Gender Inequality and Cultural Change
By Catherine Pilachowski and Anneila Sargent
Catherine A. Pilachowski studies the chemical
composition of stars and star clusters in the
Milky Way. She served for more than 20 years
on the staff of the National Optical Astronomy
Observatory in Tucson, and now holds the
Daniel Kirkwood Chair in Astronomy at
Indiana University in Bloomington. Dr.
Pilachowski is President-elect of the American
Anneila I. Sargent is Professor of Astronomy at
the California Institute of Technology, and
Director of Caltech’s Owens Valley Radio
Observatory and the Caltech/JPL Interferometry
Science Center. Dr. Sargent’s research has concentrated
largely on understanding how stars form
in our own and other galaxies, and how extrasolar
planetary systems are created and evolve.
Dr. Sargent is the current President of the
American Astronomical Society.
A Preface to the
accompanying article by Alice Huang
CULTURAL change happens slowly. The
Committee on the Status of Women in
Astronomy was formed more than 20 years
ago, following two “decadal” studies that
summarized the status of women in our profession.
Looking back at the statistics from these studies, and
those from the proceedings of the 1992 Women in
Astronomy conference at Space Telescope Science
Institute, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that
progress is not just slow, but downright glacial. Add
to the statistics all the anecdotal reports of biased or
discriminatory behavior that we still hear today and
conditions today don’t seem very different from
those that prevailed in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.
Nevertheless, change has
occurred. Gender inequity
may still exist, but today most
people recognize it for what
it is. Professionally, it is now
unacceptable, and the problems
of an inhospitable workplace
are being addressed at all
levels. At the more personal
level, support networks have
grown out of our recognition
of the importance of working
together and thanks to
technology of the internet.
No woman need be isolated
in her own institution. We are
learning to empower ourselves.
In the accompanying
article, Alice Huang, former
Dean of Science and Professor
of Biology at New York University, and now Faculty Associate in
Biology at Caltech, discusses strategies that can
be effective in the professional arena. Most
importantly, these are not confined to advice
on coping with the workplace but describe
how women who have achieved a degree of
success in their careers can make enormous
contributions to improving conditions for
those who follow. Among the physical sciences,
astronomy stands out as having a high percentage
of women in senior or high profile positions.
There is an unusual opportunity here!
Senior women in particular have already
been helped by other women, as mentors, as
role models, or as colleagues. We all share a
responsibility to help those who come after us.
Make every effort to be a good mentor yourself.
Take advantage of your own success to
help bring more women into positions of
visibility in your own institutions and in the
broader community, as invited speakers, as
prize winners, as members of important committees.
Huang’s advice is sound and wide-ranging. We
encourage all of you to read what she has to
say and to think hard about how to incorporate
her ideas into your lives and into your careers.
Yes, change occurs slowly. But each one of
us, by taking on the responsibility for making
changes happen, can also make a difference.
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