How to stop the sexual harassment of women in science: reboot the system

How to stop the sexual harassment of women in science: reboot the system

My latest for The Conversation: There have been several high-profile cases of renowned scientists who have been found to have acted against sexual harassment legislation for up to 10 years. In one case, a prominent astronomer forced students to attend work meetings in strip clubs; in other cases, famous scientists physically groped students or tried to pressure them to reciprocate their sexual and romantic feelings.

For the most part, institutions simply give these men one-off training. One university suspended a serial harasser for one year – he is due to come back to work in July. Meanwhile, nine of his students have left due to his harassment, bullying and erratic behaviour over recent years.

In these cases, the universities involved carried out investigations finding that the professors were in violation of sexual harassment law. These men went from one high profile position to another whilst continuing their abuse of power. One professor was even granted an honorary Emeritus Professorship after the university’s investigation was made public.

The system is telling us that we’d rather lose bright, junior women scholars, in order to protect so-called academic “superstars.”

I also show that the issue of abuse is broader, with senior scientists attacking vulnerable students of minority backgrounds when they speak out against racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.

It’s time to reboot the culture in science. In this article, I discuss strategies that everyone can use to end harassment, including:

* Speaking up when you see someone being harassed

* Leading by example

* Providing easier ways to report, such as through information escrows

* Ensuring anti-harassment policies are working, through confidential consultation and a thorough evaluation of impact

* Making safety a daily priority, especially for managers

* Strategic planning

* Taking a collective stance against harassment.

There are national and regional programs that aim to transform how universities and research organisations make gender equity and diversity a priority, including the program that I’m managing in Australia, Science in Australia Gender Equity. Half of the higher education sector is involved in making changes to eliminate discrimination, harassment and bias, and creating a more inclusive culture. Ending harassment is one important piece of the puzzle. 

Read more about the issue and solutions in my article.

Commenting Policy

Note that I do not allow abuse, personal attacks, or denialism of harassment. My article and my various other writing details the research showing that sexual harassment is a major problem, particularly for women researchers who feel unsafe at work, and fearful of reporting formally. If you want to contribute to a discussion on solutions in a respectful way, let’s have a conversation! If not, I will delete comments that violate my commenting policy.  

Individuals who want to question the definition or severity of harassment are not welcome, because the entire internet is filled with spaces where you can sprout such ignorance. My threads are not such a place. The law is clear: sexual harassment is defined as someone making an “unwelcome sexual advance, or an unwelcome request for sexual favours, to the person harassed.” Sexual harassment is also legally defined as person engaging “in other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in relation to the person harassed,” including actions or words that lead to offence, humiliation or intimidation. 

My article:

Legal definition of sexual harassment, Sex Discrimination Act, Commonwealth of Australia:

Resources for individuals, managers and workplaces, by the Australian Human Rights Commission: 

Research on the impact of sexual harassment, by the International Labour Organization:

Impact on women who speak out about sexual harassment, by STEM Women on G+

Investigation on why women in science choose not to report sexual harassment (Part 1 of 3), by Dr Janet D. Stemwedel:

How professional science societies can end harassment, by Dr Erika Marín-Spiotta & colleagues for the American Geophysical Union (AGU):

#stemwomen   #womeninstem  

8 thoughts on “How to stop the sexual harassment of women in science: reboot the system

  1. Very true Michael Scully​ and thanks for your comment. Sexual harassment is challenging to address because it so pervasive. My focus here is on STEMM because the additional difficulty is that these fields continue to have lower rates of women beyond the early career phase. The pushback to enforcing sexual harassment law is especially notable because it goes to the reason why women are pushed out of STEMM. STEMM is especially hostile to women and resistant to change. But more people are speaking up about this which is a useful start!


Comment below! (Please follow my commenting policy)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.