Monday, November 21, 2011

Women at Conferences

The CSWA has been making an effort to keep track of the percentages of women speakers at conferences. Recently, we featured a conference with a very high percentage of women speakers, right here on this blog. It's great to see that we are making progress. So, when I received the November 14th mailing from the AAS about the upcoming January meeting in Austin, I couldn't help but read the following enthusiastic description about the invited speakers with some amount of dismay:

"After a weekend of workshops and Historical Astronomy Division (HAD) sessions, the main part of the meeting kicks off Monday morning with the Kavli lecture by Lyman Page (Princeton University) on neutrinos and the cosmic microwave background. Over the next four days we'll hear about award-winning research from other eminent astronomers, including HAD Doggett Prize winner Woodruff T. Sullivan III (University of Washington) on the early days of radio astronomy, High Energy Astrophysics Division Rossi Prize winners Peter F. Michelson (Stanford University) and W. B. Atwood (University of California, Santa Cruz) on doing science with the Fermi Large Area Telescope, and Heineman Prize winner Robert P. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) on Type Ia supernovae and the accelerating universe.

Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg (University of Texas) and Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, will explore the intersection of science, society, and economics in their two invited lectures. Astronomer-astronaut Steven A. Hawley (University of Kansas) will take stock of challenges and achievements in 50 years of human spaceflight. And Linda Tacconi (Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics) will close out the week's plenary presentations with her Berkeley Prize lecture on molecular gas in star-forming galaxies in the early universe."

After a bit of investigation, I realized that no, there was actually more than one woman invited to speak at the meeting. It just so happens that only two of the prize winners were women, and it just so happens that one of those women is receiving the woman-only Cannon award, and the other is speaking in the last time slot on the last day of the meeting. That still leaves the question: even if the invited speakers list for the AAS meeting is somewhat gender balanced, why aren't the prizes?

In a similar vein, Female Science Professor proposes boycotting conferences with all-male slates. I wonder if that would really do any good, though, since that might have the effect of skewing the gender balance at that conference to even more all-male. Then again, direct complaints to conference organizers also have a tendency to fall on deaf or denying ears. But then, that's why the CSWA established the conferences webpage in the first place.

EDITED TO ADD: I want to make it clear that I am not at all advocating a boycott of the upcoming AAS Meeting. In fact, I am going myself and look forward to the meeting. (Come see me at the CSWA Special Session on Monday at 2pm!) And I do know that the AAS is sensitive to diversity issues and makes a real effort to achieve diversity of speakers. However, the email advertising the slate of speakers was unfortunate, as it did not give that balanced point of view. So the moral of the story is two-fold: nominate women for prizes, and remember to advertise women as well as you advertise men.

AASWOMEN for November 18, 2011

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of November 18, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. The Blame-the-Victim Strategy

2. Advice for an Anonymous Individual

3. Meeting with Extremely High Percentage of Women Speakers!

4. Winterbourn Receives New Zealand's Top Science and Technology Honour

5. "Women on Mars" Conference Speaker

6. Addressing the Shortage of Women in Silicon Valley

7. Jobs at Georgia State University

8. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

10. Access to Past Issues of the AASWOMEN Newsletter

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dramatized examples of bias: do they help?

Although bias is inescapable in human dynamics, I believe it can be recognized and partially corrected like the use of a personal equation by astronomers measuring stellar magnitudes by eye on photographic plates. Dramatized bias refers to dramatic plays that make bias plain enough for anyone to see.

Implicit or explicit bias remains a problem, and refusing to acknowledge it does not make it go away. Sometimes it is as obvious as a sexist remark in a faculty meeting, other times it is the observation by a search committee that "the candidate's research style doesn't match the department". If we're going to achieve equity for all in astronomy (and especially in physics) then implicit bias must be acknowledged and confronted in hiring, promotion, awards, etc.

Many faculty members don't like to hear this. It's the job of a department chair to ensure that equity is not ignored. The question is how to best to assist the chair in communicating these issues to faculty in a way that will be respected.

I've seen three different groups of actors present small plays highlighting implicit bias in the workplace: the Michigan CRLT players, the Harvard Bok players, and CSW Associates. Each group has professional actors who do interactive theater. The first two groups play-act a scene such as a faculty hiring or tenure committee review in which bias is clearly present. The scene is stopped, the audience discusses it, and audience members are invited to replace one of the actors to attempt a more equitable process. CSW Associates doesn't bring audience members into the play, but the actors interact strongly with the audience and reveal their inner thoughts in some powerful moments that help reveal the origins of hidden bias and the complexity of multicultural, real-world situations.

These kinds of workshops have been well received by those who attend voluntarily, or in organizations where employees or students can be "required" to attend -- for example, many business schools are using them as part of required communications and conflict resolution classes. I've certainly enjoyed and benefited from seeing these groups on multiple occasions. Have any readers seen them in astronomy departments or conferences where more than the equity advocates attended? How was that arranged? Could we bring one of these groups to a AAS meeting?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Meeting with Extremely High Percentage of Women Speakers!

