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Survey Results Point Out Lack of Diversity in Planetary Science Workplace

Oct. 6, 2022


Julie Rathbun.

Credit: Henry Throop, 2018.

A survey quantifying the long-standing lack of workplace diversity in planetary science offers NASA and other groups possible strategies to resolve the problem. 

Survey results show that members of minoritized groups, including non-white scientists, scientists who are disabled, members of the LGBTQ+ community, or women, are underrepresented as Principal Investigators or Co-Investigators in planetary science spacecraft mission teams, said Julie Rathbun, a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute who is lead author on the abstract “DEIA in Planetary Spacecraft Science Teams.” 

“We already know that there are barriers to entry in planetary science for members of historically excluded groups,” Rathbun said. “These data show that even those who overcome those barriers face other, additional barriers to full participation in our field.” 

The complete workforce survey and report is available at under DPS Surveys, 2020 Membership. 

Rathbun discussed the survey Thursday at a press conference at the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society annual meeting in London, Ontario, Canada. The April 2020 membership survey of Planetary Scientists, which was conducted by the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and funded by DPS, was used as input into the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey. 

“The 2022 Decadal Survey is the first to include consideration of the state of the profession and actions for enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) in the field,” Rathbun said. “The 2020 workforce survey included questions on demographics and respondents were also asked how many times have you been a PI on a mission proposal – never, once, two times, three times, more than four times – and how many times have you been a Co-I on a mission proposal.” 

Of survey respondents, 37 percent self-identified as women, 15 percent as disabled, 10 as LGBTQ+, 7 percent as Black, Latinx or Indigenous and 1 percent as non-binary. 

Results showed that respondents in those minoritized groups showed significantly lower percentages of PI and Co-I opportunities than non-minoritized planetary scientists. 

And how can planetary science become more inclusive? “Many social scientists have been studying inclusivity for a long time and they have many