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Space Telescope Science Institute

Women at Work: A Meeting on the Status of Women in Astronomy

Held at the Space Telescope Science Institute
September 8-9, 1992

Edited by:
C. Megan Urry, Laura Danly, Lisa E. Sherbert and Shireen Gonzaga

Sponsored by the Space Telescope Science Institute, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, Maryland Space Grant Consortium, and the Computer Sciences Corporation

The Space Telescope Science Institute is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.


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Baltimore Charter and Signatories
Group Photo

A. National Perspectives B. Networking among Women Astronomers C. Outreach to the Community VI. LAST WORDS

Astronomizing at STScI -- Anne Kinney


The idea of having a meeting to discuss the situation of women in astronomy was suggested to me by Goetz Oertel, President of AURA (the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy), over breakfast at the AAS meeting in Philadelphia in January 1991. It was immediately appealing. The idea of walking into an auditorium filled with forty or fifty women astronomers seemed incredibly reassuring and strengthening, regardless of what the meeting agenda might actually be. Other women at ST ScI had a similar reaction when the conference was mentioned, so we forged ahead with the organization, feeling our way as we went, developing ideas about what we wanted to accomplish and how it could be done.

One of our first decisions was to avoid having a complaint session only, and instead to make the meeting a positive, action-oriented experience. There is great value in telling personal stories but only for those who say and hear them. We wanted to have a much wider impact. The then-Director of ST ScI, Riccardo Giacconi (now Director-General of the European Southern Observatory) suggested the meeting could produce a code of conduct governing gender issues -- we dubbed it the Baltimore Charter. We decided the Charter should state, argue and resolve the problem, powerfully and concisely. The ideas for the Charter were to come from the meeting participants themselves, who were divided into working groups and assigned a topic from our tentative Charter outline. During the conference, each group spent several hours in deep discussion, producing reports that can be seen in the Appendix. The 18 working group reports were distilled into an initial draft Charter by several members of the organizing committee with the help of Sheila Tobias, who gave a powerful talk at the meeting (also reproduced in these Proceedings). Sheila and myself, Laura Danly, and Ethan Schreier then iterated through some 40 drafts, consulting along the way with meeting participants and other interested parties. The final draft, which appears in these Proceedings, is the product of many, many people, to whom we can all be very grateful.

It is important to describe the scope of the Charter, and what it is and is not meant to be. We decided early on to focus the meeting specifically on women, in astronomy, in the United States, at the graduate level and beyond. This leaves out a lot of people and a lot of arenas, but it made a deep discussion of the issues tractable. We focussed on those who had already chosen the profession -- graduate students, post docs, and beyond -- because they had survived the early barriers and it was vital that they not be lost to the profession at such an advanced stage. While we recognize the importance of addressing the problems encountered earlier in the educational process, our sphere of influence is limited to the later stages. To the extent that we affect undergraduate majors through teaching, they too were discussed during the conference.

We felt that there were enough differences between the U.S. and other countries that including an international focus would muddy the issues relevant to our own situation. As a practical matter, we also couldn't budget for international travel. In the end, we were extremely fortunate to have some conference participants from other countries, including Canada, England, Italy, Germany, Australia, and the Soviet Union, and their perspectives were frequently enlightening.

The most problematic exclusion was that of racial minorities, who have historically been excluded from science far more extensively even than women. When we started organizing the conference, we felt that the problem of minorities in astronomy was fundamentally a different one than that of women. For example, roughly one quarter of all graduate students in astronomy are women, while the number of Native American, Hispanic, and black graduate students is painfully small. Thus, the pool of women is there while the pool of minorities is not. Enlarging this pool is of critical importance, but because our emphasis was on graduate education and beyond, we felt professional astronomers could not hope to affect the stages at which the number of minorities in science drops precipitously, usually in high school or even earlier.

In fact, the problems of women and the problems of minorities are in fact very similar. They both originate in cultural differences between the excluded and the society that defines the status quo. It should not be controversial to acknowledge that we understand better and are more comfortable with those people who are most like us. This is human nature. What we need to learn now is how to recognize and overcome such instincts, so that women AND minorities can come in through the door. That women are ahead in this process is fortunate for them; it is now crucial to apply our learned wisdom about increasing the participation of women in astronomy immediately and extensively to other minorities even more disenfranchised. Far from excluding minorities, we must work to include them faster and with more diligence.

