What we’re doing about diversity

We at the IAYC are committed to ensuring that the camp is accessible to all. There are many different ways in which we can monitor inclusivity, such as measuring bias within our application system, and recording information about who is and isn’t applying to the camp. In all, we work hard to keep up-to-date with recent literature and to follow best practices in the area of diversity.

Our recent paper in Nature Astronomy explored some of these issues from a historical perspective, but we identified that we need to do more. Our leaders are continuing to research this and have presented their work at various venues including ASP2020 (focusing on under-representation at the camp) and Research Notes of the AAS (focusing on how cost impacts astronomy outreach events).

Things we have done so far

Many studies have found that those who read and assess applications are often subject to unconscious bias (or implicit associations) when they have access to information such as the applicant’s name, age, gender, or nationality. Some organisations, like the Hubble Space Telescope’s Time Allocation Committee, have implemented a process called double blinding, which means that all applicants are anonymous to the assessors, and vice versa. Comparing data before and after double blinding, they found that the bias against women was significantly reduced, and as a result, for the first time ever, women were awarded proportionally more telescope time than men!

We decided to test this for ourselves; last year we blinded all applications (by name, age, and country). It was a positive experience for us and although we cannot be certain of the exact effects at this stage, people felt that they were able to assess the applications more fairly. As a result, we will continue to make all future applications anonymous when we assess them.

In terms of better understanding our audience, we gained a new insight to the historical demographic of the camp when we surveyed 300+ previous participants. The results showed that some demographics are much more common at the camp than others, for example, 85% of those surveyed are white. This has led us to wonder; is this also representative of our current demographic?

Moving forward

One way to find out is by implementing some additional — and optional — questions, allowing us to monitor several demographics while checking that we are as balanced as possible. While this is common practice in countries like the UK and USA, we realise that this might be quite strange for people from elsewhere.

Equality monitoring has come about because of several findings which show that some people are much less represented in science than others. Thus, by asking applicants for further information about themselves, it helps organisations to better understand the demographics of those applying to said activity, and see where they might be going wrong.

We, at the IAYC, have decided to take a look into this ourselves (if you’re completing an application form, you might have seen these questions already). In particular, we’re asking about ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, and educational background. No one has to answer any of the questions if they don’t want to, and all the data that we do receive is strictly anonymous and has no effect whatsoever on the outcome of anyone’s application.

With the data we obtain, will be able to monitor two key things:

  1. Who is applying to the camp? Are some demographics significantly less represented?
  2. Do we experience other biases in the application process that we were unaware of?

Following the camp, we will assess the data in order to try and answer those questions, and see how we can improve. For example, we can aim to better reach communities which are underrepresented at the camp, as we will then know who those people are. Depending on what we find in terms of our application procedure, we will do our best to improve it to ensure that we minimise our biases wherever possible.

If you’re curious where the questions come from, we have tried to model our survey on other equality monitoring questionnaires used by public organisations and universities. We have not intentionally excluded any minority groups (for example if your ethnicity is not explicitly represented). None of the questions are intended to be offensive in any way; please to get in touch at info@iayc.org if you have any further queries.