The Women in Astronomy Forum (WIAF) is a grass-roots, self-organized group of women scientists at STScI who have research time as a contractual obligation. Broadly, WIAF members share similar career challenges: balancing science and functional responsibilities, balancing work and family life, and career goals such as renewals, promotions, and for some, tenure. Recently, COVID is creating an additional layer of uncertainty and stress.

The WIAF includes tenure-track and scientist-track researchers, STScI (term-hire) scientists, post-docs, fellows and, very recently students. For a very long time, the WIAF did not have critical mass, but now it counts more than fifty actively engaged members, employed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). This has allowed the WIAF to start tackling issues of common interest in a very tangible and constructive way, and to become a credible voice within the institute on matters related to diversity and inclusiveness.

Typically the WIAF meets once a month and discusses items that are proposed by the members. When the WIAF identifies a topic that the group feels should be addressed with priority, we create a working group to research the issue, and generate an action plan, which is then discussed with the rest of the WIAF. Several important projects have been completed this way. Following extensive discussion, the WIAF generates clear, tangible and realistic recommendations that are proposed to the interested constituency at STScI, including the institute senior leadership and ultimately the director.

The WIAF serves also as a networking opportunity and a resource to its members. Because its members work in very diverse areas at STScI, they bring their own experiences to the discussion table, and everybody benefits from hearing the different experiences and solutions. The WIAF has been an excellent resource during the COVID situation, particularly providing feedback to the STScI leadership on the additional challenges faced by the women scientists in the COVID era.

Finally, the WIAF serves as a support group to its own members. It offers its knowledge and resources to its newest members, and provides organized and efficient help in case of need. WIAF members all “lean in” for each other!

Some of the projects carried out by the
Women in Astronomy Forum are listed below.

Projects and Documents

Enhancing Conference Participation to Bridge the Diversity Gap

Conference attendance is critical for a successful career in astronomy. We investigate the factors that disproportionately limit conference attendance for women and minorities. We carried out a survey to examine three aspects of conference attendance: 1) factors motivating science-career staff to attend conferences, 2) factors limiting science-career staff's ability to attend conferences, and 3) practices that have been, or could be, implemented to facilitate conference participation.
White Paper
Leadership Team Slides
IA2 Remote Participation Report

Long-term Career Trends in the Astronomical Workforce

We investigated the retention rate and its dependence on gender in a recent publication in order to provide a more accurate picture of career tracks in for astronomy PhDs. We analysed of data on long term career tracts of >10,000 US astronomy PhD recipients from 1970 to 2018. Utilizing publication histories to measure retention in scientific research we determined cohort membership, size and gender breakdown. We also present trends in the of institutions where a representative fraction of astronomers are employed.
White Paper
IA2 Slides
GitHub Repository

Increasing Gender Diversity and Inclusion in Scientific Committees

Our group introduced a new initiative to increase gender diversity and inclusion in the scientific committees and the activities they generate. We provide the community with uniform guidelines on binary gender representation goals, recommendations on how to achieve them, and metrics and tools to track the progress.
White Paper
AAS Slides

Other Projects and Documents


(Un)conscious Bias in the Astronomical Profession:
2020 Astro Decadal White Paper
2022 Planetary Decadal White Paper

Current Membership

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