Last night I went to dinner with a few women faculty and one of my young male graduate students who were attending the TAUP2017 conference with me in Sudbury, Canada. I made the comment to my student that he is sort of getting a glimpse of my professional life as a women physicist. However, instead of me being the only women at a table of old white men, he was the only young man at a table of old white women. To which one of my colleagues pointed out she was not old — I pointed out that compared to my graduate student she was.
This morning, the third day of the conference I was listening to one of my colleagues talk about the current status of long baseline neutrino experiments and I found my mind wondering to the dinner conversation the night before. I then realized that up to this point, I had seen only ONE female plenary physics speaker and we were on day 3 of the conference! I quickly thumbed through my program and did a quick calculation. By my count only 16% of plenary speakers at the major conference in my field would be women.
At the coffee break I pointed this out to a few colleagues. It didn’t seem to really phase them and they seemed to brush it off. I’m not naive, I know finding qualified women can be hard. There are only so many and they can bee oversubscribed, but lets look at some numbers in my field.
If I looked at the numbers, the most recent survey of women faculty I can find comes from AIP in 2010 where 14% of physics department faculty are reported as being women <https://www.aip.org/statistics/reports/women-among-physics-astronomy-faculty>. However, I hope that by 2017 we are doing better than that.
So, maybe it is better to do take a look of the breakdown at this conference. Doing a rough analysis of the percent of women at the conference based on the names of the first authors on submissions for posters and presentations, it appears the attendees at the conference are composed of 25% women. So, it seems to me, aiming to have 25% women represented in the plenary session as presenters and as session chairs would be a good goal to set.
When these goals can not be met, I think a good strategy is to arrange the agenda in such a way that early on in the conference the under represented group doesn’t appear to be quite so under represented.