Sexual Harassment in the Academy

Trigger warning: this post describes an investigation and experience of sexual harassment.

On 19 January 2018, I wrote to the Presidents and Executive leaders of the Australian Academy of Science asking them to address the University of California Berkeley investigation finding that Academy Fellow, Professor Terry Speed, had been found to have sexually harassed a woman postdoc over a two-year period. Prof Speed was also found to have created a ‘hostile environment,’ for the postdoc and a second complainant, Professor Lior Pachter, who made the findings of the investigation public.

This sexual harassment of the woman postdoc (‘Barbara’) included several months in Australia, when Prof Speed invited her to his Australian institution, WEHI, where he was still leading a lab at the time that the investigation was made public. Not only is his position as Fellow notable, but he is also a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Science 2013 and was awarded the Eureka Prize for Scientific Leadership 2014. Prof Speed is also one of the founding sponsors of Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE), which is being co-managed by the Academy of Science. SAGE is running the Athena SWAN Awards, a pilot of the UK initiative to increase gender equity and diversity in science and academia. Almost 90% of Australia’s universities are signed up to the Athena SWAN program, along with other government research organisations and medical institutes.

I was employed by the Academy as the project manager for SAGE, and was tasked with getting the program off the ground prior to its establishment and launch (April 2015). I left the Academy after July 2016. I am proud of what my team achieved, and I will always treasure The Work, but I faced many hardships trying to make internal changes on equity and diversity. This includes, but is not limited to, not being listened to on improving internal processes, lack of organisational support under stressful conditions (magnified for me as a woman of colour), and leadership resistance to the intersectionality dimensions of the program.

My email in January 2018 came one and a half years after I left. From the outside, it seemed that very little had changed on gender equity and diversity. I asked the Academy to address a number of basic steps, including a public statement about Prof Speed, and policies to address sexual harassment and discrimination.

As I write this, it has been six months since I contacted the Academy about Prof Speed, asking them to increase visibility of their gender equity and diversity policies and practices.

Below, I reproduce my email in full, without the names of the Executives to whom I addressed this, and omitting the name of another ex-employee. I then discuss what’s happened since and the responses on this case.

What follows is not just about this one case, but more about how this situation has been handled. Specifically, the culture of silence and inaction. What does it say about the state of academia and science that prominent men who buy a stake of equity programs are not held accountable by their professional associations when they harass women?

Letter to the Academy

19 January 2018,

Dear [executive leaders of the Academy and SAGE]


While the rest of you know me from my time working at the Academy of Science, Professors […] and Dr […] – we never met, but I was the Project Manager when SAGE was first launched […]. I write to address documentation that Professor Terry Speed has been found to have committed sexual harassment of a postdoc in an investigation by the University of California Berkeley. This is concerning as Prof Speed is one of the three founding sponsors of SAGE and of course a Fellow of the Academy. He has also been held up a ‘male champion of change’ in my time at SAGE.

The case has been made public by one of the investigation’s complainants, Professor Lior Pachter, who was coerced at the time by Prof Speed to demand that the woman postdoc being sexually harassed return unwanted sexual advances.

Prof Speed’s actions are not the first involving an Academy Fellow who has made inappropriate sexual and gender statements to women, as other past events at the Academy have involved women Fellows and postdocs being subjected to such unprofessional conduct by male Fellows.

I hope that the Academy and SAGE will take a public position to address the case of Prof Speed, and send an unequivocal public message that sexual harassment in science will never be tolerated. I would welcome a public statement that the scientific esteem of men does not outweigh the need to support the careers and safety of women and gender minorities, and that special care is taken to protect early career researchers from harassment and abuse of power. Moreover, Prof Speed should never be put on any Academy or SAGE committees or roles that would give him decision-making power or influence over the careers of women and postdocs.

