The first CASCA Climate Survey: A snapshot of our community’s shared experience

By / par Brenda Matthews (NRC/U Victoria) & Kristine Spekkens (RMC/Queen’s U)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2018)


In late 2017, the Equity and Inclusivity Committee (EIC) of CASCA executed the first climate survey of its membership. This survey was modeled after surveys done by the AAS DPS (Division of Planetary Sciences) and others, and was over one year in design. The goal of the survey was to better understand the experiences of the CASCA membership to guide the CASCA Board in future decisions.

The design of the survey conformed to Canadian legal constraints in that it requested some specific personal information (though not names or other such identifiers) from respondents. It is legally problematic to request racial or similar information on a survey in Canada, so these demographic specifics were not requested.

An initial presentation of some of the survey results was done via a poster presentation at the 2018 CASCA meeting in Victoria. Here, we summarize those results and augment with additional information from the survey responses, particularly regarding harassment across a broader range of parameters than gender, which was emphasized in the CASCA 2018 poster.

Figure 1. Career stage and gender of respondents to the climate survey.

Survey Distribution and Response

The survey was distributed via the CASCA exploder with a month given to receive responses. In all, 152 members provided useable responses to the survey. Figure 1 shows the breakdown of career level and gender of respondents. Comparing to recently compiled demographics of the CASCA community, about a third of CASCA members responded in all three career stage categories of CASCA membership (Student, Postdoctoral Fellow and Ordinary, i.e., faculty level). The lowest response rate was from students (25%). The fraction of women who responded to the climate survey is comparable to that within the CASCA membership for PDFs and students, but women disproportionally responded relative to men among Ordinary members (i.e., women comprise 21% of Ordinary CASCA members, but 35% of the Ordinary level respondents to the climate survey were women). Notwithstanding these statistics, one must keep in mind that respondents to the climate survey likely don’t represent a random subsample of CASCA members.

Key goals of the survey were to poll members’ feelings of safety in their work environment and understand their experiences with regard to negative interactions in the workplace. We note here that while we did preface the survey with a request to comment on events from the past 5 years only, it is clear from the comments that many respondents instead provided a summary of their work life experience. This does not negate our ability to achieve our goal of understanding the experiences of our members in their academic life, but it does mean that events included in their responses may or may not be recent.

Reported Incidents of Harassment or Sexual Harassment

In all, 75% of women respondents and 25% of men respondents reported a significant negative incident of some kind in their work life.

Figure 2. Experiences of the survey respondents. For the 45% of the respondents who reported a serious incident of harassment or sexual harassment, the breakdown by women and men is shown here. Cisgender and transgender have been combined in this histogram. Men are shown in blue; women are in green.

Figure 2 summarizes the reported incidents as a sex-disaggregated distribution (we have included results for all women – cisgender and transgender, and results for all men – cisgender and transgender, combined). A very significant number of respondents (45%) experienced at least one serious negative interaction during their careers. All incidents of physical and sexual assault, though few, were reported by women; 15% of women respondents reported experiencing uncomfortable/inappropriate touching while over 20% of women respondents reported experiencing requests for “dates” or other inappropriate personal interactions during their work life.

Both men and women reported incidents of sexual harassment, staring or comments on appearance, invasion of personal space, sexual/gendered communication and “harassment of some sort” (as distinguished from sexual harassment – we include the definitions of both that were provided with the survey below in an Appendix). Only in the latter category was the rate of reporting higher for male respondents than for female respondents.

Figure 3. Responses regarding experiences of negative comments based on queried categories from peers versus supervisors.

Interactions with Peers and Supervisors

The responses suggest that our members are more cautious and inclusive in their actions with those who they supervise than they are with their peers. The survey requested information about the frequency with which respondents heard negative comments or experienced or witnessed harassment related to several categories (religion or lack of religion; gender; gender identity; mental disability; physical disability; race and ethnicity). The optional answers were “Never; Rarely; Sometimes; Often”. Figure 3 summarizes these responses. In all categories, the incidents of negative comments in interactions with peers greatly exceeded those with supervisors. We note however, that the category in which the most incidents of negative comments were reported (responses of “Rarely”, “Sometimes” and “Often” were all taken as positive responses) was race, and this was the highest reported fraction for interactions with supervisors by far.

