Sky & Telescope - December 2020 - 84

FOCAL POINT by Dara Norman

Time
to Get
Serious
To truly bolster diversity and
inclusion in astronomy, leaders
need to require and incentivize
the removal of barriers.
an update to my 2010 Focal Point,
"Expanding Diversity in Professional
Astronomy" (S&T: Feb. 2010, p. 86),
I was curious to remind myself where
my thinking was back then. Ten years
allows for quite a bit of growth (and
cynicism) in a person's life.
At the time, my opinion piece
induced some to claim it was preposterous to think that a lack of diversity, due
to an absence of minority perspectives,
could have any effect on the quantity
or quality of science that teams could
accomplish. But studies have since
demonstrated how more diverse teams
outperform homogeneous groups at
various endeavors (see, e.g., https://
is.gd/diversityparadox).
Unfortunately, the hope that the
field would embrace the logical and
ethical reasons for improving racial and
ethnic diversity in astronomy in the
years following the publication of the
National Research Council's Astro2010
decadal survey appears to have been no
match for institutional impotence and
structural inertia. Thus, what is valued
as part of scientific merit in our culture
has not significantly evolved. Further,
the lack of meaningful guidance in the
Astro2010 report on issues of workforce
diversity and inclusion left interested
astronomers without fundable mandates to address these challenges.
Some progress has been made. Individual scientists and departments have
taken up grassroots efforts to tackle
84

DECEMBER 2 02 0 * SK Y & TELESCOPE

a few broad issues in the field's
scientific culture. Spurred on by
the 2015 Inclusive Astronomy
meeting (see, e.g., https://
is.gd/inclusiveastronomy),
some initiatives have begun to
gain traction, including those focused
on removing barriers to access, creating
inclusive climates and practices, and
improving access to policy, power, and
leadership.
These actions have led to results:
the widening of diversity conversations
beyond a narrow exchange that favored
mostly white women; reconsideration
of the heavy use of the GRE test in
graduate admissions - demonstrative
of excluding underrepresented minorities - toward a more holistic view of
graduate admissions candidates; broader
discussion of diversity and inclusion
topics within research collaborations
and at scientific conferences and workshops, including as invited talks and
presentations; and calls for wider access
to astronomical resources and data.
But while these are all worthy
accomplishments, especially in the
absence of high-level leadership, they
have done little to expand diversity in
our professional ranks. According to the
American Institute of Physics, while the
total number of physics and astronomy
professors increased from 2008 to 2016
(the last year for which numbers are
available), the number of Black and Hispanic professors remained at the same
tiny percentage of the academic work-

force: about 0.2% and 0.4%,
respectively. Even in 2020, I
am often the only Black scientist
at a conference, on an advisory
panel, and in my workplace.
Without policies that incentivize and require prioritization of these
concerns, the work needed to change
them across the culture won't get done.
The efforts described above will continue to progress only in rare, enlightened realms and will not become part
of how we do science, or how we include
and retain an ethnically and racially
diverse set of talent in our workforce.
My 2010 piece focused on pipeline
concerns of bringing minority students
into the field, but in the years since
I recognize that, as with the larger
society, the structural and institutional
barriers to increasing the numbers of
minority professionals in the field cannot be dealt with by simply recruiting
more students. We can only remove
such barriers by demanding their
demise and rewarding actions that
bring our field to a place that has better
values, traditions, and norms.
As we look to the Decadal Survey
on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020
report, due next year, let's commit to
doing better - now.
„ DARA NORMAN is an astronomer
and deputy director of the Community
Science and Data Center at the National
Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research
Laboratory (NOIRLab) in Tucson, AZ.

LE A H TISCIONE / S&T

WHEN I WAS ASKED TO WRITE


https://www.is.gd/inclusiveastronomy https://www.is.gd/inclusiveastronomy https://www.is.gd/diversityparadox https://www.is.gd/diversityparadox

Sky & Telescope - December 2020

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