Wednesday, December 2, 2009

All of Us Must Work for Diversity (by Marc Postman)

I may be an unusual case in physics and astronomy in that both my undergraduate and graduate advisors were prominent women scientists (Mildred Dresselhaus, M.I.T. and Margaret Geller, CfA). I believe this will eventually be as common an experience as those who have men as their advisors. Men and women are equally capable of achieving success in science but the presence of key female role models in my early career certainly demonstrated this fact more effectively than anything I learned from my parents and pre-college teachers. As I progressed along my career, however, I soon became aware that there were clearly impediments to the realization of this fundamental fact. In response, I have worked within my home institution (Space Telescope Science Institute) to make it a place where the opportunities for career success in astronomy are independent of one's gender. It has not always been easy but I believe that today's STScI exhibits a far more nurturing environment for scientists of all backgrounds than it was when I first started here in 1989. Our successes are due to the efforts of many people - men and women. All of us must take responsibility for ensuring that our home institutions identify and eliminate the unconscious biases and/or practices that can make our work environments unappealing to members of a given gender. I have seen cases where this burden can fall disproportionally on the female members of the scientific staff. To my male colleagues I say - we must not let such situations go uncorrected. Indeed, as the current majority gender in astronomy, it should fall to us proportionally more often to rectify imbalances and inequities in our institutional staff composition so that they ultimately reflect the gender distribution amongst science majors in the undergraduate student population. Diversity in astronomy is not just the right thing to enable, it is essential if our field is to continue to be a vital and leading endeavor in the 21st century. As such, all of us must take an active role to see it through.