Figure 4. Percentage rates of personally experienced harassment (blue) and witnessed harassment (orange).

When asked about personally experiencing or witnessing “harassment” which takes different forms than just negative comments passed about an individual or group, the highest rate of experienced harassment was reported as gender-based (see Figure 4). Over 60% of respondents reported witnessing gender-based harassment, while the number who reported experiencing it personally was approximately half that. The rate of respondents who reported harassment due to gender was 32% (8% of men and 61% of women) while 62% of respondents (50% of men and 77% of women) reported witnessing harassment based on gender.

We note that only the race category produced results in which the rate of personally experiencing harassment exceeded the reported witnessing of such harassment.

Figure 5. The majority of respondents feel safe in their workplace.

Health of the Community in Equity and Gender Issues

The survey suggests that members feel a stronger sense of equity and inclusivity in their own institutions than they do at CASCA meetings. Figure 5 shows the responses to a query about feeling unsafe in their place of work; it is clear that the very strong majority of respondents feel secure in their workplace, while just 14% of respondents felt unsafe or were unsure about their feelings of safety.

When respondents were polled about the degree to which the astronomical community is healthy with respect to equity and gender issues in their own workplaces and at CASCA meetings, respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their environment was healthy in their workplaces at rates between 60% and 70%, but at CASCA meetings, they agreed or strongly agreed at rates of just 50%. This lower response rate regarding the health of the environment at CASCA meetings is compounded by the fact that respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they knew how to report harassment at their place of work at the 75% level, whereas they knew how to report issues of harassment at CASCA events at only the 40% level.

Equity Initiatives

At the end of the climate survey, we asked respondents several questions about future initiatives related to equity and harassment. A majority (~92%) felt that efforts to improve equity and halt harassment should be continued or augmented by CASCA. Very few (4%) felt CASCA should do less.

The last questions of the climate survey introduced the ATHENA Swan UK (UK) and SAGE (Australia) programs of accreditation to encourage and reward strong equity and inclusivity performers and the Pleiades awards program from Australia. Respondents were asked whether or not CASCA should endorse and work towards implementation of such programs.

The positive response rates to the Athena SWAN/SAGE model and the Pleiades awards were both ~55%. Most respondents (85%) who said yes to either Athena SWAN/SAGE or the Pleiades awards model said yes to both; i.e., respondents either supported both ideas or neither. The fraction of positive responses did not depend on academic level to within a few percent. By gender, the fraction of positive responses from men was lower (~50%) than the fraction of positive responses from women (~70%) and these fractions didn’t vary significantly with career stage.

The number of respondents who were ambivalent or not sure about these awards and incentives programs exceeded the number who were against them, by a factor of 4 for the Pleiades awards and a factor of 2 for Athena SWAN/SAGE.

Future Plans

The climate survey has yielded a very rich dataset. This article has presented some of the broad results of the survey. A much more detailed analysis of the data will be reported to the CASCA Board. This report will be useful in understanding past experiences of the members and inform future initiatives, including adoption of accreditation programs, award programs designed to increase equity and inclusivity and mentoring programs.

Appendix: Definitions used in the Climate Survey

Equity is the principle of fairness and impartiality toward all. Equity implies giving as much advantage, consideration or latitude to one party as is given to another.

Harassment is conduct that includes, but is not limited to, the following: epithets, slurs, or negative stereotyping; threatening, intimidating or hostile acts; denigrating jokes and display or circulation of written or graphic material that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group. In the case of academia, persons in authority must again be cautious about using intimidating or aggressive behaviour since those they supervise are dependent on them into the future for job prospects and be reluctant to confront harassers. Harassment is different than bullying in that harassment is a form of discrimination.

Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. More specificially, sexual harassment is words or actions that are: unwanted; directed at you; based on your sex, sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity, and harmful or damaging in some way. Sexual harassers either know or ought to know their behaviour is unwelcome because it would be judged to be so by any reasonable person. Individuals must use discretion to ensure that their words and actions communicate respect for others. This is especially important for those in positions of authority since individuals with lower rank or status may be reluctant to express their objections or discomfort regarding unwelcome behaviour.

