California residents interested in a career in astronomy may be pleased to learn that the American Astronomical Society is taking steps to address sexual harassment in the field. In 2015, a professor who was found in a Title IX investigation to have sexually harassed students retired early. At the AAS annual winter conference in January, a session was held to discuss the issues around sexual harassment.
At the conference, the AAS also discussed the results of its survey on sexual harassment. It found that 44 percent of respondents reported hearing sexist comments from supervisors while 82 percent heard them from peers. In addition, 9 percent of respondents said that they had experienced physical harassment from either supervisors or colleagues.
In the past, teaching assistants and professors often had relationships with their students, and usually, the teaching assistant or professor was male and the student was female. While they sometimes went on to become long-term couples with careers in astronomy, in other cases, a relationship going bad meant the woman left the field.
Astronomy is becoming a much more equitable profession with near-parity in both conferences and with officers in AAS. The organization’s anti-harassment policy has channels for reports and investigations as well as consequences, and there are efforts to support women who experience harassment.
Like many professions, a field like astronomy depends in part on close working relationships between colleagues, and people may be uncomfortable coming forward with allegations of harassment because of how it may affect their career. Those who feel that they are experiencing sexual harassment or discrimination on the job may want to speak to an attorney about the situation in order to learn the rights that they have and the steps that should be taken.