Sexual Harassment in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine


As a country, we have woken up to the ways women’s lives are impacted by sexual harassment. The time has come to focus on academic institutions – especially in male dominated fields like science, engineering, and medicine. Together, we can do better by creating a climate that discourages all forms of sexual harassment, including sexual coercion, unwanted sexual attention, and gender harassment. Research shows that we must do more than attend occasional training sessions and review vague policies and procedures. Here is what we need to do: 1. Integrate values into the system. Policies and procedures must embody the institutional values of diversity, inclusion, and respect, especially for hiring, promotion, and tenure decision-making. 2. Change the power dynamics. With funding, research focus, and professional reputation wrapped up in a single adviser-trainee relationship, the potential for abuse is too high. Institutions need to diffuse these dependencies by encouraging advisor networks and independent funding so students and trainees have options. 3. Support targets of sexual harassment. Many women don’t report sexual harassment because they fear it will hurt them and their careers – and it does. Institutions must do more to support targets by providing alternative ways to: access support services, record information about an incident, and report an incident without fear of retaliation. 4. Improve transparency and accountability. While still respecting people’s privacy, institutions need to make their communities aware of the consequences sexual harassers will face and demonstrate that the institution investigates incidents and holds people accountable. Now is the time for institutions to take action. We can prevent sexual harassment.

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