VFS teams with Women And Drones and other partners for positive change across the industry.
Both the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) industry and the drone industry are experiencing a talent crisis. According to DroneAnalyst’s “2021 Drone Market Sector Report,” pilots are at a premium. A 2020 VFS study indicated that 10,000 additional engineers will be needed over the next decade in vertical flight to meet the simultaneous demands of ramping up development of military rotorcraft and electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft (see www.vtol.org/workforce). The current talent pool is simply not large enough to meet these demands.
VFS has teamed up with Women And Drones, and its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) partners — P3 Tech Consulting (P3 Tech) and the Diversity Development Network of Canada (DDNC) — to help make positive changes across the workforce for all forms of advanced aviation.
It started with a survey.
The Birth of a DEI Initiative
Women And Drones, LLC, is the leading membership organization dedicated to driving excellence in the uncrewed aircraft system (UAS) and advanced air mobility (AAM) industry by advocating for participation by people of color, women and other underrepresented groups in this dynamic segment of the global economy. The organization enables people to connect, collaborate and make global business connections. It also elevates the entire drone industry by bolstering diversity, equity and inclusion, which improves business outputs and profitability.
Since launching in May 2017, the organization’s network has connected with women in 22 countries. Its goal is to inspire and encourage more women to pursue careers in aviation and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), with an emphasis on UAS and AAM. Since 2018, Women And Drones has been named as one of the top companies to watch in the UAS industry.
In furtherance of its mission, Women And Drones partners with companies committed to an inclusive culture where women can thrive, through its education and networking opportunities, such as with VFS, P3 Tech and DDNC.
“We knew it was time to deepen the diversity discussion within the industry,” said Sharon Rossmark, Women And Drones CEO. “However, we wanted to understand the scope of the problem and gauge industry interest in doing the work needed to impact change.” As a result, she said, “We partnered with experts P3 Tech and DDNC to set the industry DEI benchmark standard and launched ‘The 2021 UAS/AAM Industry DEI Survey’.”
P3 Tech Consulting, LLC, is a US company led by retired US Air Force Colonel Dawn Zoldi, a 25-year veteran and global UAS and AAM expert. It connects people who have a passion for advanced technology platforms with full spectrum policy-relevant information to propel their companies and to do global good through various initiatives, including the popular weekly “Dawn of Drones” podcast on DroneLife TV.
“Diversity lies at the heart of P3 Tech’s values: purpose, passion and purity. Passion is about living out what moves us and what matters. We educate and advocate about these issues in the industry — and at the top of that list are equality, diversity and inclusion,” said Zoldi. “For me, it is a passion project to work with Women And Drones and DDNC on DEI for our industry.”
DDNC is a Canadian non-profit corporation that supports industry, industry organizations, academia, other diverse groups, individuals and government, spanning all sectors. It was created after founder and president Marlene Conway Diels saw a growing need for collaboration with all stakeholders. By creating relationships and maintaining sustainable projects, DDNC aims to leverage resources to directly increase diverse peoples’ access, entry and advancement in Canada to fill current and future highly skilled employment gaps. According to Conway Diels, “DDNC has established a learning management system to facilitate access to virtual skills development and DEI training globally. We are thrilled to be collaborating with Women And Drones, P3 Tech and the Vertical Flight Society on this important initiative.”
The Industry DEI Benchmark
The survey was conducted as a self-selecting survey tool targeting a variety of UAS and AAM businesses and sectors across the US. Approximately 1,082 individuals responded to the survey during the six-week period it was open, between Aug. 6 and Sept. 17, 2021. VFS, as part of a larger educational partnership with Women And Drones, sponsored $1,200 in gift cards, in support of a random drawing for the survey to encourage participation.
L-R Dawn Zoldi, P3Tech; Marlene Conway Diels, DDND; and Danielle McLean, Hy-Sky (VFS Workforce & Diversity Advisor)
Data collected shows a lack of industry diversity. When asked to “indicate the percentage ranges of leadership positions among the following diverse groups you employ in your UAS/AAM or UAS/AAM-related business or organization,” the White racial group represented 71-85% of individuals occupying such roles, according to respondents. The good news is that an almost equal percentage (81%) expressed moderate to extreme interest in increasing DEI in their companies.
“The survey validated our suspicions that the UAS/AAM industry continues to lack diversity. What was perhaps more important was that respondents clearly told us they are ready for change and want to help make it happen. We received insights on the educational content that people believe will be useful and are excited to provide relevant programs later this year,” Conway Diels said.
Women to Watch
This DEI initiative is the latest of a series of related efforts by Women And Drones and VFS.
For the past five years, the Woman And Drones flagship “Women to Watch in UAS/AAM Global Awards” program has been elevating the entire UAS/AAM industry by recognizing those who are making a positive difference. Women And Drones recently held its milestone fifth anniversary 2021 Women To Watch Global Awards live at CES 2022 in Las Vegas in January, which was the first time the program was held at such a high-profile venue.
The following individuals were recognized during the event:
Bronwyn Morgan, Xeo Air — recipient of the Iris Automation Entrepreneurship Award. Morgan is a Part 107 certified pilot, US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Safety Representative and FAA Drone Pro. She is the Founder of Xeo Air, an artificial intelligence-based drones on demand, data analytics and autonomy platform for mission management that connects clients in telecom, catastrophic response, oil and gas, energy, construction and civil infrastructure.
Madison Jeffery, Swoop Aero — recipient of the Skydio Public Safety/Service Award. Jeffery is based in Southern Malawi, where she manages Swoop Aero’s flagship medical drone logistics network, which connects over 1.5 million people with essential medical supplies.
