Report finds abuse in science sectors
The nation's top body on science issues made it official this week: Sexual harassment isn't just a problem in Hollywood, politics and the corporate world.
Maltreatment of women is about as common in science, engineering and medicine as in more publicized fields, according to a report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.
This not only harms the women involved, but also the fields they work in, by driving out qualified people. The harassment includes not only open demands for sex with the risk of retaliation for refusal, but other demeaning treatment that places women at a disadvantage to men. Legal remedies are an insufficient deterrent, the report stated.
To stop this, the climate and culture in science, medical and engineering need to be changed to penalize harassers, the report said. This includes changing federal funding incentives and imposing requirements that faculty and leadership pledge to oppose harassment and support diversity policies.
Sexual harassment scandals in these disciplines have taken place around the world.
Noted Salk Institute scientist Inder Verma has just resigned after the institute investigated charges against him that included sexual harassment of females. Meanwhile, the institute grapples with ongoing sexual discrimination litigation.
University of California, Berkeley, astronomer Geoff Marcy left his faculty position in 2015 after reports that he engaged in inappropriate conduct with female students.
At the United Nations, engineer Rajendra Pachauri resigned as chair of a climate change panel in 2015 after he was accused of sexual harassment of women.
According to a 2003 survey cited in the report, 58 percent of female academic faculty and staff said they experienced sexual harassment.
“When comparing the academic workplace with the other workplaces, the survey found that the academic workplace had the second highest rate” of sexual harassment behind the military, at 69 percent, the report said.
The report also cited a 2017 survey by the University of Texas system, which found that 20 percent of female science students, more than 25 percent of female engineering students and more than 40 percent of female medical students experienced sexual harassment from faculty or staff members.
Despite these incidents, sexual harassment has most often been discussed in areas outside of academia, science and related disciplines. The report says this is in part because such conduct is “minimized and ignored,” especially if committed by scientists with good reputations.
The report said the institutional culture needs to change, both to penalize harassers and to encourage vulnerable employees to speak up.