I cannot see the Academy’s anti-sexual harassment statement, nor its equity and diversity statement on the website, although these were two things that I strongly advocated for in my time working at the Academy. In 2015-2016, I also spoke with the [executive leadership] to take other actions, such as mandatory training, guidelines for reporting harassment, and codes of conduct for Fellows on issues of gender equity and diversity and sexual harassment. I also advocated that SAGE and the Academy needed to be held to the same high standards as the institutions undergoing the Athena SWAN program, including review of policies, data analysis, and consultation with Fellows and Secretariat staff on their experiences, hardships and ideas for positive change. I know that [one executive] was instrumental in coordinating some limited training on unconscious bias, but this was not rolled out further at the time. Whatever other activities and policy change that have been made in 2017 and beyond should be publicly accessible, as public accountability matters for all science institutions, particularly those representing scientific excellence in Australia, and coordinating the premier gender equity and diversity national program. As I said in my time at the Academy, it is not enough to simply host the Athena SWAN program; the Academy and SAGE both as entities should be leaders in policy and practice to end harassment and discrimination, and to increase inclusion.

I hope that putting up these statements on Prof Speed, anti-harassment and on equity and diversity will be the first steps made to publicly address this matter, along with a clear action plan for how the Academy and SAGE will handle sexual harassment and discrimination perpetrated by Fellows, staff, sponsors and affiliates through proactive policies, ongoing external evaluation, training and clear sanctions for staff/partners/Fellows who engage in this behaviour.

I would refer you to The Conversation article I wrote in my own time, and under my Swinburne affiliation, while I was managing SAGE, which has a number of clear steps science organisations can take to address sexual harassment:

Steps include:

  • Leading by example
  • Facilitating easy reporting of harassment
  • Evaluating policies to make sure they work
  • Making safety a priority
  • Strategic planning
  • Taking a collective stance against harassment and inequity, including through public transparency.

Finally, I would hope to see the Academy’s public response include proactive planned activities and leadership not just by yourselves as Executives and key leaders, but also by senior male scientists and male Fellows of the Academy. The work to address gender equity, diversity and anti-harassment must centre the voices and leadership of diverse women and scientists from minority backgrounds. But the hard work for institutional and cultural reform necessarily involves direct action by male scientists to hold other male scientists accountable for change.



Academy’s response

Almost immediately after sending the email, on 18 January, a member of the Executive responded to say they had received my email and that they would reply with a ‘more fulsome response in due course.’

This never happened.

Culture of silence

Exterior of the Australian Academy of Science. There is a small sign out the front with the logo. The building is large and heritage listed. There are many trees out the front and a park bench
The Academy. Photo: Zuleyka Zevallos

Professor Pachter’s blog post about the investigation gained momentum on social media. Sadly, many male scientists took to Twitter and other mediums to defend Professor Speed. While Americans talked openly about the case, few of us in Australia were public in our condemnation of this harassment. More worrisome, Australian scientists – cis-women and men, were supportive behind the scenes and publicly disbelieving of the complainants.

When survivors speak up about the harassment they’ve endured, they face scepticism and accusations. This is a sad indictment of our culture that protects perpetrators over victims. In Barbara’s case, an investigation conducted by an expert on sexual harassment policy found misconduct. This was not evidence enough for many scientists expressing their support for Professor Speed.

UC Berkeley has consistently mismanaged multiple investigations of sexual harassment. It took two years to fire Associate Professor Blake Wentworth; Professor Sujit Choudhry retained his tenure; the University did nothing despite multiple years of complaints about Professor John Searle; and Professor Geoffrey Marcy was not disciplined. In 2016 alone, the same year Professor Pachter filed his report about Professor Speed’s harassment of Barbara, the University was dealing with 26 cases of sexual harassment. This came after 31 women filed a federal complaint in 2014, over the University’s poor handling of their harassment cases.

On the 7 March 2018, Sian Powell, journalist with The Australian, reported on Professor Pachter’s blog post, reaching out to UC Berkeley for comment on the sexual harassment investigation on Professor Terry Speed. The university declined to comment. On 14 March, Powell followed up by covering the broader issues of harassment in academia. Here’s my published comments from her interview:

Zuleyka Zevallos, an adjunct professor at Swinburne University who has worked professionally in the field of gender equity, says there is ample scientific evidence to show that sexual harassment is a common experience for academics as well as students.

“There are reasons why we have enough data to know the formal complaints are just the tip of the iceberg,” she says.

“We know from other resources, from nationally representative data, from other research, that most people who experience sexual harassment do not report (it), because they fear professional retaliation.”

