AAS Committee on the Status of Women
Issue of June 3, 2011	
eds. Joan Schmelz, Caroline Simpson & Michele Montgomery

This week's issues:

1. AAS Prizes - Self-Nominations

2. Invited Women Speakers: A Different Perspective

3. Boston AAS: Panel Discussion on Transforming Cultural Norms

4. Obstacles to the Progress of Women in Science and Engineering

5. Department Diversity

6. How to Submit to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

7. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the AASWOMEN Newsletter

8. Access to Past Issues of the AASWOMEN Newsletter

1. AAS Prizes - Self-Nominations
From: Meg Urry [meg.urry_at_yale.edu]

You have probably realized that the deadline for nominations for AAS prizes has
shifted earlier, to June 30. This means you still have a few weeks to submit
nominations. Those of us who are frustrated at the continued dearth of women
prize recipients should know that this is because of a dearth of nominations (so
I am told by prize committees) - indeed, there are few nominations of anyone,
but especially women. So, it would be great if we could rectify that.

What you may not know, because it is a newer change, is that for the first time,
and for a 5-year trial period, self nominations will be enabled for the Warner
and Pierce prizes. In order that self-nominations not be visibly different from
colleague-nominations, the prize package will consist of the 3 letters of
support, not including the usual nomination letter. It was felt by the AAS
Council, who took this decision, that the nominee pools for these prizes are
usually too small, and that senior astronomers may not know the junior
candidates eligible for these prizes well enough to fix that problem, whereas
self-nominations will almost surely lead to a larger (and we hope more diverse)
pool of candidates - which can only enhance the luster of the prize. 

So, young astronomers: please do not be shy! Nominate yourself or ask a
colleague to help you. All you need to do is line up 3 letters supporting your
nomination. Rules for all prizes can be found on the AAS web site:


2. Invited Women Speakers: A Different Perspective
From: Anonymous

After reading the discussion of invited female speakers [in the May 6 issue of
the AASWOMEN newsletter - Eds.], I wanted to share a related but different
frustration about gender balance and conference organizing. 

I recently organized my first scientific meeting (as SOC chair), and right from
the start I decided that I would keep an eagle eye on myself and the other
members of the SOC to avoid any hint of gender bias in the conference. I was
pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to come up with a gender-balanced
conference agenda (was it luck? our subfield? the unconscious influence of
having a female SOC chair? I didn't care). Without any intervention on my part,
the original list of invited and contributed speakers was very well balanced,
including roughly 40% female participation at all levels and even a senior URM
speaker. I was thrilled. But then came the shocker. After we sent out the
invitations and notified contributed speakers that their talks had been
accepted, the women were far more likely to decline than the men, and our senior
URM speaker backed out at the last minute. Several of these people specifically
asked to be replaced by white male colleagues. Furthermore, male 
graduate students and postdocs were more likely to withdraw from the conference
if their abstract had been assigned a poster instead of a contributed talk,
which skewed the gender balance of the poster session in the opposite direction.
It wasn't a huge meeting, so individuals made a difference. In the end, our
gender balance was fine (~25% invited talks and session chairs, ~35% contributed
talks, and ~45% of posters were given by women), but given how promising the
initial pool was, I was a bit disappointed. 

This reminded me of another situation I had observed. I've served for several
years on the admissions committee of a selective summer high school science
program, and have watched their struggles with achieving gender balance over the
years. A couple of years ago, the director mentioned that the biggest problem is
not finding qualified girls, but rather getting them to accept the offers of
admission that are extended to them. Boys are significantly more likely to
accept an offer of admission, which means that the gender balance of the
students who attend the program is always more skewed than the pool of admitted

I'm not sure what lesson to draw from these experiences, but I'm curious to know
whether or not anybody else has observed similar phenomena. A naive observer
might chalk this up to the tired argument that women are "less interested" in
science, but I don't think that's the case. At the high school level, the girls'
applications demonstrate phenomenal interest and aptitude in math and science.
One possibility is that girls and URMs with high scientific aptitude are so
sought after that they have many opportunities to choose from; another
possibility is that their parents are consciously or unconsciously biased and
less likely to encourage their daughters to attend an immersive "nerd camp."
It's difficult to know. At the conference, I wondered if family obligations were
preventing women from accepting talk slots. But since I know several of the
women personally, I don't think that was the case. I also noticed that men were
far more aggressive in pursuing the more "high profile"
opportunities. For example, some men who were assigned posters wrote to
emphasize their willingness to give a talk if a slot should open up. So were we
just unlucky, or is there something else going on here? 

