Thursday, October 18, 2018

A personal recommendation for the AAS to collect data to determine participation of underrepresented groups

By members of the DPS Professional Culture and Climate Subcommittee

In order to determine how new policies affect the equitable participation of astronomers from all backgrounds, we propose that the AAS collect detailed demographic information on its members and use these data to understand the barriers for members of underrepresented groups. While the AAS workforce surveys do ask demographic information (Workforce Survey of 2016 US AAS Members Summary Results), they can not easily be compared to award or author information in the way a member database could. As shown below, collection of demographic data by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) has enabled studies addressing gender disparities in geosciences. Furthermore, the AGU has enacted policy changes based on these findings. Collection of demographic data by AAS would enable determination of areas that are lacking in gender representation, in addition to areas that are lacking in representation with respect to persons with disabilities, underrepresented minorities, etc. This would enable AAS to implement policy changes to enable equitable participation of astronomers from all backgrounds and to test if the new policies are effective.

AGU data collection:

The American Geophysical Union has collected demographic information of its membership since 2013. Their website states that they are collecting “year of birth, gender, and ethnicity to better understand member demographics and to support our strategic goals to grow and diversify the Earth and space science talent pool.”1 These data have been used to determine the demographics of the membership as a function of career stage2, find gender inequities in speaking opportunities at the Fall AGU meeting3, and analyze gender disparities in AGU journal authorship and reviews4 and awards5. More than 79% of AGU members6 and 98% of Fall AGU presenters7 have answered the AGU demographic questions, which has enabled the studies mentioned above. These data are important in understanding the barriers faced by members of groups underrepresented in the sciences. They can be used to inform policy changes and determine which changes most benefit members of underrepresented groups. For example, the AGU determined that the most recent group of AGU fellows has the same gender ratio as the AGU membership, but that the AGU awards fall below gender parity8. They compared the gender ratio of nominations to awards and found that awards have a similar or better representation of women than the nominations while the nominations have a substantially lower percentage of women than the AGU membership. Based on this, they have put several plans in motion8 (How Will We Address the Lack of Gender Diversity in AGU Medals, Awards and Prizes?).

Recommendation for AAS:

We suggest that the AAS and its divisions (particularly the DPS) collect similar demographic data and perform studies similar to those shown above. We suggest that the scope of these studies be expanded by AAS/DPS to consider factors which contribute to underrepresentation in additional areas beyond gender, such as factors affecting underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities, etc. In particular, AAS/DPS should post demographics in prizes and nominations similar to Demographics for 2017 Honors Cycle, being sure to include additional demographic information beyond gender (e.g., number of ethnic/racial minorities that are nominated for and/or receive prizes/medals).

Several limitations were recognized in the data collected by the AGU, particularly concerning binary gender and the lack of collecting information on other identities that are underrepresented in science, such as disability status and sexual orientation. Our recommendation, therefore is for the AAS to collect demographic information for all new members and membership renewals (during the next 2 years) using the following questions (and requiring answers):

1. What is the highest degree you’ve received?
  1. Ph.D.
  2. Masters
  3. Bachelor's

2. In what year did you receive your last degree?
  1. Fill in blank.

3. In what field is your highest degree?
  1. Astronomy
  2. Geology
  3. Physics
  4. Planetary Science
  5. Other (fill in)

4. Please select your gender (check all that apply):
  1. Female
  2. Male
  3. Non-binary
  4. Other
  5. Prefer not to respond

5. Do you identify as transgender?
  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Prefer not to respond

6. Which of the following racial designations best describes you? Select all that apply.
  1. Hispanic/Latinx
  2. American Indian or Alaska Native: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.
  3. Asian: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  4. Black or African American: A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa.
  5. Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
  6. White: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.
  7. Prefer not to respond

7. Please select your sexual orientation:
  1. Asexual
  2. Bisexual
  3. Homosexual
  4. Heterosexual
  5. Queer
  6. Other
  7. Prefer not to respond

8. Please indicate which of the following apply to you. (Check all that apply.)
  1. I am deaf or have serious difficulty hearing
  2. I am blind or have serious difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses
  3. I have serious difficulty standing, walking or climbing stairs
  4. I have cognitive or learning disability.
  5. I have a mental illness.
  6. I am neuroatypical.
  7. I have an autoimmune or pain disorder, or other chronic condition.
  8. I have disabling allergies, asthma, or other environmental sensitivities.
  9. Other disability, not listed above
  10. None of the above
  11. Prefer not to respond

9. Have you requested accessibility accommodation at work or school? (check all that apply):
  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. No, but I would benefit from accessibility accommodation
  4. No, and I am afraid of disclosing my disability or chronic condition
  5. Not applicable

Due to privacy concerns, we suggest that the information collected on specific members only be visible on the AAS website to that particular member. We suggest that a AAS staff member or other designated person sign a nondisclosure form and be given access to all the data in order to do basic studies such as the ones listed above. Otherwise, only the aggregate data (with names removed) should be available to the AAS executive officer, the AAS board, the Committee for Sexual-Orientation & Gender Minorities in Astronomy (SGMA), the Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy (CSMA), the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA), the Working Group on Accessibility and Disability (WGAD), the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion in Graduate Astronomy Education, and the Demographics Committee. This information may also be requested by others via proposals made to the aforementioned groups, if the proposal hinges on an applicable and appropriate question for study. Furthermore, subsets of the data for members of the divisions should also be made available to the division leadership, including the DPS committee and its Professional Culture and Climate Subcommittee (PCCS). A complete set of rules for use of this data should be determined with input from the above mentioned groups and in consultation with professionals in demographic data collection.

The authors welcome constructive comments about the above questions, particularly from members of the affected underrepresented groups (

Written by the members of the DPS Professional Culture and Climate Subcommittee: Julie Rathbun, Edgard Rivera-Valentín, Cristina Thomas, Serina Diniega, Matt Tiscareno, Jennifer Piatek, Sarah Horst, Nancy Chanover.

1This text shows up in a pop up window when a member is filling in their demographic information. See link for more information on AGU’s strategic goals.
2AGU Sections Demographic Breakdown by Gender and Career level
3Gender inequity in speaking opportunities at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting
4Journals invite too few women to referee
5DIVERSITY RESOURCES and DEMOGRAPHICS, How Will We Address the Lack of Gender Diversity in AGU Medals, Awards and Prizes?
6Journals invite too few women to referee 
7Gender inequity in speaking opportunities at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting
8How Will We Address the Lack of Gender Diversity in AGU Medals, Awards and Prizes?