Thursday, June 13, 2013

CSWA seeks your help

The CSWA wants your input!  In our telecon today, we discussed ideas for future special sessions at the AAS meeting, ideas for this blog, and ways to better coordinate with committees performing similar service (CSMA and WGLE in astronomy, CSWP and COM in Physics).  In the end, we realized that community input would be our best guide.

The CSWA is an active committee.  We blog a lot, we collect advice, we gather information resources, and we organize special sessions at the biannual meetings of the AAS.  Our activities are similar to, but distinct from, the Committee on the Status of Women in Physics.  We're larger, with 12 members, including a number of postdocs.  We try to make a difference.

Before I ask you readers what you would like to see the AAS and the CSWA do to promote gender equity, I will share some issues that are on my mind, and which may be on yours.  A big one is how to increase the number of women faculty members in astronomy (and especially physics), and to ensure that they thrive and advance.  It's unsatisfying when women are 30% of astronomy prize fellows but only 11% of full professors.  The situation is worse in physics - multiply those percentages by about 0.6 or 0.7.  It's a concern beyond you and me; outgoing Princeton President Shirley Tilghman has been a champion of diversity and equity, and has also struggled to diversify the graduate student, postdoc and faculty populations.  This issue is much on my mind as a department head who has struggled to make a difference, and found that it is slow and difficult.

One approach, which I do not think would work in the U.S., is for universities or other employers to bar the hiring of male assistant professors in lopsided departments until the numbers improve, as is being considered at the University of Eindhoven in the Netherlands.  This is causing some backlash from men and also puts women in a terrible position of having to defend their ability, which leads to the second issue of gender equity on my mind lately.

How can we create a workplace culture that is fully respectful and gives equal voice to women, to service workers, to students - a culture where full professors are as respectful of all of these as they are of their (mostly white male) peers?  Strikingly, MIT President Rafael Reif called upon MIT to become more like this in his commencement address last week, when he said "But I also want the family of MIT to be famous for how we treat people:  Famous for sympathy, humility, decency, respect and kindness."

The first job of a theoretical astrophysicist is to find the right questions.  Only then can we find answers.  Do we have the right questions?  What you would like to see the AAS and the CSWA do to promote gender equity?


Anonymous said...

I'd like to see the CSWA engage with the relevant institutions to improve parental leave policies for postdocs and graduate students. The situation is pretty bad for many postdocs, because they are often paid stipends and therefore don't count as employees. Paid parental leave is not given at most institutions, and even an official unpaid leave is only granted on a case-by-case basis at some of the biggest institutions. To my (sort of vague) understanding, part of this is an intrinsic problem of grant-based stipends, so it probably needs to be addressed on a larger scale than just at the the individual institutes.

Beatrice Mueller said...

I second the above comment.


Ed Bertschinger said...

Thank you for this - the topic is very much on our minds, as you'll see from the link above to the Special Session on Family Leave Policies and Childcare for Graduate Students and Postdocs at the Long Beach AAS meeting last January. I'm struggling with these issues at my university; providing the kind of paid leaves granted in many European countries would be prohibitively expensive. But I do think that individual institutes can and should try new approaches and could compete with each other to improve the support for student and postdoc parents. I welcome any approaches you feel are promising.

Kelsi said...

Hi All, Just a note that that Women in Planetary Science community would also like to be involved/of assistance if possible. Although some of us are more on the geology side, many of us started out in physics or astronomy. Our community is still recovering a bit from the loss of our most active leader (Susan Niebur) but I hope we will pick back up soon.

I think it is helpful to have resources on, well, convincing others that hiring females is important (like some of the resources you already have). But it would be great to augment the availability of that kind of information. I have directed people to your resources before, but perhaps it would be better to direct to some kind of summary presentation (maybe even a video) that could help people dive into all the resources there after first getting a summary :).

We in the planetary science community don't want to be repeating all the work that you guys are doing, so we would like to coordinate better with you. But, we also feel the need to maintain our own community, just because we do encompass a somewhat different set of professionals and sometimes the types of resources we would use are not the same.

Anonymous said...

Well, I believe that many of the faculty positions are given to applicants from institutions that are considered of "higher" scholarship. What about the HBCU's to smaller universities? For some reason, recruiters and departments discount these individuals who apply to these jobs. We can improve the numbers by considering various applicants from uncommon colleges/universities. Maybe until then we can see the the physics/astronomy community diversify.