Conferences and Invited Speakers
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?