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Why did Blue Origin leave so many female space reporters out of its big reveal?

Happy International Women’s Day!

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Blue Origin

On Tuesday, private spaceflight venture Blue Origin invited a select group of space reporters to the company's headquarters in Kent, Washington. It was the first time the normally secretive company — helmed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — opened its doors to journalists. About 10 or 11 reporters walked the floor of the facility with Bezos himself, getting exclusive access to Blue Origin's rocket-building operations and information about the company's future, according to today's reports. Nearly all of those reporters were men.

Tuesday was also International Women's Day. I celebrated by being left out of an important aerospace reporting event I should have been covering. And I wasn't the only female space journalist who was excluded, either.

It appears only two women were at Blue Origin’s event

Space journalism has long been a male-dominated field, so it’s not unusual that events like Blue Origin’s have more men than women in attendance. At Virgin Galactic's spaceplane unveiling in February, I was one of only a handful of women in the press room. That’s changing, though — more women are writing about space. It appears only two women were at Blue Origin’s event: Irene Klotz from Reuters and Donna Gordon Blankinship from the Associated Press. But that means Miriam Kramer from Mashable, Sarah Fecht from Popular Science, Maddie Stone from Gizmodo, Nadia Drake from National Geographic, and Clara Moskowitz from Scientific American were excluded. And no one from — a site devoted entirely to space coverage that employs many female reporters — got access either. Wired's space reporter is a woman, but it appears she didn't go either.

I emailed Julie Arnold, the spokesperson for Blue Origin, to ask why I’d been excluded. She replied that the company "could only accommodate a limited number of outlets for this tour." Included among those outlets were a local Seattle tech site called GeekWire, Florida Today, and the Huntsville Times — not exactly national news presences on the scale of AP, Reuters, or the New York Times. The facility doesn’t seem very cramped based on the pictures that were taken. I asked Arnold why so few women were admitted access — or at least I tried to. Two additional emails and a phone call weren’t answered.

Image: Blue Origin

Blue Origin's selective exposure is just another example of how women are routinely and subversively sidelined in science. It's the leaky pipeline in full effect: subtle discrimination discourages and limits women from achieving important milestones in their science careers. Women often have to fight to be included for opportunities that are freely handed to men. Or their accomplishments run the risk of being ignored, making them feel unwelcome in their field. The result? Many women ultimately leave science and science-related fields to pursue something else. For instance, women earn nearly half of all PhDs related to math and science, but women hold only 24 percent of the jobs in STEM fields, according to a 2011 report from the The Department of Commerce. The consequences are felt in science journalism as well. Women make up around two-thirds of students enrolled in journalism schools, according to the University of Georgia. But women contributed only 35 percent of science news in 2015, Women’s Media Center found. What these numbers seem to show is that gender discrimination is normal. That doesn’t, however, make it right.

Its invitations do send an implied message: the company doesn’t value female voices

Women who do stick it out in science are fighting harder than their male peers just to do their work. Numerous stories have surfaced this past year highlighting the culture of sexual harassment that pervades astronomy and other academic fields; cases have emerged at Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Arizona, and the Museum of Natural History. The stories have spawned the hashtag #astroSH, inspiring hundreds of women in science to share their personal experiences of harassment on Twitter. Women are still undervalued in science — especially when it comes to space — and not enough is being done to fix it.

I don’t mean to suggest that Blue Origin purposefully excluded certain journalists because we are women. But its invitations do send an implied message: the company doesn’t value female voices. And the first tour of the secretive company is a get — something that would give a reporter the credentials to do other serious stories. By inviting mostly men for the opportunity, Blue Origin has ensured that female reporters won’t have either the access or the show-stopping story that would allow them to advance in a male-dominated field. The harder it is to advance, the harder it is to be taken seriously. And that makes it harder for women to stay engaged in science at all.

Update March 11th 10:56AM ET: The article has been updated to include another excluded female space reporter.

Update March 10th 1:54PM ET: The article has been updated to include an additional female space reporter who was excluded from the event.

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