Survey finds bullying and harassment systemic in astronomy and geophysics

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Results from a new survey of astronomers and geophysicists show that these sciences have a systemic bullying problem; one that is disproportionately worse for women and those from minority groups. In a survey carried out by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) last year of over 650 people in the field, 44% of respondents had suffered bullying and harassment in the workplace within the preceding 12 months. Aine O’Brien, RAS Diversity Officer, will present the key results in a talk at the virtual National Astronomy Meeting on Thursday 22 July.

Key initial findings show:

Disabled, and Black and minority ethnic astronomers and geophysicists are 40% more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled and White colleagues respectively.

Women and non-binary people in the field are 50% more likely than men to be bullied and harassed.

50% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer astronomers and geophysicists were bullied in the last 12 months, and 12% of bisexual astronomers reported being bullied at least once a week.

The RAS Committee on Diversity in Astronomy and Geophysics commissioned the survey, and O’Brien and Dr Sheila Kanani, the Royal Astronomical Society Education, Outreach and Diversity Officer, carried out the survey for the Society and analysed its findings.

O’Brien said: “This is the first time data like these have been collected in our field. It’s bleak, sadly somewhat unsurprising, but is unequivocal evidence to show we need to improve the workplace culture in academia. We have a well-reported diversity problem in STEM and this does nothing to help. Women and minorities are feeling pushed out.”

Professor Emma Bunce, RAS President said: “The results from the survey are very concerning indeed, and we must act to change this unacceptable situation. The RAS is doing important work to uncover these facts, and we are committed to working alongside the community to urgently improve the environment in astronomy and geophysics”

Dr Natasha Stephen, Chair of the RAS Committee for Diversity in Astronomy & Geophysics (CDAG), said: “Our RAS community is increasingly diverse, yet far from equitable. This survey highlights the disparity in lived experience across our global community, and paints a worrying picture of the way in which those from marginalised communities are often treated. We acknowledge that these largely intersectional issues cannot be solved overnight, but CDAG will work with RAS fellows and the wider field to understand and tackle these systemic problems.”

The data were collected as part of a wider survey covering experiences of suffering and witnessing bullying and harassment, as well as workplace culture, in astronomy and geophysics. The full survey results will be published by the RAS later this summer.

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Science contacts

Aine O’Brien

Diversity Officer

Royal Astronomical Society

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Dr Natasha Stephen

Chair, RAS Committee for Diversity in Astronomy & Geophysics

[email protected]

Notes for editors

About the National Astronomy Meeting

The Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2021) will take place online from 19 – 23 July 2021. Bringing together around 800 astronomers and space scientists, the conference is the largest annual professional astronomy and space science event in the UK, and sees leading researchers from around the world presenting their latest work.

NAM 2021 incorporates the annual meetings of the Magnetosphere Ionosphere Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) and UK Solar Physics (UKSP) groups. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the University of Bath.

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About the Royal Astronomical Society

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognises outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4,000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

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The Science and Technology Facilities Council is part of UK Research and Innovation – the UK body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. STFC funds and supports research in particle and nuclear physics, astronomy, gravitational research and astrophysics, and space science and also operates a network of five national laboratories as well as supporting UK research at a number of international research facilities including CERN, FERMILAB and the ESO telescopes in Chile. STFC is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.

STFC’s Astronomy and Space Science programme provides support for a wide range of facilities, research groups and individuals in order to investigate some of the highest priority questions in astrophysics, cosmology and solar system science. STFC’s astronomy and space science programme is delivered through grant funding for research activities, and also through support of technical activities at STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre and RAL Space at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. STFC also supports UK astronomy through the international European Southern Observatory.

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