Background Briefing

The famous Shine Dome. A giant feat of architecture in the sunshine that looks like a giant snow globe or a space ship as some people say
The Academy. Photo: Zuleyka Zevallos

Hagar Cohen’s journalistic investigation into the sexual harassment report by UC Berkeley was methodical and thoughtful. Cohen’s Background Briefing report on the ABC left no room for doubt over Professor Speed’s actions. She interviewed Professor Pachter; the Chief Executive of the Academy; the Director of WEHI; one of the co-founders of Women in Science AUSTRALIA; women from the Superstars of Science (featuring a disastrous set of comments by the Chief Scientist, expressing frustration at women who speak out about inequality); and me. At that stage, I the only woman publicly speaking out on the case. Professor Speed declined to be interviewed. Barbara remains anonymous. The interviews were first published online by the ABC on 22 March 2018 and aired on ABC Radio National four days later.

The ABC’s Background Briefing reports that the UC Berkeley investigation found Professor Speed refused to acknowledge how his sexual harassment impacted Barbara and the power he had as her advisor. His lack of personal accountability has zero bearing on the impact his actions caused. Regardless, he was found to have violated sexual harassment policy.

The report by the ABC notes Professor Speed did not see his behaviour was harassment. The ABC details Professor Speed’s harassment, which includes:

  • incessant phone calls;
  • unwanted romantic messages;
  • overly close physical contact;
  • inappropriate comments;
  • demands for physical affection;
  • coercion of another colleague (Prof Pachter) to ‘get to her’; and
  • professional retribution for not reciprocating his attention. Prof Speed refused to give Barbara a professional reference – a ‘kiss of death’ in academia.

Any of these behaviours alone qualifies under the definition of sexual harassment, under Australian law, as well as under USA legislation.

Australian law says, unambiguously, that sexual harassment involves any form of unwelcome attention, sexual advances, and a wide range of behaviours and communications that make the workplace hostile.

‘I don’t think this is harassment’ is not up for debate.

No exceptions

Participants sit in a large hall at the Academy of Science. They are writing or looking forward toward a presentation
Equity workshop. Photo: Zuleyka Zevallos

As documented by the ABC Background Briefing, Professor Speed engaged in a constellation of behaviours that additionally created an untenable working environment for Barbara. The ABC reports that the UC Berkeley investigation had documented the mental health impact on Barbara: ‘[she] became depressed — she withdrew from campus life and lost all interest in studying.’

In Australia (and elsewhere), we see endless debates about how we ‘lose women’ in science. We do not ‘lose’ women; they are pushed out by a range of discriminatory practices, including harassment.

Scientists have a duty of care to the students, postdocs and other staff they supervise and mentor, as well as to other colleagues. They are not exempt from understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law. Sexual harassment is not subjective, and it is certainly not defined by the level of contact that a person in authority wishes to wield over those entrusted into their care.

Just as there are no exemptions for employers who do not uphold the law, there are no exceptions for staff, students, employees, contractors and anyone else working in a research context. A prominent scientist who has received the highest accolade from the science community, from a Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, to being elected a Fellow of the Academy of Science, does not get to claim ignorance about sexual harassment.

Professor Speed sustained unwanted attention over a woman he supervised, when, in fact, he has no right to exert this pressure over anyone. No man has a right to feel entitled to a woman’s attention; not on the street and certainly not at work. The lab and the classroom are not dating grounds for scientists to target colleagues and other staff.

Prof Speed put undue pressure on Professor Pachter, then a junior scientist, confiding his desire for affection from Barbara. Professor Speed did not stop his harassment of Barbara, despite being told repeatedly about the impact of his actions. This is consistent with misogynistic attitudes of harassers and other perpetrators: they do not take ‘no’ for an answer, because they feel entitled to access women.

Professor Speed has built himself up to be an advocate for women. His attitude that a junior woman scientist should bear his affection and suffer the consequences of rebuffing him is illustrative of other problematic patterns not just in science, but broader society.

Fundamentally, the empirical research on sexual harassment and other forms of gender violence tells us that any man who does not respect the word ‘no’ from a woman, does not respect women, full stop. The fact that men feel they should be able to pester women for a ‘romantic and intimate relationship’ – as Professor Speed did – is another indication of the broader problem.

