Houston, we have a wardrobe problem

It isn’t easy to communicate with a spacecraft sitting on a comet half a billion miles away from Earth. Meanwhile, back on Earth, we have some interpersonal communication issues that created a lively discussion around the ESA Rosetta project.

Dr. Matt Taylor has caused a big stir with his colorful shirt with half-naked women:


Is it a real issue? Should we care about it? Yes and yes. And here’s why.

Most communication between people is nonverbal. And of all the factors that influence or drive an organization, culture and trust are two of the most powerful and fundamental. As Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Rocket science is hard enough. We need to think about how to make our workplace environments and cultures more inviting and welcoming for talented, passionate people from many backgrounds to work with us. We need the brain power, creativity, and unique skills from everyone who might want to join our teams and our missions. And we have a large historical legacy to work against.

Here’s some facts. Women are (very fortunately for all of us!) roughly 50% of our population. In the total pilot community, they are less than 7%. This data point is from the FAA, posted by the super group Women in Aviation, International.


In other engineering careers and segments, the highest percentage of women after graduation I’ve ever seen reported is around 20%. That’s not good for all of us.

Here is another article that points to the fact that there is a strong positive correlation between the percentage of women in leadership positions and the financial performance of a company:


There are valid points to be made about freedom of expression and hyper-sensitivity. With clothing, as with engineering solutions, there is a proper context for everything. One of the wisest quotes I ever heard was from my freshman dorm resident assistant at Purdue University. He said “There’s a time and place for maturity. And maturity is knowing the time and place.”

The same thing goes for wardrobe choices. It isn’t necessarily a problem to wear a shirt with half naked women on it. It just needs to be in the right time and place.   We need more women who want to be rocket scientists to stay with that passion so they can work with us and contribute! Then maybe in the after-work party we can bring out the eccentric clothing. But the party will be much better with a more balanced, mixed, and diverse crowd. Let’s think about all of the communication signals we are sending here on planet Earth so we can have more exciting celebration parties later.

About Brett Rocket Scientist

Brett creates artful work in engineering, ideas, and innovation. In addition to 2 degrees, 3 patents, and over 15 years experience in aerospace engineering, he is the author of several books to foster STEM careers. He volunteers his time and skills as an officer with professional societies.

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