Tuesday, February 1, 2011

CSWA Town Hall recap

by Hannah Jang-Condell

This year's CSWA Town Hall at the Winter AAS Meeting was entitled "How Men Can Help Women in Astronomy." The idea behind this was that we cannot expect the representation of women in astronomy to get better if we rely only on the efforts of those women themselves. Moreover, it's not simply a matter of removing the overt obstacles. Rather men and women both need to take active steps toward equity to make things happen. Overall, I was quite pleased with the turnout for the Town Hall, and thought the discussion that took place was excellent.

Below, I'll repost points from the slides that Joan Schmelz, chair of the the CSWA, who led the discussion at the meeting, as well as my own notes on the discussion that followed.


Suggestions by Marc Postman & CSWA
  • If a woman makes a good point during a discussion, acknowledge it! Don't wait until the man who is half as talented makes the same point and give him credit instead.
  • Men must be willing to accept that diversity on scientific staff and in speaker lists at meetings is a key contribution to scientific excellence. It is NOT social engineering.
  • Male astronomers must be trained to be repulsed by a male/female ratio that is > 2 in any astronomical organization or meeting. And then take action to fix it and prevent it from happening in future.
  • Make sure family friendly policies are in place in your institution, even if you are single and have no children.
  • If a man witnesses other men dominating a discussion at a meeting/conference while a woman is trying to make a point then he can speak up and tell his colleagues to shut up and listen (although this too can be patronizing).
  • Become aware of your own biases. Note: the biggest obstacle to overcoming bias is to be unaware that bias exists!
  • Attend a training session on diversity and bias even if you think you, your group, and your department has no problem(s).
  • Do not comment on a woman's appearance in any professional context. It is irrelevant.

Points raised in discussion:
  • Make it acceptable for men to take time off with kids
  • Postdocs, students, soft money need maternity leave, too. This will need support from federal grant agencies
  • Childcare at winter AAS meetings
  • Don't interrupt, let women finish their sentences
  • Why excellence is supported by gender diversity: the example of blind auditions for symhony orchestras
  • Working on a level playing field means you have more energy to spend on science
  • Promote mechanism for fair hiring
  • Stomping on attitudes of colleagues that are inappropriate
  • Don't deny that there is a problem
  • Listen to concerns of women
  • Speak up on women's behalf
  • Recognize that women end up doing more mentoring
  • Recognize that women get asked to do more service in order to support diversity
  • How can junior people (junior faulty, postdocs, soft money, students) advocate? -- See the What Can I Do? brochure

Suggestions from AAWOMEN Readers
(We ran out out of time to discuss these, so here they are in full.)
  • Never belittle women by calling them 'girls', 'cute', etc.
  • Have you ever referred to a woman candidate/postdoc/ student/professor/etc as 'the woman'? If so, ask yourself if you would refer to a foreign national as 'the foreigner' or an African American as 'the black'.
  • If you tell and/or hear a bad joke about women, retell the joke with an ethnic or religious minority in the punch line; most of these "jokes" are no longer funny.
  • Make sure all search committees are following good-hiring procedures (see Abby Stewart’s talk on Thursday)
  • If you are taking your male postdoc/gradstudent to get a drink, make sure that you ask your female postdoc/ gradstudent to come along; women often miss out on such casual gatherings which can result in being excluded from major projects.
  • At conferences or colloquia, seek out your collegue(s) and introduce your female postdoc/gradstudent to them by telling them what project she is working on.
  • Do not single out a woman in your group to organize the skypecons and make the calendar for meetings. Woman does NOT equal secretary! Asking someone to volunteer in front of the entire collaboration is a better way to go.
To see Joan's full powerpoint presentation, go here.

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