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UK Space Agency

CLIENT STORY

Accelerating inclusion and diversity to realise the UK’s ambitions in the final frontier

The UK has big ambitions in the final frontier. Critical to capturing – and then governing – what is expected to be a trillion-dollar global industry by 2030 is the UK’s Space Agency (UKSA). It inspires ingenuity in its ranks, and to be an employer of choice, UKSA sought to double-down on its efforts to promote inclusion and diversity (I&D). So they called on us to help them understand how well they were doing and identify opportunities for further improvement.

Drawing on our substantial experience of supporting large organisations to transform culture, our people and change experts carried out a wide-ranging review – looking under the bonnet of the organisation to build a detailed picture of the state of I&D at UKSA. We created opportunities for the entire workforce to share their experiences confidentially through one-to-one interviews, surveys and focus groups, and used their input to identify strengths and weaknesses across UKSA’s culture.

Building on this, we delivered comprehensive recommendations for effective and sustainable change. These spanned everything from how line managers can support under-represented groups to how leaders can role-model desired behaviours. To translate ambition into reality, we also plotted immediate steps and longer-term priorities. Now, UKSA is ready to accelerate its I&D journey and make the agency a place where talent from every background can be part of the UK’s space future.

Key successes

  • people

    Created opportunities for the agency’s 260 employees to share their experience of I&D in confidence

  • machine person

    Applied a maturity model and I&D framework to deliver an objective assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of existing I&D practices

  • lightbulb

    Drew on our unique people insights to illuminate the role of culture in driving and sustaining improvements in I&D

  • network

    Uncovered new opportunities to enhance I&D and built these into the overarching people strategy we developed for UKSA

Unlocking the UK’s potential in space

The UK’s ambition is to capture 10 per cent of the trillion-dollar global space economy by 2030. The UK Space Agency (UKSA) will play a vital role in realising this. The agency’s job is to inspire and lead the UK into space. To do this, it must attract a rich diversity of skills and perspectives and create an environment where different talents can flourish.

Inclusion and diversity must be at the core of our organisation, Ian Annett, Deputy CEO at UKSA. This is how we will drive a culture of innovation – something that will be key to realising the exciting opportunities now emerging in the space sector. We need to attract a rich diversity of talent, support development and enable brilliant careers for everyone who can help deliver the UK’s space ambitions.

Ian Annett
Deputy CEO at UKSA

The agency had already had some success in making its workforce more diverse. For example, almost 49 per cent of the people it employs are women – a far higher proportion than in the wider space sector, where women make up just 29 per cent of the sector. The agency also boasts a wide range of active networks supporting different communities of employees.

However, despite its ambition to be inclusive and diverse, UKSA didn’t know exactly how well it was doing on I&D or what it needed to do to accelerate its journey. So the agency asked us to review its HR processes to understand how well these supported I&D goals.

A question of culturE

To be serious about accelerating diversity and inclusion, we needed more insight and a better plan. We recognised almost immediately that PA were the right team to deliver this. PA opened our eyes to the importance of culture in developing and sustaining I&D, Rachel Garner-Poole, Director of Organisation Design & Development at UKSA.

Rachel Garner-Poole
Director of Organisation Design & Development at UKSA

As experts in culture change and with wide experience of transforming culture for major organisations in the public and private sectors, we knew that UKSA’s wider culture would be key to shifting the dial on inclusion and diversity. This engagement needed to be much more than a box-ticking exercise. We proposed a comprehensive review of all the components that shape culture – not just HR processes, but everything from how organisations communicate and engage with employees to how effectively leaders role-model desired behaviours.

We brought specialist expertise in the behavioural aspects of I&D to the challenge, including insights from our team of behavioural scientists. Our concurrent work with UKSA to develop a wider people strategy gave us important insights into the agency’s challenges and ambitions. This allowed us to develop solutions that integrated with UKSA’s broader people ambitions and build inclusion and diversity into its core.

Strong data foundations

Despite the pressure to complete the review and recommendations at pace, PA were impressively thorough. Nothing was left out or overlooked, and the team always showed great responsiveness and flexibility.

John Cobb
Head of HR at UKSA

To launch the review, we created opportunities for employees to have their say on how comfortable and supported they felt at work. We led five virtual focus groups for a total of almost 90 staff and conducted 27 one-to-one interviews with key people – including all members of the executive board and HR leads. The key here was to build trust so that everyone taking part could express their views in confidence. We also ran an online survey for the entire 260-strong workforce.

We assessed this comprehensive data set against an I&D maturity model that we developed for UKSA. This allowed us to identify strengths to build on and weaknesses to address. We translated these findings into a wide-ranging set of recommendations for building a culture that will drive inclusion and diversity, and spark innovation across UKSA.

A clear direction

Our recommendations covered a wide range of themes. Key among these was the importance of developing a shared vision and strategy – articulating where UKSA wants to be on diversity and inclusion, and how it plans to get there. We looked at governance and accountability, including the role of the executive board in promoting I&D. And we proposed strategies for ensuring genuine diversity across the leadership team (rather than the appointment of one or two high-profile female or ethnic minority leaders, for example).

We also recommended improving development for line managers to ensure they create diverse teams and enable them to support team members by having conversations about challenging I&D topics that can be difficult to navigate. We proposed new ideas for attracting and retaining people from all backgrounds through the employee lifecycle. And we considered how to build employees’ confidence in sharing their experiences in order to generate better I&D data and track the journey.

We supplemented these recommendations with a clear roadmap, setting out opportunities for quick wins and longer-term ambitions, effectively plotting a path to improved inclusion and diversity. With the green light from UKSA, we incorporated our recommendations into the agency’s wider people strategy.

With PA’s expertise, we’re better placed to accelerate inclusion and diversity across the organisation. We’ve started a journey to develop a culture where our commitment to I&D is wired into everything we do – and we have a clear plan for reaching our destination.

John Cobb
Head of HR at UKSA

A vision and a plan

Our work means that, for the first time, UKSA has a clear vision and strategy to increase inclusion and diversity. This will dramatically enhance the agency’s power to develop a diverse workforce capable of inspiring the ingenuity and innovation needed to realise the UK’s space ambitions.

For talented people of every gender and background, UKSA’s sharper focus on I&D means more opportunities to contribute their talents and build their careers in a fast-growing sector that already supports over 45,000 jobs in the UK.

The UK Space Agency is one of many organisations now responding to a changing society where a clear strategy for inclusion and diversity is no longer optional – it’s a must. Enabling UKSA to address I&D challenges and opportunities within the context of its wider culture promises meaningful and sustainable change.

Katherine O’Halloran
PA People and Change expert

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Keith Joughin

PA public sector and change expert