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Studying Gender in Conference Talks - data from the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society

Davenport, James; Fouesneau, Morgan; Grand, Erin; Hagen, Alex; Poppenhaeger, Katja; Watkins, Laura

We present a study on the gender balance, in speakers and attendees, at the recent major astronomical conference, the American Astronomical Society meeting 223, in Washington, DC. We conducted an informal survey, yielding over 300 responses by volunteers at the meeting. Each response included gender data about a single talk given at the meeting, recording the gender of the speaker and all question-askers. In total, 225 individual AAS talks were sampled. We analyze basic statistical properties of this sample. We find that the gender ratio of the speakers closely matched the gender ratio of the conference attendees. The audience asked an average of 2.8 questions per talk. Talks given by women had a slightly higher number of questions asked (3.2±0.2) than talks given by men (2.6±0.1). The most significant result from this study is that while the gender ratio of speakers very closely mirrors that of conference attendees, women are under-represented in the question-asker category. We interpret this to be an age-effect, as senior scientists may be more likely to ask questions, and are more commonly men. A strong dependence on the gender of session chairs is found, whereby women ask disproportionately fewer questions in sessions chaired by men. While our results point to laudable progress in gender-balanced speaker selection, we believe future surveys of this kind would help ensure that collaboration at such meetings is as inclusive as possible.

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