There’s a lot of bias in astronomy — and women of color are hurt the most

Nearly half of women of color working in astronomy have felt unsafe because of their gender, says a new study.

Researchers gave a survey to 474 astronomers and planetary scientists. The results, published today in the Journal of Geophysical Research, show that women — especially non-white women — often face a negative environment at work. Women of color felt unsafe 40 percent of the time due to gender, and 28 percent of the time due to race. In addition, 18 percent of women of color and 12 percent of white women reported that they’d skipped fieldwork, class, or professional events because they seemed unsafe. Given that these events are important for networking and career advancement, there is a real cost to being forced to opt out.

Recent years have brought more attention to sexual harassment in academia. For instance, well-known UC Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy violated sexual harassment policies for years, while a Caltech professor who harassed two women was allowed to return to campus. There have, of course, been other papers on the negative experiences of minorities in academia, including one in 2014 about the experiences of women doing field work, by Kathryn Clancy, a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois and a co-author of this new paper.

But this is one of the first to focus on women of color in science.

“We’re following the lead of women of color, who have been trying to say this for decades and haven’t been heard,” says Clancy. “It’s presumed that it’s mostly white women who are the victim, and we really wanted to make it clear that that’s simply not the case. Instead, women of color in the sciences have been missing for far too long, partly because their absolute numbers are small.”

For the study, the researchers adapted a 2011 survey conducted by the American Physical Society about the…

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