President’s Report

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2018)

Dear CASCA members,

As you’ve no doubt seen, it’s been a busy few months for CASCA on many different fronts! Firstly, I want to thank James Di Francesco, Jennifer West and Susan Di Francesco for their extensive work on not only changing over our hosting servers, but also working to improve our membership tracking and payment routines. While there have been a few small teething problems, I’m pleased to say the switch over is now complete. For a number of reasons our server hosting arrangement had to change, but the biggest step forward is we now have (voluntarily provided) demographic data on our membership that can be used as part of LRP2020, and for other reporting mechanisms. If you happen to see James or Jennifer please join me in passing on your thanks for their work!

The CASCA Board has also moved to holding meetings on a monthly basis rather than quarterly as was the tradition for many years. Our hope is that this will help speed-up actioning important issues. As many of you can no doubt guess, the struggle with administering CASCA as an organization is the comparatively uneven nature of the workload over the year, with some periods of intense activity and other periods of comparative calm. Thus far, I’m pleased to say that moving to monthly meetings seems to be helping on a number of fronts.

I’ve received a few requests over the past few months for CASCA to move towards a more project and process-oriented framework, reflecting its growth in size to the over 500 members that we have now. The short answer is: we’re moving in that direction. However, I’d like to re-emphasize that CASCA is largely a volunteer organization with many very busy members and there are limits to what can be achieved within an organization of this nature. As always, I pass on my most sincere thanks to all members and staff of CASCA for their efforts in helping the Society operate and continuing to move our goals forward. We simply can’t function without your efforts!

I would also like to note two non-CASCA items. Firstly, the appointment of Sarah Gallagher to the Science Advisor position within the Canadian Space Agency. This is an enormous step forward for science advice in Canada. I would – somewhat cheekily – ask you all to be nice to Sarah and not flood her with advice on what she needs to do! More seriously, I’m really looking forward to working with Sarah in her new capacity and if recently released recommendations from the Standing Committee on Finance are any indication, policy is moving in the right direction. Secondly, I’d like to mention the appointment of Luc Simard as the new Director General of Herzberg. Having worked with Luc over the years I am sure he will throw himself wholeheartedly into this role and bring his trademark energy and expertise – Herzberg is in great hands moving forward! Plus, I also have to thank Greg Fahlman not only for his many years of service that were recognized with the Executive Award this year, but also for him continuing to support Herzberg in a consultant capacity. Combined with the newly reformed Herzberg Advisory Board I’m looking forward to the connection between Herzberg and the wider Canadian astronomy community going from strength to strength. It is a key part of our community’s success!

2019 AGM and Beyond

Plans for the meeting in Montreal are moving ahead well and CASCA Vice President Sara Ellison is in regular contact with the LOC spearheaded by Daryl Haggard & Nick Cowan as Co-Chairs. I’m looking forward to an exciting and vibrant meeting in June (17th-21st)! Sara is also keen to start pinning down potential locations for CASCA 2021 and 2022. Having co organized an AGM myself, I’d say there are considerable advantages to volunteering to host early, so if your department has some interest in hosting in either of those years, please help make Sara’s job easier and send her an email!


LRP2020 has been consuming a fair amount of time, both for myself and the CASCA Board, over the past few months. I’m pleased to say that the Co-Chairs of LRP2020 are set and hopefully by the time this newsletter is released we will have made an announcement through the exploder. The decision to use Co-Chairs in LRP2020 mirrors the US Astro2020 announcement of Fiona Harrison and Rob Kennicutt as their Co-Chairs, although both decisions to use this structure were formed independently.

Setting up the appropriate framework for LRP2020 is a surprisingly delicate task. We’ve learned much from previous LRPs and I know a few people would like to see a more structured document with different funding scenarios and strategies associated with those scenarios. I’m sympathetic to that idea, but there are challenges in Canada that make that approach difficult. Firstly, the LRP has no official status within Government although we are very pleased that the NRC continues to use it to set the roadmap of priorities for HAA, and the agencies pay close attention to its recommendations. Secondly, we do not have resources available for detailed costing efforts. Budgets are always a challenging part of our LRP. Lastly, following LRP2010 we put the LRP Implementation Committee in place to handle issues arising post-release. My own view is this has been an effective strategy, although perhaps the name “Implementation Committee” is somewhat misleading since the committee has no mandate to implement anything, it can only recommend.