Having said that, our meeting was not designed to discuss the situation of minorities in astronomy. While minorities were present and contributed greatly to the discussions, we had not invited speakers to address that topic. We feel it would be presumptuous and wrong to try to address this issue post facto. For this reason the Baltimore Charter is explicitly addressed to the issue of women in astronomy and does not pretend to address the issue of minorities. It is our deep hope that this choice is understood as it was meant -- as a reluctance to speak for those not fully represented or discussed -- and that similar attention to those issues, and perhaps an analog of the Baltimore Charter, follows very soon.

Similarly, we have not presumed to speak for other scientific disciplines, which have their own histories and demographics, but there is nothing in the Charter recommendations that is exclusive to astronomy. For the many other fields in which women and minorities remain underrepresented, we hope the Charter stimulates similar efforts and we look forward to collective progress toward equal participation of all in science.

Thanks to the wonderful people who attended the Women in Astronomy meeting, we now have a Charter and we have a spirit of movement and of change. This is our opportunity to affect the profession to the benefit of everyone -- men and women, majorities and minorities.

Meg Urry
Baltimore, Maryland
April 16, 1993


The workshop on Women in Astronomy would not have taken place without the help and support of a great many people. The generous sponsors of the meeting included NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, the Computer Science Corporation, and the Johns Hopkins Space Grant Consortium. We thank the Johns Hopkins University for allowing us to use their facilities.

The local organizing committee, including Laura Danly, Doug Duncan, Riccardo Giacconi, Anne Kinney, Ethan Schreier, and Meg Urry, worked hard to make the meeting as useful and productive as it could be. They were helped considerably by suggestions and advice from the external members of the organizing committee: Neta Bahcall, Peter Boyce, France Cordova, Julie Lutz, Goetz Oertel, Charlie Pellerin, and Sidney Wolf.

The meeting owed its success in large part to the effectiveness of the small discussion groups, ably led by facilitators who put in extra time preparing for the meeting. They and a platoon of volunteers from all areas of ST ScI worked very hard to see that the conference ran smoothly, and without them this meeting simply would not have happened. They took care of countless details, including dealing with registration and mailings, organizing the computers, arranging for caterers, printing and posting flyers and signs, designing the library display, organizing the poster session, handling the photos, preparing for the proceedings, taking care of the financial details, and arranging for publicity. This took a lot of their time, and we thank the management at ST ScI, division heads and branch managers, for allowing them to devote time to this meeting. The volunteers and facilitators were: Elise Albert, Vicki Balzano, Stefi Baum, Dana Berry, Mimi Bredeson, Michelle Bullock, Jennifer Christensen, Angela Clarke, Doris Daou, Dorothy Fraquelli, Nancy Fulton, Diane Gilmore, John Godfrey, Anne Gonnella, Shireen Gonzaga, Cheryl Gundy, Helen Hart, Tim Heckman, Melissa Jan, Anuradha Koratkar, Janet Krupsaw, Kip Kuntz, Krista Lawrance, Karen Lezon, James Lowenthal, Olivia Lupie, Mike Meakes, Windsor Morgan, Lauretta Nagel, Tawanta Nance, Samantha Osmer, Pete Reppert, Carmelle Robert, Maitrayee Sahi-Sharma, Cindy Taylor, Eline Tolstoy, Calvin Tullos, Fabienne van de Rydt, and Lisa Sherbert, with special notice for coordinating and handling the bulk of the work to Sheryl Falgout, Anne Gilden, Barb Jedzrejewski, Ellie Lang, and Patty Reeves.

These Proceedings were produced with the expert assistance of John Godfrey, Ron Meyers, and especially Dorothy Whitman. The professional look of this publication is owed entirely to them.

Finally, we thank the participants, whose ideas and enthusiasm provided the heart of the conference and enriched all of us. Their convictions, their personal stories, their concerns, and their hopes are our hope for a future of tolerance, sensitivity, and change.