3. Boston AAS: Panel Discussion on Transforming Cultural Norms
From: L. Trouille_at_women_in_astronomy_blog

CSWA held a panel discussion during the Boston AAS meeting entitled
"Transforming Cultural Norms: Mentoring and Networking Groups for Women and
Minorities". In order to more widely disseminate the ideas and resources shared
during this discussion, I'm taking advantage of our blog conversations.

Thank you to all those who attended and contributed to the conversation. We were
very pleased to see the mix of men and women in the audience, although there's
definitely work to be done in engaging more senior men in these discussions.

In this first post, I'm providing our extended community the resources page
distributed at the start of the discussion. Please send me your comments for any
additional resources that you'd like to see included. The final list will be
published for posterity at the CSWA 'Resources' page.

My next post will provide the videotape we made of the discussion. As a teaser,
I'll note that our discussion yesterday highlighted examples of concrete steps
to take to enable sustainability, obstacles to be aware of, how to develop
allies through making it clear the ways your program champions your
institution's priorities, acknowledging the realities of needing to work within
existing structures, and the limitations of our recent decadal survey with
respect to accomplishing the goals of the 'State of the Profession' white

Till that's posted, another big Thank You! to our panelists for their ongoing
efforts to improve the culture and climate at their institutions and for their
thoughtfulness in considering the questions we had composed prior to the session
to help guide the discussion.

To read more:


4. Obstacles to the Progress of Women in Science and Engineering
From: Ed Bertschinger_at_women_in_astronomy_blog

In her Keynote Address to the MIT150 Symposium Leaders in Science and
Engineering: The Women of MIT, Professor Nancy Hopkins presented a wonderful
summary of the reasons why there are so few women faculty in science and
engineering, especially at the top ranks. She summarized not only her own
experience but that of most women faculty members. Had male faculty members
experienced the same systematically inequitable treatment, research universities
would be under investigation by Congress for discrimination. Unfortunately, as
Professor Hopkins points out, the percentage of female Senators is less than the
percentage of female faculty members in science and engineering at MIT. That we
face broader societal issues is no excuse for ignoring these problems in
academia. Universities and other employers that pay attention to equity will
outperform ones that do not. Indeed, as a department head I am delighted to see
the benefits of gender equity accrue to my institution.

I strongly urge readers to watch Professor Hopkins' speech at the above link.
Here I summarize her analysis of the obstacles overcome and those remaining
before women face a level playing field in academia.

Prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the implementation of affirmative
action regulations in 1971, universities regularly barred women from the
faculty. Such remarkable scientists as Mildred Dresselhaus, Cecilia
Payne-Gaposchkin, and Barbara McClintock all faced this now-illegal
discrimination. But the legal system and the women's movement of the 1970s did
not eliminate all forms of discrimination.

Sexual harassment was, and remains, a serious problem. Professor Hopkins told
her own stunning story. Unfortunately, I know from service on the Committee on
the Status of Women in Astronomy that sexual harassment is not fully eliminated
even today. Astonishingly it is present in some highly ranked programs. Today it
is possible to gain remedy in the courts; however the effort required is
onerous. Universities and other organizations should not wait for lawsuits and
should not merely proclaim policy, but should investigate and discipline
harassers. The American Astronomical Society has an anti-harassment policy that
is laudably clear on this point.

To read more:


5. Department Diversity
From: Meg Urry [meg.urry_at_yale.edu]

Some of us were talking about how to ensure that physics and astronomy
departments offer equitable and supportive environments for diverse scholars. In
many departments, this is not the highest priority, especially when compared
with research accomplishments. So how should departments be held accountable,
particularly in the handful of cases where egregious behavior appears to have
been tolerated for a long time?

Here is a suggestion: talk to your Provost or Dean. In general, university
administrators are very aware of the importance of nurturing a diverse faculty,
particularly because this improves effective mentoring of a diverse student
body. So provosts and deans will want to help. One of the most powerful tools
they have is an external visiting committee. Ask your provost/dean to include
this issue - the effective mentoring of women and minority students (and really,
of all students) - in how they constitute your visiting committee and in how
they write the charge to that committee. This may work to create real change -
and even if it does not lead to immediate action, it is useful to elevate the
issue within your administration.

6. How to Submit

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aaswomen_at_aas.org .

All material will be posted unless you tell us otherwise, including your email address.

Please remember to replace "_at_" in the e-mail address above.

7. How to Subscribe or Unsubscribe

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If you experience any problems, please email itdept_at_aas.org

8. Access to Past Issues


Each annual summary includes an index of topics covered.


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End of AASWList Digest, Vol 52, Issue 1