While the number of women studying science at an undergraduate level worldwide continues to rise, work still needs to be done to formulate strategies for action to address the under representation of women in both astronomy and science beyond the student years. A recent study of astronomers in the USA (Urry, Status 2000) shows that women make up 25% of the graduate student population, 15% of the postdoctoral and assistant professor level, and just 5% of the professors within the field of astronomy. Astronomy has a high public appeal and women represent half of society’s intellectual capital, yet the average fraction of women with astronomy positions in about 10% worldwide.
Notwithstanding recent efforts to improve the status of women in astronomy (such as the Baltimore Charter), many women astronomers still feel themselves to be at a gender-based disadvantage. Networking has proved to be a very positive resource, but without a formal structure such efforts remain fragmented and too dependent upon individual initiative. Astronomy’s prime international organisation – the IAU – has recognized and assisted the needs and endeavours of women astronomer through the establishment of an Executive Committee Working Group.
The IAU Working Group for Women in Astronomy provides visibility, continuity, and the benefits of an official forum, as well as offers a public record of matters and statistics that are at present largely anecdotal. It acts as a federation of national Women in Astronomy organisations, creating links and facilitating information exchanges worldwide.
The Working Group on Women in Astronomy was formed during the XXVth IAU General Assembly in Sydney, Australia, July 2003. The role of the Working Group includes:
- monitoring the status of women in astronomy and recommending future actions that will improve the environment for all astronomers;
- liaising with committees and working groups on women in astronomy that are part of various national societies;
- be responsible for organising formal WG sessions at IAU General Assemblies;
- organise international follow-up meeting to the Baltimore and Pasadena Women in Astronomy meetings;
- plan outreach events at IAU symposia and colloquia, ensuring a high profile of women astronomers at local events;
- provide a voice for women in all countries to ensure they are well represented in the international community; and
- maintain a list of international women who are willing to be on SOCs, serve on peer review panels, and such, as well as provide lists of potential colloquium/conference speakers.
The terms of reference of the Working Group can be found here.