The scientific evidence tells us that abuse of power and beliefs about gender inequality are at the heart of harassment and assault. To tackle gender inequality in science, we need to be prepared to tackle attitudes with systematic cultural change, coordinated at the institutional level.

Why the Academy should speak up

On the ABC program, I spoke to Cohen about why it was important that the Academy address sexual harassment publicly.

Zuleyka Zevallos: I wrote an email to executives of the Academy of Science and I made sure to include a link to the blog post. I asked them to make a public statement about the case involving Professor Speed.

Hagar Cohen: Dr Zevallos used to run Science in Australia Gender Equity or SAGE. It’s an initiative set up by the Academy of Science. The academy is an elite institution that recognises and celebrates scientific excellence. Dr Zevallos is no longer an employee of the academy, but the sexual harassment allegations compelled her to get in touch with her former bosses.

Zuleyka Zevallos: I told them to take very direct action publicly about what they would do with their sexual harassment policies and also point them to other materials and other practical steps that they could take to be more transparent about where they stand on sexual harassment.

Hagar Cohen: Why should they?

Zuleyka Zevallos: As leaders in the Australian science community, this type of institution can set the tone for the rest of the science community and they should be using their influence to minimise the harm of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination.

Hagar Cohen: But why should they publicly respond to what can only be seen to an outside observer as, you know, rumours on a blog post?

Zuleyka Zevallos: It’s important that they don’t stay silent because silence tells the rest of the science community that any woman who speaks out is going to be met with a wall of non-response, non-action, that she’s alone, and it discourages survivors from coming forward and reporting on the abuse that they’ve suffered.

Hagar Cohen: She fired off that email.

Zuleyka Zevallos: I got almost an immediate response from the chief executive of the Australian Academy of Science saying that they acknowledge receipt of my email and that they would give me a more fulsome response in due time.

Hagar Cohen: She’s still heard nothing.

Academy’s (non) response

When the Academy found out that the ABC was going to include the Academy as one of the key science organisations that had failed to act on this case, their Chief Executive agreed to an interview, which was featured on the program. The Chief Executive is heard on the program saying the Academy was poised to release their equity policies.  Cohen notes in the program that the policy was scheduled to be released to coincide with her journalistic investigation.

Despite this promise, the policies, if they exist, have yet to be made public.

#MeToo in science

Infographic, 'At a glance.' Shows icons with various statistics from the report, including: 30,000+ students responded to the national survey. 39 Australian universities represented. Prevalence and location of sexual assault and sexual harassment at university. One in five (21%) students were sexually harassed.
Changing the Course. Source: AHRC

Science has been wrestling with sexual harassment and discrimination issues since its inception. Scientific organisations have been founded on exclusionary principles. Sexism, racism and homophobia are common experiences in academia, with women of colour and transgender, lesbian and queer women most at risk of gender and sexual bias. Sexual harassment along with other forms discrimination contribute towards the low retention and promotion of White women and minorities. Sexual harassment has been an ongoing news item in Australia since the November 2016 revelation that our national science organisation had a major cover-up culture on harassment. The 2017 national report by the Australian Human Rights Commission, Changing the Course, involved all 39 Australian universities. It  finds that 21% of students have been sexually harassed and 1.6% sexually assaulted on campus; with women three times at risk of this abuse.

Speaking out against the case involving Professor Speed should have been a rallying cry. Unfortunately, the Academy and other big science organisations and otherwise outspoken ‘gender equity’ advocates have been silent on this case.

The Academy has many dedicated and distinguished Fellows who are working with care and dedication to make changes behind the scenes as well as publicly. There are also many other science leaders around the country who are committed to making Athena SWAN a success. I am especially heartened by the impressive efforts by the Self-Assessment Teams across the Athena SWAN Australia network who do the bulk of evidence-gathering and analysis to improve their organisations (as I saw it during my time as project manager). But there are also too many senior leaders who are complicit in their silence, who have behaved in uncollegial ways to ensure silence (that’s putting it mildly), alienating myself and others who have spoken out, or who have made suspect public statements about this case. Some of these leaders, including White women in science, have publicly empathised with perpetrators, by casting the #MeToo movement in science as a ‘witch hunt.’