Karen DiMeo, AERODiMEO, LLC — recipient of the Sabrewing Aircraft Leadership Award. As CEO, DiMeo advises her clients on issues related to UAS and advanced emerging technologies in the commercial aerospace ecosystem. DiMeo has 30 years of experience in the aviation industry, in both government and industry leadership positions.
April Lanotte, STEM lead for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate — recipient of the Unmanned Safety Institute Education Award. In her current position with NASA, Lanotte works on making aerospace science more accessible to all teachers and students and works with engineers and subject matter experts on ways to add more STEM opportunities into their missions.
The initiative also recognized outstanding teams:
Toni Drummond, CEO of Global Aerial Management Group — recipient of the Volatus Aerospace Innovation Team Award. Global Aerial Management Group, which operates a multitude of turboprop and jet aircraft, is 100% women owned and operated. The company’s UAS business is expanding and specializes in drone sanitizing, disinfecting of both indoor and outdoor arenas, stadiums, schools and other large spaces.
Pharns Genece, CEO of USOG — Recipient of the FoxFury Team Spotlight Award. The Unmanned Systems Operations Group (USOG) is a leading-edge provider of medical logistics solutions utilizing UAS. The diverse and inclusive team of employees is led by Genece, who has 18 years of experience as a highly trained flight nurse with the US Air Force for medevac missions.
Michael Healander, CEO Airspace Link, Inc. — recipient of the Women And Drones Diversity Exemplar Award. Airspace Link builds the digital infrastructure required to support drone use of all types, ensuring they are safe, legal and fully benefitting the community — 60% of the company’s leadership team is female.
The winners of these life-changing awards run the gamut from entrepreneurs to innovators and educators to diverse leading teams. Nominations for 2022 winners can be submitted on the Woman And Drones website beginning this spring.
VFS has led a series of panels and publications about workforce over the past two years, raising DEI as an increasingly important and urgent aspect of the vertical workforce (see the VFS Commentary, “Workforce: Winning the War for Talent,” Vertiflite, May/June 2021). The first VFS panel on workforce was held as part of the Society’s virtual 8th Annual eVTOL Symposium in January 2021.
Since then, VFS has participated in a number of panels on workforce and diversity over the past year. In May, the Canadian Advanced Air Mobility (CAAM) held a virtual panel discussion, “Women in Advanced Air Mobility: Big ideas to build a new industry.” Keynote speakers were Women And Drones’ Rossmark and Wisk Aero’s Anna Kominik (a member of the VFS Board of Directors). VFS Executive Director Mike Hirschberg was the only male of the 22 invited speakers and highlighted the issues faced in the industry, urging the existing vertical flight workforce to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” if we want the industry to change for the better.
A VFS panel on Growing the Workforce And Incorporating Diversity was also held during the 15th Annual Electric Aircraft Symposium in July. This “fireside chat” was held virtually with Hirschberg, Prof. Marilyn Smith of the Georgia Institute of Technology (and the 2020–2022 VFS Technical Director) and the VFS Advisor for Workforce And Diversity, Danielle McLean, CEO of Hy-Sky, LLC.
At the VFS Transformative Vertical Flight (TVF) event in San Jose, California, in January, VFS held a session on “Workforce And Diversity” (see “TVF2022: Vehicles and Volts,” pg. 42). Hirschberg and Rossmark were part of the panel, as were Dr. Anita Sengupta, CEO of Hydroplane; Wisk Aero’s Chief People Office Ricky Robinson; and Los Angeles Urban Air Mobility Fellow Clint Harper of Urban Movement Lab, a public-private partnership with the city of Los Angeles. The panel was chaired by McLean, and was a moving experience for many in attendance, who felt the panel addressed a number of unsaid challenges for the industry.
The panel was also the official unveiling of the VFS DiversiFlite initiative. First announced last summer (originally as “DiversiFLY” — see the VFS Commentary, “Workforce: Diversity Wins,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2021), DiversiFlite has gathered momentum in the ensuing months.
VFS launched its DiversiFlite podcast series in January, which is now featured on the Society’s YouTube channel (@VTOLsociety), as well as other social media platforms: Twitter, Instagram and TikTok (all as @DiversiFlite). The podcast will explore DEI in vertical flight and connect underrepresented talent directly to AAM and eVTOL industry leaders.
At the panel, VFS also announced its new DiversiFlite Scholars program (www.vtol.org/scholars), which seeks to provide opportunities for university students in underrepresented ethnic groups and have an interest in vertical flight. The program selects engineering students at any US-recognized Minority Serving Institution (MSI) and provides an all-expenses-paid trip to the Society’s 78th Annual Forum & Technology Display being held May 10–12 this year in Ft. Worth, Texas.
While each of these steps is modest, VFS hopes that they will add up to attracting and retaining top talent in vertical flight.
Of course, DEI isn’t just about race, ethnicity and gender. Inclusion is about welcoming all people, but it’s also about leaders holding “bad apples” accountable for intentionally or unintentionally blocking certain groups from reaching their potential.
For this year’s 39th Annual Student Design Competition, sponsored by Bell, VFS partnered with the UK charitable organization Aerobility. This year, university students are challenged with designing electric air taxis that accommodate passengers with reduced mobility. It’s hoped that this exercise will help both tomorrow’s and today’s engineering workforce realize the benefits of thinking broadly about including everyone in their designs and customer base as well as their workforce.
An Alliance for Change
The TVF Workforce And Diversity panel and the DEI Survey gift card sponsorship were both part of a larger educational partnership between VFS and Women And Drones. Forged in Fall 2021, the alliance focuses on growing the vertical flight workforce and increasing inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA).
In addition to supporting each other’s panels, podcasts and publications, the two organizations are planning a diversity training workshop later this year. Details are still being developed, so stay tuned!
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