Monday, October 14, 2013

Inspiring New Policies from Spain for Gender Parity in STEM

Last week I attended an International Astronomical Union conference on Active Galactic Nuclei, hosted by the Armenian Academy of Sciences. Over dinner, Pepa Masegosa Gallegoa, woman astronomer from Spain, described some of the initiatives her country has undertaken to improve the gender ratio in the sciences in her country.
  • Equal ratio of men and women on review panels, committees, etc.
  • Concerted effort to increase the number of women in Spain’s Academy of Science. Just this past year, the number has risen from a few percent to ~15 percent!
  • Four month paid family leave for both parents (this is not new to Spain, but I still wanted to include it in their list of positive policies)^1.
  • Providing a ‘stop the clock’ equivalent for grants/fellowships/etc. restricted to applicants within a certain number of years post a given career stage. ‘Stop the clock’, in this case, refers to providing an additional year for each child past the usual date you can apply for these awards. 
  • Recommending and encouraging that parents place the year of when they have a child on to their CVs, so that it becomes a normal part of the process to take into account the impact of having a child on productivity.
This last recommendation provoked debate around the table, since a number of us had read the Correll, Benard & Paik (2007) study, which found that adding the line ‘Active in the PTA’ to CVs was detrimental to applicants with female names, but seen as a positive addition for applicants with male names^2. It will be extremely interesting to track the impact of this new policy in Spain to see whether it has a positive or negative effect for women in STEM hires.

The ‘stop the clock’ for grants/fellowships/etc. seems like an excellent idea (and relatively easy) to implement here in the U.S. – for example, for postdoc fellowships that are limited to applicants within X number of years post-Ph.D. and for awards like the NSF early CAREER Award.

Dear readers, if this seems like a good idea to you as well, please post your support (and suggestions). This will help provide fuel for making a case to the AAS CSWA and upwards to pursue this. It may be that 'stop the clock' is already in place for some of these awards. If this is the case, definitely post here. Having examples will be very helpful.

With all this said, the heartbreaking aspect of these positive initiatives in Spain is that the current economic situation is such that there will be 0 new permanent position hires in astronomy this year and only 11 new astronomy Ph.D. students at Spanish institutions funded this year. Astronomy faculty in Spain tread carefully and thoughtfully when they recruit both men and women into the field, given the current situation.

Websites to check out:
Spanish Astronomical Society's Committee of Women and Science
Spanish Scientific Council tracking statistics
Spanish Association of Women in Science and Technology

^1 For an international comparison of family leave policies (which provides food for thought for our current unacceptable situation in the U.S.), check out this previous WiA post.

^2 For more details, see the excellently written post summarizing a number of different research results on unconscious bias

- Posted by Laura Trouille, CIERA Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University and Astronomer at the Adler Planetarium.