Witch hunt is a gendered and loaded term. Once referring to the persecution of women by Christian zealots, this term is now being appropriated to cast sexual harassers as ‘victims.’ Thus, this protects men and their prestige over and above cis-women and gender minorities who speak up about abuse. Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, explictly notes that speaking out on sexual harassment and rape is not a ‘witch hunt.’ It is about healing.

All these actions are part of the culture of silence that perpetuates sexual harassment, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and other forms of discrimination.

As the story started gaining public momentum, Professor Speed’s Australian employer would eventually publish a statement that made reference to the harassment happening years ago, saying that no one had complained directly to them. The statement distanced Prof Speed’s leadership within the organisation. At the time of writing, Professor Speed still featured prominently as a lab lead. As of May 2018, he is still working for them with has access to women research assistants and postdocs. Prof Speed was the co-lead of their gender equity committee and their Athena SWAN committee (he’s since been removed). He promoted ‘male champions of change’ as one strategy for his organisation’s Athena SWAN strategy. Their Director was interviewed by ABC Background Briefing, and is heard changing his answers to questions because he thinks this will be edited out. He is frustrated about questions as to why his organisations’ policies are not made public. He suggests he is “googleable” and women can contact him with harassment complaints. The apparent inaction on this case speaks volumes about where that tactic would lead. The Director continues to sit on the SAGE Expert Advisory Group. The overlapping conflict of interest between Professor Speed and those who stand by him within the Academy is staggering.

With the exception of Professor Nalini Joshi, who has been proactive as co-founder of SAGE and other gender equity initiatives for the Academy and other professional organisations prior to, and in response to the case on Speed, most of the Advisory Group and SAGE’s leadership have largely stayed silent on this case. More generally, both SAGE and the Academy have opted not to publicly address harassment and discrimination. SAGE has since deleted their funders page, which publicly hides their connection to Prof Speed, even though he featured heavily at the launch of the program and for the first years of SAGE.

Despite trying to erase public evidence, the fact remains that there is very little public accountability. This is typical of other sexual harassment cases involving high-profile scientists. Though to be sure, sexual harassment cases are poorly managed by science institutions as a whole.

Why does this keep happening? Let’s look at one cultural enabler (noting it is not the complete picture). It is the prestige the scientific community confers on cisgender men. This becomes amplified for high-status personalities.

Hiding in prestige

Workshop participants in a large conference room. They sit at tables in small groups, looking down at their paperwork
Equity workshop. Photo: Zuleyka Zevallos

Just before the investigation launched at UC Berkeley, in January 2016, while I was still working at the Academy, I published an article on how to stop sexual harassment in science. Even though I did this under my Swinburne University affiliation, my manager at the Academy informed me that senior leaders invested in SAGE requested that I be fired for writing this article. My article is based on scientific scholarship and best practice. This was the state of gender equity and diversity in Australia in 2016, and it remains the case today.

On 29 January 2016, Professor Speed emailed me to thank me for my article. He promised to review his Australian institution’s policies on sexual harassment as a result.  In April 2016, Professor Pachter made his formal complaint about Professor Speed’s harassment. By mid-2017, the investigation would find Professor Speed violated sexual harassment policies.

He knew he had sexually harassed a woman, even though he doesn’t want to call it harassment (it is), but he still felt emboldened to pretend to be against sexual harassment. That’s how harassers work. They pick victims carefully and work to gain the trust of others, especially women and well-respected cisgender men.

Professor Speed established himself as a so-called ‘male feminist’ and was held up as a ‘male champion of change’ within the Athena SWAN Australia program. Professor Speed accumulated accolade as an ‘ally’ of women. He inserted himself into our national equity and diversity program and his status in the scientific community, already firmly established, continued to grow as an equity advocate. Even after being exposed as a harasser, Professor Speed remains protected by Australia’s most prestigious science institutions and his colleagues. If there have been any sanctions or accountability at UC Berkeley, WEHI or the Academy, this is not apparent.  If there have been any measures put in place to protect postdocs, other staff and women in general, this is not clear.

