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Center for Astrophysics Gender Equity Report

June 2007

In February 2007 the gender equity committee at the Center for Astrophysics released their
report of a 5-year study. While many institutions across the nation have carried out similar studies, this study of the CfA is particularly important for the astronomy profession since the CfA is one of the largest and most prestigious institutions of our field. Below we present the executive summary of the report.
For the full report go to http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/do/geneq/

This report summarizes the final findings and recommendations of the Center for Astrophysics (CfA) Gender Equity Committee (CGEC). The CGEC was appointed by former CfA Director Irwin Shapiro in 2002, to assess gender equity in all of the categories of CfA employment. Since 2004, CGEC activities
have been supported by Director Charles Alcock (see box). The CfA, based in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, is a combined institution composed of the Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory (SAO), the Harvard College Observatory (HCO), and the Harvard Department
of Astronomy. With an overall employee and associate base of about 950 individuals, the
CfA is one of the largest astrophysical institutions in the world.

The findings of the CGEC are based on the committee’s assessment of CfA employee
demographics, solicited and unsolicited input from employees, and three independent studies: a web
survey of the entire CfA employee population; confidential interviews of a randomly selected,
statistically representative, sample of employees; and a statistical analysis of the institutional records of the
SAO, which is the largest component of the CfA.


The CGEC finds that even though the CfA has a larger fraction of women postdocs (including
those in prestigious named post-doctoral fellowships) than in nationwide statistics, overall
the CfA lags behind the national statistics--which themselves need to improve--in the percentages
of staff and faculty women scientists, both tenured and non-tenured. At SAO, for example,
of the 22 Federal (tenured) scientists hired since 1991, there were 21 men and only one woman
(hired in 2003). Women engineers are also nearly absent from the SAO Central Engineering
Department. Women are virtually absent from the senior ranks of administrative positions, and
hold only a minority of the senior IT positions.


The CGEC study revealed a consistent woman-adverse bias at the CfA. In all areas where
a gender gap was detected (e.g., wages/salaries, space allocation, upward mobility), women were
generally in a worse position than men. The survey of allotted workspace showed that on
average women have smaller office spaces than men, a result echoing that found in gender
equity surveys in other institutions. Similarly, a woman-adverse gap is found in rank/salaries.
This gap—albeit small—would still result in significant differences in earnings over a career in
favor of men. All the discrepancies found in the study, although small, tend to disfavor women.


The analysis of publication rates and citation indices for scientists revealed gender-related
differences suggesting that women scientists, especially junior women, tend to collaborate less
than their male colleagues. Interestingly, senior women scientists, while having a slightly smaller
publication rate compared to the senior men, surpass senior male scientists in citations per
paper. A larger percentage of women scientists than men obtain external funding at SAO, but
the few large contracts are male-dominated.

This result may point to a higher level of entrepreneurship among women, but can also be
explained by a sense of isolation. Since most SAO scientists work in mid to large size projects, if
male scientists feel part of the team (and women do not), they are less motivated than women to
apply for funding.


The web survey and interviews confirmed symptoms of gender imbalance in the perceptions
of CfA employees. In particular, concerns were expressed about the lack of upward mobility for
women, unwritten rules favoring male employees, lack of adequate mentoring, unfriendly culture
and male cliques, lack of management training for SAO supervisors, the SAO performance
evaluation process, and the need for more familyfriendly procedures at the institution.


A detailed set of recommendations to move the CfA towards gender equality is given in
Sections 1.2 through 1.5.

The CGEC feels strongly that a leadership and institutional commitment to gender equity
in the CfA workplace is paramount. Without an explicit commitment to these goals by the
Director, gender equity will languish. If we are serious about gender equity, we will need to
re-think how we hire, reward, and promote CfA employees; and how we attract and further the
career development of high-quality individuals. We recommend that the CfA Director establish an
independent mechanism to monitor equity.
This could be achieved by creating a small standing
committee chaired by a senior staff member of the CfA, which includes both science and
non-science representatives. We also recommend that the Director, in conjunction with this
independent equity committee, establish a system of incentives towards achieving equity.

Noting the difficulty in obtaining institutional data for the Gender Equity study, the CGEC recommends that
the CfA Director institute the means for pursuing an ongoing longitudinal monitoring of the entire CfA population, to compare the career trajectories of different groups at the CfA and to investigate the issue of the
disproportionately small number of women in high level positions; and that these statistics should
be provided annually to the equity monitoring committee. We further recommend that the
longitudinal record study be used to monitor other aspects of equity such as race, ethnic biases,
and disabilities; and that for each new position, statistics should be provided annually to the equity monitoring committee on the gender of the applicants, and the gender fraction at each step of the hiring process. We
recommend that full longitudinal studies (similar to those conducted by the CGEC), be performed
at 3 year intervals to provide reports for the CfA Visiting Committee.


The CGEC recommends that the CfA take steps to redress the gender biases uncovered in the
present study, and that as steps to accomplish this the Director ensure that women are members of
all the CfA governing bodies and all committees, including promotion and hiring committees; the
CfA address the issue of lack of upward mobility for women employees; and the CfA develop
formal mentoring programs.


In the course of our investigations, a broader range of issues than gender equity surfaced.
The CGEC recommends that the CfA improve communications and existing processes. In
particular, we recommend that the CfA set up effective information sources and communication
paths for job-related issues that may affect gender equity; that SAO enforce training for
supervisors; that the CfA revise the performance evaluation process; and that the CfA review its
Ombudsperson and EEOC counselor programs.

In addition, the CGEC recommends that the CfA improve its social and working environment,
by addressing and changing the present unfriendly culture for all women, and taking steps to
facilitate family care processes for employees. Focusing on scientists, the CGEC recommends
that SAO and Harvard both strive to achieve gender equity among scientists and faculty;
that future CfA Gender Equity studies include graduate students and post-doctoral fellows;
and that Gender Balance be a consideration in the choice of speakers and chair-persons at
CfA colloquia. Focusing on the technical staff, the CGEC recommends that SAO address the
paucity of women in Central Engineering, and the scarcity of women in IT positions at the
higher grades.


Focusing on the administrative and support staff, the CGEC recommends that SAO address
the scarcity of women in senior administrative positions, and that all scientists, men and women,
be made aware of the necessity to engage in respectful behavior in their interactions with
administrative and support staff.

 

From the Director

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the CfA Gender Equity Report. This report
is the result of a sustained effort over many years. It was commissioned by my predecessor,
Irwin Shapiro, and completed only recently. The committee worked tirelessly, often dealing
with frustrating difficulties with access to data, but has managed to produce a compelling
report with many useful recommendations.

We take this report very seriously, and I personally am committed to making progress
on the key recommendations. The record of successful recruitment of women scientists into
permanent positions is troubling. There are indications that our culture can be unfriendly,
which may adversely impact recruiting. It will take time to make significant changes, but we
will not tarry in starting to make improvements.

The CfA Gender Equity Committee was led by Dr. Giuseppina (Pepi) Fabbiano. Dr.
Fabbiano has presented the report and its conclusion to the Council of the Smithsonian
Astrophysical Observatory, and will shortly present it to the Associate Directors. There will
also be a discussion with the Harvard Astronomy faculty. We will initiate steps to ensure that
this report has sustained impact.

Charles Alcock
Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

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