Today is International Women’s Day, celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the globe. March is also Women’s History Month in the U.S., which celebrates the impact and contributions of women in American history and present day. To learn more about how Maxar is celebrating women this month and committed to empowering women in our workforce and communities, we spoke with Abby O’Connell, a scrum master in our Space business and lead of Maxar’s Women’s Network Employee Resource Group (ERG).

Abby O’Connell has been involved in building women’s networks at Maxar since 2015.

Q: What is your role at Maxar?

Abby: I am a Scrum Master, currently supporting several flight software teams on a NASA-related project. In fact, this month is my 10-year anniversary at Maxar, something I’m very proud of.

Q: The Women’s Network is one of the longest standing ERGs at Maxar. How many members do you have and how has the group evolved over the years?

Abby: Yes, it is one of the first formal ERGs ever created at Maxar, and it’s been growing steadily ever since. Maxar has had women’s networks in some form for many years, but in 2020, a group of six women came together to organize the first Maxar-wide Women's Network. In 2021, Maxar created its ERG network, and the Maxar Women's Network became one of seven ERGs.

I’d like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the other women who are on the Maxar Women’s Network ERG Steering Committee, who have played a huge role in helping grow the ERG over the past three years. These fantastic team members include Allison Hull, Carrie Drake, Colette Kirkes, Diana Albarran, Jacky Newswanger, Lori Bielawski and May Tassler.

Q: What are some ways the group helps members grow professionally and personally?

Abby: The Women’s Network ERG gives members an opportunity to connect and empowers them to express their unique voice and perspective. Members of the group advocate for each other, help each other achieve career goals, and drive positive change at Maxar. In 2022, for example, our ERG hosted a series of nine virtual “Toasty Topics” dialogues to facilitate open discussion and increased collaboration across the organization. Topics ranged from life as a working mom to the experience of first-generation immigrants and female veterans at Maxar. As we come out of the pandemic, we are moving beyond virtual and increasing in-person opportunities for 2023.

Q: Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day are important opportunities to reflect on the contributions of women around the world, but they are also reminders that we still need to advocate for women and gender equity in the professional world. What more needs to be done to help drive progress?

Abby: It starts with funding and supporting girls engaging in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs in our schools to provide opportunities for them to build the skills they need for the tech industry, as well as to attain professional goals in a broad range of career paths in addition to STEM. To support women who are already in the workplace, companies need to provide opportunities for networking, career skills enhancement and flexibility around family care and maternity leave. We also need to see more women in senior executive roles.

We’ve made a good start as an industry, but there’s opportunity for improvement. At Maxar, creating the ERG system has helped with networking and career skills development. We sent several colleagues to the Grace Hopper Celebration event last year, the world’s largest gathering of women and nonbinary technologists. Maxar has also engaged with to participate in the national program called Top Companies for Women Technologists. The program identifies key trends in workforce equity impacting women and non-binary technologists. It is the only benchmarking program that looks specifically at the technical workforce. Participants are provided with detailed evaluations and benchmarks of intersectional gender equity in tech as well as a roadmap for concrete steps to take to improve equitable practices that attract and retain women and non-binary technologists.

Q: Based on your own experiences and what you’ve learned through the ERG, what advice do you have for any early or mid-career female professionals who are looking to advance their careers in the space and geospatial industries?

Abby: First, believe in yourself. You have every right to a satisfying and exciting career. Second, ask questions, ask for help, ask for promotions and ask for raises. Third, always be on the lookout for opportunities to learn more, for new and different work, for better pay and for ways to make a difference.

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