This is part of the danger that we face as a community, by lifting up some men as ‘heroes’ for riding on the hard work of minorities and White women who do all the heaviest work on equity and diversity. This has to stop. Men are not above reproach, even if they’ve helped some women to cover up the damage they inflict on others.

Professor Speed is well-liked. He fooled many people, including me. Shame on us. That is no excuse to give him a ‘pass’ on harassment, or to minimise the impact because of the time when it happened, as his institution has done, or by arguing that he doesn’t seem to have harassed anyone else, or that he was confused by his emotions, or any other myriad of excuses scientists have been exercising on social media, in private emails and phone calls, and elsewhere.

Failing at equity

Equity data analysis. Photo: Zuleyka Zevallos

The case involving Professor Speed is a litmus test of the Australian science and research community’s willingness to make progress on equity and diversity. We are failing. There is still too much silence. There is an overwhelming reticence to end discrimination and sexual harassment. A wealth of protection of elite figures prevails. If we cannot stand firm when the most vulnerable among us speak up on sexual harassment, even after a formal investigation has found that sexual harassment policy was violated, then we are telling survivors and victims that they should remain silent because if they speak up they will not be supported.

There are multiple ironies at play. First, the Athena SWAN program only exists in response to public critique after a Fellow of the Academy leaked to the media that no women Fellows were elected in 2013. Having tried for many years to advance gender equity, a few high-profile scientists used this pressure to convene the 2014 workshop that recommended that Australia trial the UK’s model. Thus SAGE was formed to pilot Athena SWAN in 2015. Here we have another public crisis – not just the case of Professor Speed, but the lack of action as a result. But this did not lead to the same behind the scenes flurry and public pressure. We need to ask which organisational processes lead to these gender bias scandals in the first place.

Second, the Athena SWAN program promotes transparency, honesty and self-reflection. The program is not set up to manage complaints about sexual harassment or other misconduct. Yet it is not too much to expect that the leaders at the helm of this program uphold the principles they are asking the rest of the science community to maintain. The Academy and SAGE do not (yet) qualify to apply for an Athena SWAN award (as the program targets research organisations). But with the first Athena SWAN awards coming in September 2018 – would the organisations in charge of this system pass the basic principles test of its Charter?

That’s a question that the university and science sectors should seek to have answered.

Doing the right thing

Equity and diversity means doing the right thing always, not just when it’s convenient or easy. Gender, sexual and other forms of inclusion are not just opportunities to grow a ‘brand.’ Safety and justice are not just reserved for some people, some of the time. The moment we collectively make excuses or stay quiet for our mates, well-liked or influential figures, we are undermining the safety of all cisgender women and gender minorities who are targeted for harassment and other underrepresented groups who face discrimination.

Leaders cannot claim to support gender equity and diversity at speaking engagements and for photo opportunities, but then work to freeze out or sanction those who speak out.

Infographic shows a man behind a desk and a woman figure looking down. They do not have faces. The title says: complaints or reports on sexual assault and sexual harassment at university. 94% of students who were sexually harassed and 87% of those sexually assaulted did NOT make a formal report or complaint to their university
Reports on sexual assault and harassment. Source: AHRC.

This work takes its toll. It is not fair to expect survivors and other victims to constantly speak up, and then ignore them when they do. It is not good enough that it took 14 months after lodging a complaint about what happened to Barbara and him that Professor Pachter felt he had no recourse than to go public in January. Another six months has passed. Has Barbara seen justice all this time later? How can it be that six months after writing to the Academy, and three months after they said they would at least attempt to draw some policies, that nothing has been made public? The endless waiting is about tiring out survivors and advocates, as Professor Sara Ahmed has shown through her anti-harassment work:

‘If you try to stop harassment you come up against what enables that harassment. The accusations that are thrown out; they might seem pointless and careless but they are pointed and careful. They are part of a system; a system works by making it costly to expose how a system works.’

It is not up to survivors of harassment and discrimination to wait endlessly for justice that never comes. It shouldn’t take complaintants and others to go public to increase accountability – but a study of workplace sexual harassment cases shows this is one of the most common ways to force behaviours to stop. Putting the onus on individuals is ineffective and unethical. It is the responsibility of leaders to do their share to prevent abuse of power and to act with integrity when problems arise.

