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Conferences and Invited Speakers

September 21, 2012

A couple of us were having a (virtual) conversation about recent conferences and workshops we’ve attended that don’t seem to have many invited female speakers. You might think that the proportion of female scientists in the field would be reflected in the number of female speakers, contributed and invited.

The representation of female invited speakers in astronomy was collected and analyzed by the AAS Committee on the Status of Women, showing that there’s wide variation. It seems like the average is pretty well on the average composition of women in the field, but underrepresentation is common. Yes, it’s true that in several, overrepresentation was also observed. But an all-male slate of speakers is not normal. To put it another way, don’t you think there would be a lot of comments if 80% of the invited speakers were female?

Now, of course lots of subdisciplines may have different gender mixes, and it’s hard for many people to attend small or international workshops so sometimes you just take who you can get. One planetary workshop this summer had a really glaring lack of female speakers. One attendee questioned an organizer and was told that several other women were invited but declined. So it’s not always a perfect world.

But, when you see something, say something. Some tips the AAS page offers include:

  • When you are on scientific organizing committees for meetings, please pay attention to diversity when selecting speakers.
  • Project Scientists sponsoring meetings or conferences should also pay attention!
  • Do not be afraid to speak up if you see unconscious bias creeping in!

I know of another case this summer, where an attendee did see a lack of female session chairs and invited speakers, and brought it to the attention of the organizers, and felt that her concerns were dismissed. I know it’s discouraging (been there myself) but even just telling others at the workshop or conference helps raise awareness and hopefully pulls everyone in the right direction. 

What are your views? Does seeing few female session chairs or invited speakers color your experience at a conference or a workshop? If you’ve ever spoken up about it, how have you felt your concerns have been heard? Any tips?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. sutari permalink
    September 25, 2012 10:34 am

    I assume the study took age into consideration too? It is fine to say the field is 50/50. But if invited speakers are all “senior career” and the field in that demographic isn’t 50/50, then maybe it is a problem that will resolve with time.

    That said, we should be vigilant about ALL diversity. How about race?

    • barbylon permalink*
      September 26, 2012 7:56 am

      I don’t think it took age into account. But the number of astronomy & planetary scientists entering the field has been constant for many years now, and trickle-up isn’t happening. That’s an entirely different conversation🙂

    • September 27, 2012 1:54 pm

      To piggy-back off of Sutari’s comment, we should also think about ethnic diversity of female scientists as well when it comes to topics such as these.Even workshops/meetings that tend to promote women in science sometimes seem to do a passive job of recruiting African American, Asian, Latina, and Native American female scientists. To me, that does not send an inclusive message to women of color who are pursuing scientific careers.

  2. September 24, 2012 2:37 am

    i want to talk participate.my contact no.09835845267

  3. DrDoyenne permalink
    September 23, 2012 12:38 pm

    The most recent conference I attended had a series of plenary speakers (one each day of the meeting)….who were all male. Several of us pointed out to the organizers that this was disappointing, especially considering that our society has a female membership around 50% (maybe even higher).

    They didn’t really have an excuse, and I suspected that the organizers (mostly male) just didn’t think about it. I doubt they consciously selected an all-male line-up and just simply picked who they thought would be good speakers. The person I talked to said they were sorry we were disappointed, but did not really offer any assurances that they would do things differently in the future.

    In discussing this with the other women attendees who were concerned, we decided that the best solution was to make sure the organizing committees for future conferences had a representative percentage of females, at least a few of whom are aware of the importance of diversity (not all think there is a problem). I think this is probably the most effective way to break this cycle. Also, it’s usually easy for women to get on these organizing committees because of the thankless work involved, and societies are usually desperate for volunteers.

    Once on such a committee, you can suggest a female speaker for every male suggested by someone else….and explain why greater diversity is important to your science society when the female suggestions are challenged.

    Once people become accustomed to seeing equal representation by both genders (or more reflective of the society make-up), then the all male line-up will seem anomalous and generate more widespread criticism. At least it seems to me that people become accustomed to seeing these all-white, male-dominated panels, speaker line-ups, etc. and are just blind to the fact that it is not representative of the population.

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