As you've probably seen from previous posts and mailings, the CSWA (with input from all of you) has been keeping track of the percentage of conference invited speakers who are women (see

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting Jorge Moreno, who is organizing a conference on "Interacting Galaxies and Binary Quasars: A Cosmic Rendezvous" (see announcement below). I wanted to highlight here that 76% of the invited speakers for this conference are women (13 women and 4 men).

Jorge explained to me that he is delighted to see so many female astronomers in the list, as well as a few speakers from developing countries. He worries that we are still a long way from gender equality in science, especially in places like his country of origin (Mexico), but he is glad to know that many people are taking steps in the right direction. He feels very lucky to be in this position. He also mentions that he wants to make sure nobody can tell his daughter Camila that she can't pursue a career in science (or in any field she desires).

---------------- Conference Announcement from Jorge--------------------------------------

Dear Colleagues,

On behalf of the SOC & LOC, I am glad to announce the workshop "Interacting Galaxies and Binary Quasars: A Cosmic Rendezvous", organized jointly by SISSA and ICTP, in Trieste (Italy). The dates are April 2-5, 2012 and the venue is the Kastler Lecture Hall, on the ICTP campus, next to the sea and a few steps from the Miramare Castle. Registration is now open with December 10, 2011 as the deadline. Please note than in order to keep this event intimate, the meeting will only 40-45 participants in total. Therefore, early registration is desirable. Applications from women, minorities and people from developing countries is particularly encouraged. For more details, please visit the conference website:

Interacting Galaxies and Binary Quasars: A Cosmic Rendezvous.

Interacting galaxies are among the most spectacular events in the cosmos. They affect morphology and may funnel gas into the central regions, thereby triggering star formation and nuclear activity. Likewise, the discovery of binary quasars has accelerated to unprecedented levels in the last few years. The aim of this workshop is to bring together observers and theorists working on either interacting galaxies or binary quasars. By discussing these phenomena from diverse points of view, several interesting science questions will addressed.

Trieste, Italy
April 2-5, 2012

December 10, 2011.

Monica Colpi, Francoise Combes, Deborah Dultzin, Tiziana Di Matteo,
Sara Ellison, George Djorgovski, Julie Comerford, Kelly Holley-Bockelmann,
Phil Hopkins, Lisa Kewley, Stefanie Komossa, Jennifer Lotz, Lucio Mayer,
Adam Myers, Patricia Tissera, Marta Volonteri & Qingjuan Yu.

Please forward this announcement to your colleagues and anyone else potentially interested. Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions (

Best regards,
Jorge Moreno

Note: This meeting is paid entirely by a SISSA Young Research Scientist Grant.

SOC: I. Aretxaga, V. Avila-Reese, A. Benson, J. Bullock, J. Cohn, M. Geller, Y. Krongold & J. Moreno.
LOC: G. de Lucia, A. Lapi, J. Moreno, P. Salucci & R. Sheth.

Friday, November 4, 2011


One of the risks of being on the CSWA is that my friends regularly send me email that makes me angry.* Like the link to the "Womanspace" article in Nature, as reported on in AASWOMEN last week. The comments were particularly interesting to read. I was glad to see the outpouring of criticism of the article, going on at length about the harm of perpetuating stereotypes, particularly in a high impact journal such as Nature. The letter from Lucianne Walkowicz in this week's AASWOMEN is also well worth a read. All these commenters say what needs to be said better than I ever could.
But the most interesting comment is from Ed Rybicki himself. He completely misses the point of the comments. The article was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, he says. Even my wife found it funny!
Which makes me wonder, do men like this ever see what's wrong in their actions? Is this why people like Herman Cain can claim that they were wrongly accused of sex harassment, because maybe they honestly believe that? I would like to believe that men who commit misogynist behavior, whether it's telling sexist jokes or sexually harassing someone, can be led to see the error of their ways, and that they can learn to become better people. Someday, I would like to see a man say, "yes, I did something wrong. But I've learned from that experience, and it will never happen again." Recovering alcoholics learn to do this, why can't harassers?
I fear that as long as perpetrators of sexism can get away with calling themselves the victim and deflecting responsibility for their actions, this culture will remain "manspace," whether you are talking about scholarly science or political discourse.

*But angry in a good way. Keep those emails coming!

AASWOMEN for November 4, 2011

AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of November 4, 2011
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson, and Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. 1000+ Subscribers to AASWomen

2. Repercussions for Sexual Harassment

3. Offensive Article in Nature - Your Responses

4. APS/IBM Research Internships for Undergraduate Women

5. SMART Scholarships for BS, MS, and PhD

6. Amelia Earhart Fellowship

7. Women in Aerospace Scholarship

8. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN newsletter

9. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN newsletter

10. Access to Past Issues