Women in Astronomy


Women in Astronomy gathering took place during the lunch break on Thursday, August 10. To the pleasant surprise of the organizers, there are more than 60 people onsite, and 10 connections online (the latter includes some administrative connections). About 20 % are men, another surprise for the organizers.
The participants were grouped according to the proximity where they are sitting, 10-15 members per group. There are 5 groups on site and 1 group online.

  • 1st 20 minutes – lunch and introduction to each other
  • 2nd 20 minutes – discuss what works in the respective workplace
  • Group photo taking before moving to the summary time.
  • Last 20 minutes – present the summary per group

A group of people posing for a photo

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The common thread was the status of astronomy in the STEM initiatives, and the women’s resilience in the fields related to astronomy in each country.

First group picked the career paths for women and anonymous process of screening. Outreach “instead of science or engineering itself” should not be the only path or for the promotion of and by women. Dual anonymity in the screening process such as the proposals of the observing time, grant application, or early stage of hiring selection seems to be working. They raised additional, important issue of inclusiveness to keep eyes on other classes other than the binary distinction of sexuality, and minor or historically suppressed ethnic groups.

Second group added the sharing of the successes in research itself was encouraging. And emphasized the importance of education. Astronomy can relate to many disciplines, hence appeal to the broader community, thus capable of bringing in more people into or associated with this discipline. Like stargazing block party, astronomy can be included in the informal settings in addition to the formal settings.

Noteworthy is the success in many universities and institutions in Australia in terms of recruiting hiring, promoting, and having women at the leadership positions. The flexibility of the use of leave, childcare support or even the facility at the workplace, greatly helped inviting and retaining and advancing women. In general, that kind of settings is beneficial to anybody, not just women, for early career professionals have many challenges in terms of income versus family caring balance, for example.

Third group added the effectiveness of mandatory childcare access for any (major) conferences. Organizational meeting time is limited between 9 am to 3 pm, allowing more flexibility arranging family care duty or other duties and research time. Mentorship can be helpful. We must also address the fact that women tend to apply for positions only if they fulfill all selection criteria, whereas men tend to apply even if they only fulfill a subset. Perhaps modifying the language in job listings could help with this, plus mentoring to give women more confidence.

Fourth group reiterated the contrast between the dominance of women in teaching versus men in research positions in many countries. That is one step up from before times, but that divide should not be there. There is an interesting aspect of astronomy. Some religion requires the knowledge of astronomy for the deep understanding. Or another way of saying, being one of the oldest disciplines in science, astronomy has very close relation with the culture and that aspect can be leveraged to attract more people into this discipline, not only women.

Fifth group summarized their discussion with a keyword “awareness” – in the context of the position held by women in astronomy field: lack of their presence, lack of faculty positions opportunities open to them, and the support after employment, the encouragement from the established person to the younger generation. Because of the differences amongst the countries, especially what is expected of women in the tradition in each respective society, there is no single, universal solution. Or experimental field sometimes require muscle strength. That is why it is important for us to know the good and working examples.

Group six is the online one. By its nature, it helped greatly the participants with family or other duties that prevent them from participating in-person. The presenter listed small leadership peer support group and retreat for one-on-one meeting with coach as effective approaches. In the meantime, the wisdom tells to carefully choose the opportunities instead of everything. It is important to increase the survival ration internally. Plus, nowadays there are experienced females in the industry, outside of academia. The is larger pool of women who already have leadership experiences. The flow between the academia and industry can be helpful, not just in terms of the leadership skills, but also the knowledge of technical expertise.

How do we get there to be more equitable, inclusive, and each member feels their belongings to the workplace/community, is one question. We all should convince ourselves that we can get there if we work together is one summary.

  • Organizers (in Japanese alphabetical order of given name):
    Aya Bamba, Ayumi Asai, Saeko Hayashi, Chisato Ikuta
  • Presenters (in Alphabetical order of given name):
    Caroline Foster, Chelsea Sharon, Jimi Green, Henry Zovaro, Nazhatulshima Ahmad, Thilina Heenatigala

About Women in Astronomy

What will we talk?

Let’s learn what worked and why it worked in recruiting, retaining, promoting women, and having women in leadership

Who join in?

Anybody interested in and is willing to promote this subject
For online participation, here is a request form for connection information.



Thursday, August 10, 12:15 to 13:15 in Japan Time. OK to come in or exit anytime during this time frame.


1st floor, Convention Hall B, nickname Tsurugajo (sub-session of Session 7 on Thursday). OK to bring your lunch. This gathering is informal.