Australia: Hire and support minority astronomers or risk being left behind

Photo credit: Pixabay/Comfreak

Australia’s astronomy sector is investing in diversity and inclusion but so far, efforts have focused primarily on women.

In a new paper published in Nature Astronomy Professor Lisa Kewley, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics says institutions must also look to hire more LGBTQ, indigenous, and disabled astronomers or risk falling behind the rest of the world.

“Studies show that increased diversity up to the highest levels of organizations, and effective diversity management, leads to organizations outperforming their competition in innovation, productivity and profit because more ideas are produced,” Kewey says.

“These might be ideas for new experiments, products, or new ways to become more efficient or profitable.”

A 10-year plan by the Australian Academy of Science to close the gender gap has proposed several retention initiatives, including the introduction of part-time options, support to return to astronomy research after career breaks, and increases in the fraction of permanent positions relative to fixed-term contracts. The aim is to have 33 per cent of Australia’s astronomy workforce be comprised of women by 2025.

Kewley says the initiative is evidence of a “dramatic change” in Australian astronomy culture, with diversity and inclusion improving across the sector.

What began as a focus to retain and promote women appears to be evolving into broader inclusion policies, with “many” astronomy departments actively recruiting indigenous, LGBTQ, disabled, and chronically ill scientists.

“It is reasonable to infer that greater levels of diversity in astronomy organizations will also produce a greater likelihood of outperforming competition in astronomy key performance measures in major discoveries and advances,” Kewey says.

Read the full paper here.



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