ASTRO 3D, the Australian Research Council Centre for All Sky Astrophysics in 3 Dimensions, has reached gender parity in astronomy within just five years. 

The accomplishment is highlighted in a paper published in Nature Astronomy, revealing how the centre utilised evidence-based strategies rooted in sociology and psychology to establish equal representation of women and men in the field.

“Our success offers a model to other organisations, especially in the physical sciences where participation rates for women continue to be well behind the biological sciences, and where gender equality has remained stubbornly low,” says Professor Emma Ryan-Weber, the current Director of ASTRO 3D.

Professor Emma Ryan-Weber, the current Director of ASTRO 3D, says that the achievement provides diverse role models for the next generation, encouraging students to pursue maths and physics, opening up career opportunities across the physical sciences and technical industries.

Despite astronomy being considered a leader in gender equity within the physical sciences, the need for improvement was recognised when ASTRO 3D was established in 2017. 

“I looked at the numbers and realised that on current trends it would take more than 60 years to reach gender parity,” says Professor Kewley.

The program implemented between December 2017 and January 2023 successfully elevated the centre's female representation from 38 per cent to 50 per cent.

Key steps in the program included setting diversity targets, selecting diverse team leaders, providing in-person diversity training, and ensuring equal representation of women on postdoctoral selection committees and short-lists. 

The program's success was also attributed to diverse leadership, as teams led by women recruited and retained more women researchers.

The tipping point for the program occurred when 40 per cent of the organisation's supervisors were women, leading to accelerated student enrollments by women without compromising the overall growth of the membership.

Importantly, ASTRO 3D focused on retaining women by implementing policies such as leadership development, promoting work-life balance, partner recruitment, and establishing pathways for reporting misconduct. 

Retention rates for women exceeded those of men across all categories, indicating the critical role of women supervisors and role models in attracting and keeping women in the field.