Institutional Action on Sexual Harassment

Drawing of an Asian woman standing by the side of a glass building. Her face is obscured

Trigger warning: this post discusses tactics used by sexual harassers to evade justice and the impact on survivors.

Today is International Women’s Day. I don’t much feel like ‘celebrating’ on this occassion. I feel burned out by the lack of racial justice and exclusion in the promotion of this day in Australia. Plus I am spending much of my spare time working through research and writing on my experiences working in equity and diversity. In particular, the myriad of ways in which women of colour are doubly or even trebly disadvantaged when they seek help on sexual harassment, racial discrimination and other inequity. So today’s post is not about ‘celebrating’ women and femmes. Instead, it is closer to the original impetus of the day. International Women’s Day is a day of protest that began with women’s workplace rights (United Nations Women Australia 2019). Join me in witnessing how far we still have to go to have our stories heard with dignity, and the lack of accountability by institutions to uphold our safety at work.

One in five women experience sexual harassment at work. In academia, from 2010-2016, 575 cases of sexual assault were reported in Australian universities, but these led to only six expulsions (see Zevallos 2019). Women students are three times as likely to be assaulted and twice as likely to be harassed as men. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students as well as disabled people experience a disproportionate level of sexual harassment and sexual assault, as do lesbian, gay, bisexual people, and especially transgender students, who experience up to twice the rate of harassment as heterosexual students.

What is sexual harassment? It is not subjective. Workplace law says it includes “any unwanted or unwelcome sexual behaviour, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated or intimidated.” For example:

  • unwelcome touching;
  • staring or leering;
  • suggestive comments or jokes;
  • sexually explicit pictures or posters;
  • unwanted invitations to go out on dates;
  • requests for sex;
  • intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body;
  • unnecessary familiarity, such as deliberately brushing up against a person;
  • insults or taunts based on sex;
  • sexually explicit physical contact; and
  • sexually explicit emails or SMS text messages.

Perpetrators of sexual harassment use five tactics to deflect blame (“outrage tactics”):

  1. Cover up;
  2. Devaluing victims;
  3. “Reinterpreting” events;
  4. Using official channels to give an appearance of justice;
  5. Intimidation.

‘Official channels use’ is an especially pertinent outrage tactic that relies on institutional processes to disempower victims. I use the term ‘victim’ here strategically. Flavia Dzodan (2018) argues that moving away from the term victim (in favour of ‘survivor’) evades the need for justice.* Paula McDonald and colleagues (2010) write:

‘Using official channels includes reports to senior officials, grievance procedures, and appeals to organisational boards, internal ombudsmen, external bodies, or professional organisations. Most official channels emphasise formal processes, require confidentiality, and focus on technicalities. Despite the best intentions of those running the procedures, the effect of many official channels is to dampen outrage: the immediacy and urgency of the problem is lost in the slow, ponderous processes. Meanwhile, observers often believe justice is being done, although outcomes seldom live up to expectations.’

– Paula McDonald, Tina Graham and Brian Martin (2010)

Let’s unpack these outrage tactics via official channels, and the role of institutions in re-traumatising victims. I discuss how organisations can instead take more proactive action to end sexual harassment.

Continue reading Institutional Action on Sexual Harassment

Happy International Women’s Day!

We’re already celebrating today in Australia. Google+ has featured my collection on women in science below!

‘Who’s ready for International Women’s Day tomorrow?! We’re kicking things off early this year. ALL week, we’ll be celebrating the inspiring women of Google+ by sharing their Collections. Know a cool Google+ woman you’d like to see featured? Share her Collection(s) with the tag #InternationalWomensDay to let us know!

TODAY: check out this awesome Collection about Women in STEM by creator Zuleyka Zevallos:  https://goo.gl/n14AtW

Happy International Women’s Day!

Happy International Women’s Day! Celebrate with bell hooks, who shows why feminism is not just for women, but for everybody!  

“Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression… As all advocates of feminist politics know, most people do not understand sexism, or if they do, they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media.”

― bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody.

[Image: photo of bell hooks with above quote]

bell hooks – Feminism is for Everybody

Happy International Women’s Day!

“Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression… As all advocates of feminist politics know, most people do not understand sexism, or if they do, they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media.”

― bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody.

Honouring Evelyn Boyd Granville

On STEM Women, we’ve been writing about women in STEM to celebrate International Women’s Day. Below is what I wrote, and what a joy it was to reflect on the life and work of Evelyn Boyd Granville. She was only the second Black American woman to gain a PhD in Mathematics. We didn’t include this in the original post below, but I especially loved reading all her personal recollections of the sacrifices that her mother and aunt made to put her through university. 

Granville was raised in a single parent home by Julia Boyd, her poor working mother who wholeheartedly supported her daughter’s education. This was a very brave move given that in the 1940s, there were few educational or work opportunities for women in science, let alone for minority women. Granville recalls:

I saw black women – attractive, well dressed women – teaching school, and I wanted to be a teacher because that’s all I saw. I was not aware of any other profession… I did not receive a scholarship the first year at (Smith College), and I was told later that they didn’t see how in the world a poor child as I could afford to go there. 

Granville faced much discrimination along the way, not just in finding work despite her obvious brilliance, but in other ways that should have impeded her progress. For example, she was not able to find accommodation in New York when she moved there to undertake her postdoctoral work. 

Keep reading to learn more about this phenomenal woman! Continue reading Honouring Evelyn Boyd Granville

“Science Needs Women”

Happy International Women’s Day! I’ll do a couple of posts on this over the next day to commemorate this glorious day for both my time zone in Australia and the rest of you in other parts of the world. I want to start with the challenges that lie ahead. Our STEM Women community has been publishing a series of posts celebrating women in sciences, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). We started with a look at the number of Nobel prize laureates. We shared our post to our other science community, Science on Google+, and faced phenomenal backlash.

Various sexist arguments followed, ranging from: “Women aren’t as smart as men” to “This probably isn’t sexism, it’s something else (but somehow it’s women’s fault still).” None of these people presented evidence, but rather they relied on biased personal anecdotes.This thread was incredibly counter-productive; rather than engaging with the science presented, people wanted to argue that they don’t think that this is an example in sexism.
Continue reading “Science Needs Women”

Women and the Nobel Prize for Sciences

Two women appear on the back of the Nobel Prize medal. Yet less than  3% of Nobel laureates have been women! Only one woman social scientist has been awarded a science Prize (in economics). Not to mention the fact that most of the winners have been White and predominantly from Europe and North America.

As part of our celebration of women in STEM ahead of International Women’s Day, I wrote about the gendered nature of these awards for STEM Women.

Continue reading Women and the Nobel Prize for Sciences

Increasing the Leadership and Influence of Women Academics

In honour of International Women’s Day, The Guardian ran a great piece about women academics. It linked to The British Council’s (BC) research, which finds that only 30% of the world’s researchers are women, and that there are proportionally less women researchers working within the university system than in the private and public sectors. The BC reports that only 27% of Australian academics are women. While 44% of academics in Britain are women, only 20% of professors are women, suggesting that women find it difficult to progress into higher leadership positions at the professorship level.

Louise Morley’s research for the Centre for Higher Education and Equality Research identifies that this trend is similarly dismal around the world. In Indonesia, women find it more difficult to pursue a PhD and consequently an academic career due to having to travel long distances, which is culturally less problematic for men. Morley also finds that in nations such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka the ratio of women academics to men is relatively higher, but only because education is not a prestigious career.

Sweden and Austria have higher rates of women academics because they use a range of research, development and incentive programmes as well as quota systems. In Norway, 43% of vice chancellors are women because the state decides these appointments rather than universities.

Morley identifies that mentoring is one important ingredient in retaining a higher rate of senior women academics. Clearly a cultural shift is needed within global university networks. Rohayu Abdul-Ghani, deputy director at Universiti Kebangsaan, Malaysia, says:

“Higher education must make appointment of women academic administrators and development of young female academic talents part of their strategic goals. I have seen this to be effective at [my university] with the setting up of gender diversity as a key performance indicator. In addition, the institutes are held accountable for gender diversity and for the remedial measures to be taken where necessary. Until this is done, women academics will continue to be excluded and marginalised from becoming senior, influential players in HE.”

Learn more

British Council research.
Guardian article.
Photo: Simone de Beauvoir.

First published on Science on Google+