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Pasadena Recommendations for Gender Equity in Astronomy

29 Jan 2005

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
1/29/2005

Media Contacts

Dr. Patricia Knezek
Chair of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy
WIYN Consortium, Inc.
950 N. Cherry Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85719
(520) 318-8442
knezek@noao.edu

Dr. Stephen Maran
American Astronomical Society Press Officer
maran@aas.org
(202) 328-2010 x116

American Astronomical Society Sets Goals for Improving Gender Equity in Astronomy

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 205 th 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 http://www.aas.org/~cswa. 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 unanimously.

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 made.”

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 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:
http://www.aas.org/~cswa/

Women in Astronomy II: Ten Years After 2003 Pasadena CA :
http://www.aas.org/~cswa/WIA2003.html

AAS Council Membership:
http://www.aas.org/governance/council/aas-coun.htm

The Baltimore Charter:
http://www.aas.org/~cswa/bc.html