Inequalities faced by women in access to permanent positions in astronomy in France

A recent national survey conducted by Olivier Berné and Alexia Hilaire of IRAP (Université Paul Sabatier de Toulouse and CNRS) on behalf of the Société Française d’Astronomie et d’Astrophysique (French Astronomical and Astrophysical Society) highlights the elitism and gender discrimination faced by women – especially women with university education rather than the grandes écoles – when applying for permanent positions in astronomy in France.

Many studies have pointed to the low representation of women in scientific disciplines and instances, particularly in astronomy. For example, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has only 18% women among its members, access to telescope time (ALMA, Hubble, NRAO) is particularly limited, few of them lead research teams, prizes rewarding their work are rarely awarded to them, and their access to permanent (teacher-researcher) posts is more difficult. In France, only 22% of these posts are held by women.

This article proposes to analyze the results of a study conducted in 2017 in France among young astronomers who defended their PhD thesis between 2007 and 2017. One third of the responses to the questionnaire (out of a total of 301 responses) were from women.

It thus appeared that women who had followed their studies at Grandes Ecoles such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale Supérieure were three times more likely to be recruited into one of the three State bodies (University, CNRS, CNAP) than women who had followed a university course. Moreover, the number of women recruited into one of these three bodies remains systematically lower – by a factor of 2 – than the number of men. Finally, initial training amplifies gender inequality: the prestige of the initial curriculum influences the allocation of posts, with men who have graduated from Grandes Ecoles finding themselves twice as favoured.

Scientific publication

« Inequalities faced by women in access to permanent positions in astronomy in France » by Olivier Berné and Alexia Hilaire, Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie, Université de Toulouse, CNRS, CNES, UPS, Toulouse, France, Nature, 7 avril 2020.

Source :

IRAP Contact

  • Olivier Berné,

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