Data show that women astronomers face discrimination at all stages of their careers. To ensure true diversity of ideas, everyone, but especially those with privilege, must do something about it.
Nature Astronomy Focus: Gender equity in astronomy
Equity and inclusion of all in the scientific process would ensure a true diversity of ideas, which is paramount for exploiting the full potential of our community to make new discoveries. Despite this relatively universally accepted Ansatz, women and other under-represented groups still face both direct and indirect obstacles in their pursuit of a career in astronomy and space science. Discrimination based on gender, skin colour, disability, sexual orientation and other minority statuses persists in our society at large but also in the microcosm of astronomy, astrophysics and planetary science communities.
In this Focus issue of Nature Astronomy we put the spotlight on the issue of equity (or lack thereof) in our community by inviting comments on the different manifestations of this persistent discrimination. The data presented by our authors paint a worrying picture. A dense network of often subconscious and therefore insidious biases and discriminatory behaviours lead to very real deficiencies in the representation of women and minority astronomers in almost every aspect of scientific discourse (from conferences to missions, career prizes and citation counts).
The Focus is centred on a research Letter by Neven Caplar and collaborators that asks the question whether women-led papers are cited differently than papers led by men. The answer is yes: with machine-learning techniques accounting for non-gender specific attributes, women-led papers are cited systematically 10% less than their men-led equivalents. This deficit is not surprising and in line with similar findings in other scientific fields. Finally, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein offers her Perspective on the issue of intersectionality and how astronomers at the intersection of multiple minority statuses suffer exponentially more and yet often fall through the cracks of statistical studies such as the one conducted by Caplar et al.
Please click through the content of this Focus (links to free-access PDF files in the "Read more" tabs) and once you've finished reading it, you are invited to move to the "Further Reading" section, where a wealth of additional information awaits your perusal.
We all harbour subconscious expectations about people based on their apparent membership of groups, such as gender, ethnicity or age. Research shows that these expectations can lead us to undervalue some people's contributions, inhibiting their success and thus negatively impacting our entire field.
Considerable progress has been made in the past decade to increase diversity in astronomy, and in particular to reach a ‘critical mass’ of women. It is however important to realize that this progress has mainly been the result of the selective inclusion of women from more privileged backgrounds.
There is an ongoing discussion about the participation of women in science and particularly astronomy. Demographic data from NASA's robotic planetary spacecraft missions show women scientists to be consistently under-represented.
Over the last decade, significant attention has been drawn to the gender ratio of speakers at conferences, with ongoing efforts for meetings to better reflect the gender representation in the field. We find that women are significantly under-represented, however, among the astronomers asking questions after talks.
Using a sample of more than 200,000 publications over a 65-year period, it is found that astronomy papers led by women receive 10% fewer citations than those led by men, consistent with studies in other related disciplines.
Gender discrimination is very much an issue in academia generally and in astronomy specifically. Through machine learning techniques, astronomy papers authored by women are shown to have 10% systematically fewer citations than those authored by men.