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August/September 2012

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Diversity In Action

Aerospace: embracing diversity for forty years

The first affinity group at the Aerospace Corp was for women, established decades before diversity became a focus in the corporate landscape


The Aerospace Corp (El Segundo, CA) has been a trailblazer, not just in research and development, but also in the promotion of workforce diversity. In the 1970s, then-president Dr Eberhardt Rechtin first focused the spotlight on inclusion, and the corporation's first "affinity group" formed, the Women's Committee.

"Dr. Eberhardt was before his time in being conscious of diversity and very welcoming of all. He started the trend," says Charlotte Lazar-Morrison, general manager of human resources.

Today, that heritage remains vibrant as Aerospace supports the continued growth of affinity groups, as well as leadership development and career advancement for its diverse 4,000-member staff.

Aerospace provides independent technical and scientific research, development and advisory services to national security space programs. It operates a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) sponsored by the U.S. Air Force. Its work supports programs in the national interest for the intelligence community and civil and commercial customers. Aerospace works with everything from space systems to projects for civil agencies like NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, commercial companies, universities and international organizations in the national interest.

Two-thirds of employees are technical staff, and some of the world's leading scientists work in its state-of-the-art laboratories. Aerospace employs professionals across many technical disciplines.

"Our 'hot' degrees are electrical engineering, systems engineering, and ground systems engineering. And the latest hot area is cybersecurity," Lazar-Morrison says.

Employees work with the Air Force and other government and civil customers to put up unmanned space launches and satellites. Those on the technical side need a security clearance. Most new employees don't have one, so they are granted an interim clearance for unclassified work until theirs is approved.

Recently, Aerospace laid off 8 percent of its staff, the first layoff in fifteen years. But in the coming year, hiring will match the attrition rate, Lazar-Morrison says. Experience varies by position, but the corporation tends to hire those who have worked at least seven years in their field.

College interns will continue to work on summer projects, to provide a pipeline of future talent. The corporation hires 150 to 200 interns each summer, from college sophomores through grad school students. "We like them to have declared a major, with engineering or IT classes under their belt," Lazar-Morrison says.

Despite the recent staff reduction, Aerospace continues to recruit. The organization visits historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). It also attends events at the Society of Women Engineers, the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. "We're always looking for diverse candidates," Lazar-Morrison says.

Aerospace has a diversity awareness program for managers, and leadership development for affinity group officers. It also taps affinity groups for help with recruiting, business activities and focus areas, Lazar-Morrison says.

Affinity groups get involved in local communities, as does the corporation. Activities include events like science fairs. "We're a nonprofit corporation so we have restrictions, but we do encourage involvement, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas," Lazar-Morrison notes.

A diversity action committee in place since the 1980s meets monthly. Chaired by an officer of the corporation, its twenty members represent each affinity group, as well as management from different business units.

"This committee takes on issues common to all the groups, and they share ideas and present a unified front," Lazar-Morrison reports. "They have brown bags with the CEO. She meets with affinity groups at lunch, and they share those issues. Then we come up with solutions and make recommendations."

Aerospace's "Intergenerational Cafes" allow baby boomers and members of Gen X and Gen Y a chance to discuss issues arising from differing communication styles. "Our oldest employee is eighty-eight, and we have others right out of college. Most places talk about having four generations, but here, we might have five!" Lazar-Morrison says.

Aerospace focuses on succession planning. The company's open posting system circulates new job listings internally first. "Knowledge gets transferred, and that's part of our mentoring. As employees are eligible to retire, we're constantly looking for that next person," she says.

Managers seek people to work on projects and opportunities to develop. Additionally, visibility through affinity groups can lead to career advancement. "One of my first promotions was because someone noticed me planning an event on the Women's Committee," Lazar-Morrison says.

The Aerospace Institute offers technical, management and personal development classes. The company has a robust work-life balance program, offering flextime and telecommuting. People can opt for a 9/80 work week. Child and elder care referrals are available, along with an on-site credit union and barber shop, tuition reimbursement and domestic partner benefits. Some locations have access to fitness facilities.

D/C




The Aerospace Corp
www.aero.org

Headquarters: El Segundo, CA
Employees: 3,565
Revenues: $939.3 million
Business: Federally funded nonprofit R&D for the U.S. Air Force, the intelligence community and civil and commercial customers

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