The above issues, and a number of others, have been carefully considered during the preparation of the Terms of Reference for LRP2020. After consultation with the Co-Chairs we have kept a similar form to LRP2010, that the essence of the LRP is a review followed by a prioritization exercise, but with updates to account for some key changes. The revised version is currently being reviewed by the CASCA Board and once that is complete our announcement of the Co-Chairs along with the Terms of Reference will be made. Time-wise the final release date is planned for late 2020, a few months after Astro2020.

Some of you may not be aware that the overall cost of producing the LRP runs into the six-figure range once teaching buyouts, travel and report preparation are included. I am pleased to thank ACURA for again being prepared to support the LRP with a pair of teaching buyouts. These buyouts are a vital part of helping the Co-Chairs give their utmost to the process. I am also pleased to say that I have had preliminary discussions with the NRC, NSERC, and CSA about support for LRP2020 and I am completely confident that we will receive the necessary support again.

Coalition Activities

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has been very active over the past few months as well. As always, I’d like to thank the Coalition Co-Chairs, Don Brooks (ACURA) and Guy Nelson (Empire Dynamic Structures) for their continued commitment to moving Canadian astronomy forward, and our consultant Duncan Rayner for his expertise. Duncan also took part in the Montreal space astronomy workshop, and gave a presentation on the operation of Government to help our community better understand communication and lobby strategies.

Building upon visits to Ottawa conducted over the summer, I’m very pleased to inform everyone that our visit to Ottawa in late November to meet with members of the Government was a great success!

For this visit we reverted to a format of meeting as many members of Government as possible, which meant simultaneous meetings on a single day. A similar approach was used over a decade ago by the Coalition to improve awareness of the LRP. To put as many sets of impressive feet on the ground as possible, we were joined on our visit by Emily Deibert (University of Toronto), René Doyon (Université de Montréal), Renée Hložek (University of Toronto), Laura Parker (McMaster University), Nathalie Ouellette (Université de Montréal). I’d like to thank all of them for taking a day out of their busy schedules to help in this important part of our awareness efforts. Presenting the diverse nature of our community had a significant impact and we learned a number of important details ahead of the upcoming budget.

We took time to talk about TMT and its progress. As many of you are aware CATAC has played a highly active and internationally recognized role in discussions of the project, and following the Hawai’i Supreme Court rulings this fall, Michael Balogh was again called upon by the international press for statements. Government representatives had questions about how the project was moving forward and Don Brooks, as a TMT Board member, was able to give some important updates.

We also spoke extensively about space astronomy and the future of space-based science in general. Many of you will have seen the #DontLetGoCanada campaign advertisements on social media (funded primarily by MDA). The consortium of companies and organizations involved are calling on Canada to produce a new long-term space plan for Canada (LTSP), much like plans developed by Liberal governments in the 1990s. CASCA is a supporter of #DontLetGoCanada, and we have added our logo to their website. We strongly support the campaign’s primary goal, namely the creation of a new LTSP. On the back of an extensive advertising campaign in Ottawa (including advertisements on over 250 buses there!) investment in space is now recognized as an issue by the Government and we are quietly hopeful that we will see a significant policy shift on space funding in 2019.

The Coalition also communicated to Government during their pre-budget consultation process. Our message remains the same as in previous years, namely that Canada needs a formal process that avoids the unnecessary lobbying required for “Big Science” projects. We were pleased to hear insight on this concern from Government and an agreement that processes could be put in place to improve this issue. As always, we will have to wait and see what happens, the large cost of major infrastructure means any fund addressing these concerns would require significant monetary resources. Our second recommendation was on funding for space-based science, and we reiterated the funding request outlined in the space exploration white paper (Caiazzo et al 2017).

Other Community Planning Activities

The two community workshops held this fall, the Wide Field Astronomy in Canada meeting in Waterloo, and the Future of Space Astronomy meeting in Montreal were both a great success and you can find reports on them in this newsletter. Moving forward it is clear that these meetings serve not only to highlight opportunities, they also make key policy or organizational blocks more obvious as well. On a personal note, I was also pleased to be able to help the community, especially graduate students and new faculty, appreciate issues from previous LRPs that we should learn from. Another big thank you to all the organizers and attendees for making these important events happen and we hope to build on them during the LRP process!

To close, I would again like to thank our editor Joanne Rosvick for her continued commitment to producing Cassiopeia! And I’d like to wish you all the best for the holiday season and a productive and exciting 2019!