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Modelling shows urgent need to revamp hiring and working conditions for astronomers

Modelling shows urgent need to revamp hiring and working conditions for astronomers

Professor Lisa Kewley

Full article issued by the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions (ASTRO 3D).

New analysis published by ARC Laureate Fellow, Professor Lisa Kewley, shows that it will take until at least 2080 before women make up just one-third of Australia’s professional astronomers.

'Astronomers have been leaders in gender equity initiatives, but our programs are not working fast enough,' says Professor Kewley, who is director of ASTRO 3D and based at The Australian National University’s Research School for Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Professor Kewley developed workforce-forward modelling that can predict the fraction of women at all levels in astronomy from 2021 to 2060, given different initiatives in hiring or retention. The models show that Australia’s university leadership need to adopt 50:50 or affirmative action hiring and introduce exit surveys and retention initiatives.

'With these initiatives, we can reach one-third women in 11 years, growing to 50% in 25,' says Professor Kewley.

'The gender gap in astronomy is not unique to Australia. This is a worldwide issue, particularly at senior levels. The fraction of women in senior astronomy positions in the US, Germany, Canada, Australia, China and the UK has sat at 20% or less for decades – even though women earn about 40% of the PhDs in the field.'

Professor Kewley says that female astronomers leave the industry two to three times more frequently than their male counterparts. Those who remain find advancement challenging due to a lack of senior role models at universities, and because they are often overlooked for invited seminars, grants, awards, and all-important telescope time.

Some institutions have also introduced hiring practices designed to attract and retain women. ASTRO 3D and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) have hiring ratios of 50:50. You can read more about Professor Kewley's work in the feature article ARC Laureate spearheading change for women in astronomy.


Professor Lisa Kewley. Image Credit: ASTRO 3D.

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