A Reflection on Juneteenth

When I was a kid, and probably when you were a kid too, we all learned a saying to start the school day: it was a pledge, the Pledge of Allegiance. We’d each proudly hold our hand over our heart, face the flag and say it every morning: “… with liberty and justice for all.”

We were taught that these simple words have a deep meaning; that “liberty and justice for all” is a core American value, a part of our identity, an ideal that we need to always strive for. That when we see people who don’t have liberty, who don’t have justice, we have a responsibility to address it head on until all is made right. That’s what we were taught.

Yet as we grow up and lead our lives, ideals too often fade and an unacceptable status quo gains acceptance. As we watched in outrage and horror the murder of George Floyd the need for urgent action rang like a bell.  This image of racism, cruelty, and clear injustice called out from the streets. Over the ensuing weeks many have answered that call with demonstrations across the country and across the globe. The most outrageous fact of all however is that we know all too well that it was not an anomaly. The cumulative loss of countless lives and opportunities at the hands of systemic racism has brought to the surface feelings of pain and outrage that have seethed for centuries. Now, Black Lives Matter represents a vital call to action for us as individuals, companies and governments to uproot systemic racism and implement strong, material change.

Since Virgin Orbit was first founded in 2017, we have aspired to do better. The racial and gender biases that have pervaded the tech and aerospace industries are no secret, and from the very beginning, we’ve worked to make our little microcosm a safe space for people of all backgrounds to thrive. We’ve developed a relationship with the Boys and Girls Club to bring STEM to young children of color. We’ve brought diverse speakers and diverse views to our team to address us and challenge us. We’ve been training our workforce, established zero tolerance policies to address discrimination internally and we’ve been establishing support groups across minority communities.   Good steps but not enough.

As part of that continuing effort, we have given everyone in the company the day off today, to celebrate the Juneteenth holiday. We are encouraging them to use the time to educated themselves about the history of Black Americans and about both historical and current matters of racial equality and fair treatment. We recognize that we have a long way to go. So the question we’ve been asking ourselves is: what can we do to step it up?

Periodically, we compare the demographics of our workforce at Virgin Orbit to the local community and industry to see where we need to focus our efforts. Here are the latest numbers, showing where we are today and where we expect to have better representation in the future:

Looking at these breakdowns, it’s clear that aerospace remains overwhelmingly male and white. Virgin Orbit fares slightly better on the racial diversity front compared to the broader industry, due partly to our concerted efforts to expand our pool of candidates for job openings — but we’re not kidding ourselves, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

This isn’t a problem that can be fixed with a few inspirational words and well-meaning sentiment. What we need is real, material action. Our team is doubling down to improve our approach to STEM, outreach, recruitment and inclusion, and we’ll share our successes and our mistakes along the way.

One other immediate step we are taking comes in the form of a collaborative effort with several of our sister companies within the global Virgin Family. Under the leadership of Virgin Galactic and Virgin Unite, we have joined forces with the teams at Virgin Galactic, Virgin Hyperloop, Virgin Atlantic, and The Spaceship Company to begin creating a new scholarship, mentoring and fellowship program for young Black scholars pursuing a career in aerospace. We are excited to work with our friends and colleagues to develop this program, which we hope to launch in time for the 2020-2021 school year.

As a very young company, we have the opportunity to chart our own path forward as we continue to build our team. We’re committed to doing the work, and speaking out even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.

In the meantime, we hope you’ll also share your thoughts, perspectives and ideas with us. Let’s commit to act on those simple words …with liberty and justice for all.

Dan Hart, President and CEO, Virgin Orbit