Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Encouraging Men to Advocate for Women in Astronomy

Men have an important role to play in promoting gender equity broadly in astronomy and other gender-imbalanced fields. I was impressed by the commitment of a few male colleagues whom I saw at Women in Astronomy III last fall and would like to see more like them. Those who work for improving the climate, work-life balance, career advancement and opportunities for women find not only find great personal satisfaction, but will enjoy competitive advantage in finding and recruiting outstanding colleagues to work with.

Some of my greatest pleasures this past year have come from working with a group of extraordinary MIT women faculty in planning for a major symposium celebrating women in science and engineering on the occasion of MIT's 150th anniversary. In addition to organizing the conference, we are preparing updates of the 1999 and 2002 reports on the status of women faculty in science and other areas at MIT. Getting to know Nancy Hopkins and other members of the National Academy of Science, and to work with them in ways that celebrate and improve the status of women, has been thrilling for me. I highly recommend such activities to anyone who wants to make a difference.

How can women encourage men to get involved? Just do it! Certainly all academic leaders should be encouraged to meet with women students and faculty and to learn about the steps they should take to improve their organizations. Most male faculty members will take seriously requests and concerns raised by students and will react positively to encouragement that they and their department be more aware of and supportive of climate, good mentoring, etc. Men benefit from encouragement just as women do. When I met with a group of female graduate students several years ago and asked, with some dismay, how I could make a difference given all the problems that existed, their words of simple encouragement had great impact. I carry them in my heart always.