Leadership

Science, Engineering, and Medical Groups Unite to Fight Sexual Harassment

By / Feb 26, 2019 (PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

More than 50 professional societies have launched the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM to develop and share best practices, policies, and tools to stop sexual harassment in their industries.

Recognizing that professional societies are standard setters for their industries and have a responsibility for combating sexual and gender harassment, 53 organizations have formed the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine).

Announced earlier this month at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting, the new consortium is designed to pool the resources of the STEMM-affiliated groups so it can do work that its members need, particularly work that smaller organizations couldn’t afford to do independently.

“It is time effective and cost effective to do it together,” said Shirley Malcom, senior advisor and director of SEA Change at AAAS. “We need tools, and we need to have the intellectual, policy, and legal work done so we know we have good choices and models we can draw from.”

Just as the #MeToo movement focused a spotlight on sexual harassment for the general public, it has done the same in STEMM fields. Last June, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report on the issue, “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.”

“There were people who felt they could not say ‘no’ to advances from senior professors in the department, because their finance came from this person, or this individual was going to bless their work and say they were good scholars,” Malcom said of the report’s findings.

However, she noted that overt harassment was small compared to the general culture of hostility. “Many of us have had someone ask us, Why are we in science? Don’t we realize we’re taking someone else’s place, a man’s place. All we’re going to do is leave the field and get married, and so why should anyone waste their time with us?” she said. “That can be enough to push people out.”

As the consortium develops resources, it will share them with members. “A lot of us feel like we want to be able to offer training to our members, or that we need to have policies in place that will allow us, without the legal exposure, to revoke honors or awards,” Malcom said. “You need to have the options spelled out about how you can do some of these things.”

One thing the group has prioritized is developing policies around revoking fellowships or awards conferred to harassers. “These behaviors continue when there are no consequences,” Malcom said.

While the consortium has hit the ground running, this is just the beginning of the process. “There is lots of work to be done. Different societies have different levels of urgency that we have to respond to,” Malcom said. “A lot of tolerance to bias has seeped into our system. Undoing all of that and uncovering it and unpacking is not trivial. Even though you can say, ‘I’m going to take on this particular issue,’ you may discover you have to deal with this other thing first.”

Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is an associate editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips. More »

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