American Astronomical Society Sets Goals for Improving Gender Equity in Astronomy

Jan 31, 2005, 00:00 ET from American Astronomical Society

    WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Astronomical Society
 (AAS) has endorsed a new set of recommendations to improve the status of
 gender equity in astronomy.  The recommendations, endorsed at the 205th
 meeting of the Society in San Diego from January 8 to 13, 2005, were prepared
 by the Society's Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA).  The
 recommendation document, entitled Equity Now: The Pasadena Recommendations for
 Gender Equality in Astronomy is available online at
 The recommendations cover tenure-track hiring, career advancement and
 recognition, institutional policies, varied career paths, cultural issues and
 statistical information.  The AAS Council endorsed the recommendations
     Dr. Patricia Knezek, current chair of the CSWA, and a scientist at WIYN
 Observatory in Tucson, Arizona, noted, "The demographics of astronomy in the
 United States are changing -- currently more than 50% of AAS members in the
 age group 18-23 are women. These recommendations will help ensure that these
 women will be able to pursue their careers to the fullest."  Adds Dr. Knezek,
 "What a change from ten years ago -- it's indicative of the fact that while
 there may not be equity yet, awareness is increasing, and progress is being
     These recommendations were a collaborative work with the initial effort
 made by attendees of the "Women in Astronomy II: Ten Years After" meeting held
 in June 2003 in Pasadena, CA. Participants of the 2003 meeting assessed the
 progress for women in science, offering insights into causes of the slower
 advancement of women, and discussed strategies to accelerate the achievement
 of equality.
     The insights and strategies that came out of the Pasadena meeting were
 then incorporated into a formal document by the CSWA, which was then released
 to the entire AAS community for review and comments.  The CSWA included the
 community input and comments into the final document presented to the Council.
     The document is derived from the following guiding principles: (1) Women
 and men are equally talented and deserve equal opportunity; (2) Full
 participation of men and women will maximize excellence in the field; (3) The
 measure of equal opportunity is outcome, i.e., gender equity has been attained
 when the percentage of women in the next level of advancement equals the
 percentage in the pool; and (4) Long-term change requires periodic evaluation
 of progress and action to address areas where improvement is necessary.
     "The key principles expressed in these recommendations are very
 important," notes Meg Urry, Professor of Physics at Yale University and former
 Chair of the CSWA. "Although abundant research has documented the barriers to
 women's equal participation in science, some public figures still ask whether
 women lack the innate ability for sufficient dedication to science. This
 document articulates the positive steps that will remove those barriers and
 lead to better science in our field."
     The CSWA was established in the 1970's by the American Astronomical
 Society to monitor the status of women in the field of astronomy and recommend
 changes to improve it. In 1992, a seminal meeting on Women in Astronomy was
 held in Baltimore, Maryland. This conference led to the Baltimore Charter for
 Women in Astronomy, which offered a rationale for and steps toward gender
 equity in astronomy. The Baltimore Charter was based on input from the
 astronomical community, and the American Astronomical Society endorsed its
 goals in January 1994.
     In the ensuing decade many institutions recognized that there are
 impediments to the success of women in science and have developed strategies
 to increase diversity. The Committee is encouraged by the progress that has
 been made but recognizes that major inequalities still exist, and continues to
 work to remove those inequalities.
     AAS President Robert Kirshner (Harvard University) expressed his support
 of the Recommendations.  "I am glad that the AAS has made such a strong
 statement of our beliefs.  We want everybody who loves astronomy to make their
 dreams come true, and we hope that universities and other institutions will
 take concrete steps to help women overcome the hundreds of little barriers
 that make their career paths more difficult.  We see a wonderful pool of women
 graduate students: we look forward to the day when they are living out their
 dreams as astronomers."
     Senior astronomer, Dr. Margaret Burbidge (UC San Diego), who was in
 attendance of the recent AAS Meeting in San Diego as well as the Baltimore and
 Pasadena Meetings, was pleased at the AAS Council endorsement of the Pasadena
 Recommendations. "The Pasadena meeting was very exciting to me.  I have the
 group photo of the Baltimore meeting on my office wall.  My enduring memory of
 the Pasadena meeting will be the lecture, with women in all the seats!  I look
 forward to the outcome when gender equity will have been attained."
     Further Information:
      CSWA Pasadena Recommendations:
      Women in Astronomy II: Ten Years After 2003 Pasadena CA:
      AAS Council Membership:
      The Baltimore Charter:

SOURCE American Astronomical Society