Gender Diversity in Scientific Committees and Their Activities at Space Telescope Science Institute

C. Oliveira (oliveira[at]stsci.edu) and G. de Rosa (gderosa[at]stsci.edu)

Abstract

The Women in Astronomy Forum at Space Telescope Science Institute has a new initiative to increase gender diversity and inclusion in the institute's scientific committees and the activities they generate. This initiative offers new and uniform guidelines on binary gender representation goals for each committee and recommendations on how to achieve them in a homogenous way, as well as metrics and tools to track progress towards defined goals. While the new guidelines presented here focus on binary gender representation, they can be adapted and implemented to support all groups. By creating diverse committees and making them aware of and trained on implicit bias, we expect to create a diverse outcome in the activities they generate, which in turn will advance science further and faster.

Initiative Details

Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) has taken many steps through the years to increase diversity and inclusion. Both of these are key core values adopted by the institute. Past efforts have focused on a variety of actions, including creating internal diversity, inclusion and affinity groups, providing all-gender restroom, lactation, and health room facilities, extending medical coverage to pay for transgender transition and same sex/domestic partner medical and dental benefits, offering teleworking options, flexible work schedules, training, paid parental leave, and mentoring for career advancement. Not only have the efforts been focused internally, but the institute has established a double-anonymous selection process for Hubble proposals—a first-of-its-kind peer-review process for allocating time on NASA's facilities—that led in 2018 to higher success rate of women-led proposals for the first time in 18 years (https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.3.20190301a/full/).

STScI has roughly 127 research staff members. A number of scientific committees carry out a variety of activities ranging from recruiting, evaluating, and promoting research staff; to organizing the yearly scientific symposium. Until now, ensuring a balanced gender representation in the institute's scientific committees was left to the goodwill of the committee's chair. To address this issue, the Women in Astronomy Forum, one of STScI's affinity groups, proposed new and uniform guidelines on binary gender representation goals for each committee, and recommendations on how to achieve them in a homogeneous way, as well as metrics and tools to track progress towards defined goals. By creating diverse committees and by making them aware of and trained on implicit bias, the related activities of those committees will create a diverse outcome (Casadevall & Handelsman 2014) that will advance science further and faster.

As part of the new guidelines, every committee will receive implicit bias training and all the members will be encouraged to take an implicit bias test.

The new binary gender representation guidelines include a target goal of 40% and a floor of 27% for representation of women on all the scientific committees at STScI. The floor of 27% corresponds to the current fraction of women research staff, including all career levels.

Women gather for lunch to gather data
Figure 1:  Members of the Women in Astronomy Forum at STScI.

The chair of each scientific committee will be in charge of submitting a yearly report to the Science Mission Office documenting the committee's results towards the guidelines. The report will also include a summary of the gender demographics for each step of the activities of the particular committee. For example, for the committee responsible for organizing the yearly Spring Symposium, the summary would include information about gender for: invited speakers, submitted and accepted contributed talks, submitted and accepted poster contributions, and symposium participants. This information is used not only to assess the success of the committee in meeting diversity and inclusion goals and reward successful committees, but also to track consistency and progress over time by comparing it with data from previous years.

The guidelines are currently centered on binary gender representation (women/men), with gender being assigned based on name and/or apparent gender expression. While we recognize that gender is non-binary, this information is usually unavailable for privacy reasons.

The first phase of the implementation of these guidelines is ongoing. We are in the process of finalizing Python tools that will quickly and easily display all the statistical information needed to track progress in graphical form, and we hope to share these tools with the community in the future. STScI is actively working on expanding these guidelines to include all of the institute's committees, not just the ones related to the research staff.