I condemn the actions of those who are contributing to the unnecessary waiting, the inaction, the fear, and professional retribution towards survivors, practitioners, researchers and supporters who have tried to bring to light incidents of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination.

We should expect our science organisations to take an unequivocal stance against harassment and other forms of discrimination. Whether it’s a scientist with ‘superstar’ status, a colleague, a friend, or anybody else – sexual harassment is inexcusable. A true test of our collective integrity as researchers is whether we act to protect all women, all of the time – be they transgender, cisgender, gender queer – along with other gender minorities. Or do we only act some of the time, only when it’s convenient, and depending on who has abused their authority?

I am afraid our most prestigious institutions are not upholding the values we expect. 

Sexual harassment is the tip of the iceberg

Despite the personal and professional costs we face when addressing sexual harassment, other forms of discrimination, especially for minorities of Indigenous backgrounds, or for other women of colour, are even tougher to gain support on. Today, I noticed that all references to intersectionality on the SAGE website have been scrapped (or perhaps buried). The resources I created with my team (based on my personal research) are no longer prominently featured. Interesting these pages have been hidden after my sustained public questions about the Academy and SAGE’s handling of sexual harassment and other women in science awards that neglect to include minority women of colour.

Many of us await eagerly for science leaders, whether they be in big-name institutions, or smaller organisations, to step up to the challenge to make science safe and inclusive to all. The future of science depends on retaining our best and brightest, while giving everyone an opportunity to thrive. Harassment and discrimination is choking this potential.

It is way past time for change.


I updated this story on 8 June on Twitter and wanted to reflect progress, such as it stands, on my blog.

On the 7 June 2018, three days after I went public with this story, WEHI updated their statement, reporting that Professor Speed had informed the Insitute that UC Berkeley had concluded its process and ‘made no finding’ (noting the investgation did find Prof Speed had violated sexual harassment policy). However, Prof Speed resigned from his employment with UC Berkeley. WEHI advises that they are keeping Prof Speed on in an ‘honorary appointment.’ While it is encouraging that women at UC Berkeley will be safer, it is a troubling that Australian women students and postdocs are not protected, and that there will be no consequences.

At the same time, around four days after I published this story, the Academy of Science quietly published its Code of Conduct, which references sexual harassment and discrimination.

Acknowledging that many people within and connected to the Academy of Science have been working hard behind the scenes to make this happen, an outcome was only fully realised because I approached them in January referring to other cases, the media’s subsequent involvement (thank you to Hagar Cohen for her thoughtful reporting), and ultimately because I went public with their prolonged inaction and public pressure mounted in between. This is not an effective way for organisations to function. Survivors should not have to go public before institutions are called to be accountable (in the case of Prof Pachter and Barbara). Women should not have to push for change for many years before a basic set of policies are implemented (in my case, beginning in 2015, reaching a resolution in 2018).

The Academy of Science and SAGE have yet to release official comment on this case, meaning there have been no repercussions for sexual harassment. This sends a harrowing signal that the upper eschelon of the Australian science community values abusive men over the wellbeing and professionalism of minorities and White women. This is not how science excellence should be represented.

Expecting safety and equal support for White women and minorities under the law, policy and practice is nothing exceptional. Cisgender White men expect and receive such basic protections. Setting the miminum of ethical conduct is not enough. We need to do better. Much better.

– Zuleyka, 16 June, 2018.

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4 thoughts on “Sexual Harassment in the Academy

  1. Thanks for the heads up! This case isn’t even close – Professor Speed was finally found guilty at Berkley. He should no longer have the ability to impact women’s careers. If that means he works as a janitor under a woman boss, so be it.


    1. Hi Elena,
      Thanks for your comment. I believe UC Berkeley has not made an official recommendation. The investigation found he violated policy on sexual harassment but didn’t act further. Professor Speed recently resigned, however, so I doubt the university will make further comment. This is a shame given their institutional inaction, but it’s a relief that he no longer has access to students, postdocs, faculty and staff at UC Berkeley. WEHI however has decided to keep Prof Speed on with an Honorary appointment, which is troubling. The Academy of Science did not do anything about this case and neither did Science in Australia Gender Equity. This undermines the safety of women in Australian science.


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