helps a lot to get your priorities straight.

After all, we all need to concentrate equally on the improvement of the human environment. Therefore we should use our best resources to participate in what the Economists call the “war of talents”. The next step now would be to encourage young women to enter the “battlefield”. And I hope I can help here.

When I discovered I was considered a role model, I first felt uncomfortable. But then I realized that I had a mission in this case. I had to help others, even if no one helped me when I was young and not knowing how to proceed and didn’t know how to find my way. But following the simple principles I mentioned before, I became the professional I am today.

 

ON CAREER SATISFACTION

My job makes me happy everyday. Why? Probably because it satisfies me intellectually. I learn something new every day, I meet very interesting people, I have a lot of friends all over the world, I travel a lot and I’m still enjoying every aspect of it. Participation in the aerospace industry by itself gives me a feeling of fulfillment and pride of the human achievement. It gives you a unique angle on the humanity; where you can detach yourself from the daily routine and think about the world as a whole, understand our hyper connectivity and interdependence.

I have respect for and dignity in my profession, it benefits and inspires humanity. It is important to have the same feeling when choosing your future career. Trust yourself!

 

ON RISK-TAKING

Every challenging job has its risks. I believe I am good in risk management. I take risks, when needed, but always use the motto: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail! The biggest risk I’ve taken was at the very beginning of my career, when I had to face a choice of staying at a very good position in an important company or joining the then to be established Italian Space Agency with no assurance that I could have been hired at the end. You could guess if I took that risk!

 

ON WORK-LIFE BALANCE

Everything I do brings me joy, therefore I can’t say there’re any sacrifices in my life. I have a son with whom I have a great relationship with, even if we live in different countries. I try to find balance everywhere, and looking for it can induce stress. But the balance comes natural, if you are a balanced person.

Free time is rare. I enjoy going to the theater and Vienna is a great place to be when you’re a theatre enthusiast. I spend my weekend discovering Vienna and its museums and I also like to explore the neighboring cities and towns. Sometimes I don’t feel like going out and end up spending the day reading a book and watching movies. One of my friends who owns a publishing company said to me: “reading books and watching movies is like having multiple lives without leaving your couch”. I could not agree more!

 

ON FUTURE CHALLENGES

In five years, I see myself still leading the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs as I love what I am currently doing. With more and more countries joining the industry every year, the demand for outer space cooperation and regulation increases. I see UNOOSA keeping its leading role in the promotion in the peaceful uses of outer space with more Member States and people being engaged in the process.

I feel that challenges are always waiting for us, and I’m also good at looking for them! Today I have one clear dream in front of me – I would love to be able to see the next step in space exploration, where humans will be able to go in space on even more frequently and spending time, and work, in outer space is nothing out of the ordinary anymore. I am sure this dream is feasible and I hope to see it coming true with my own eyes.

 

ON 3 THINGS YOU ALWAYS TAKE WITH YOU

On a lot of occasions I leave my home to go straight to the airport. I always bring with me my mobile gadgets (they help me to stay organized), a set of business cards (networking) and an issue of Scientific American, not to lose too much my scientist’s roots. Continuous learning is key!

 

Click here to download your free copy of the Female Leadership in Our Time

 

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