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Most Female Scientists Are Sexually Harassed on the Job

Most Female Scientists Are Sexually Harassed on the Job

Why aren’t there more women scientists? Surely, societal expectations and gendered educational opportunities play a large role in keeping women out of laboratory environments, but sadly an even harsher factor might be keeping them at bay: rampant sexual harassment. New research has uncovered that over two-thirds of women scientists have been sexually harassed while on the job.

Researchers from the University of Illinois, Harvard and Skidmore conducted a study of hundreds of scientists across a spectrum of disciplines, with the majority being archaeologists and anthropologists. The results were startling: 71 percent of women scientists reported being sexually harassed by colleagues while at work.

It doesn’t stop there, either. While sexual harassment covers things like sexist jokes, sexual advances and objectification, 26 percent of women in science fields have been the victims of even worse: sexual assault. The fact that one in four females have been subject to unwanted physical sexual contact from fellow scientists spells systematic trouble.

More often than not, the sexual harassers/assaulters were superiors to these women. They used their seniority and elevated position to make the females feel uncomfortable without facing repercussions. According to many of the harassed women, their workplaces don’t even have a policies regarding this type of behavior.

Unfortunately, most of the women scientists don’t attempt to report the misconduct, which is perhaps why these staggering harassment rates have gone unnoticed for so long. Those women who indicated they had reported instances of wrongdoing said they were dissatisfied with how the outcome and how the manner was handled. “People are being told ‘what happens in the field stays in the field,’” said Dr. Kathryn Clancy, lead researcher on the project. Apparently, in that respect, scientific fields are no better at handling offenders than the United States military.

Fair or not, it’s especially disheartening to see this despicable behavior occurring within academic communities. Evidently, even educated men are susceptible to the boy’s club mentality and PhDs don’t necessarily teach men how to respect their female counterparts.

The data further shows that sexual harassment is experienced most commonly amongst women who are just beginning their careers. This could, in part, explain why new women are more likely to quit science and technology jobs. A study from earlier this year revealed that new female scientists abandon their fields 45 percent more often than men who are new to the job. When the retention rate is just as poor as the recruitment rate to these fields, it’s clear that women aren’t exactly being made to feel welcome.

Another researcher on the study, Dr. Katie Hinde, said she had been fortunate to not experience harassment when she started out. “It’s devastating to me that my junior colleagues are not guaranteed to have that same experience without risks of harassment and assault from inside the research team,” she said. “We prepare ourselves to go to a different culture and all of that, but this is from inside the research team, and that’s a betrayal.”

Hopefully, seeing this news of frequent sexual harassment won’t contribute to more women avoiding the field. Dr. Clancy is optimistic that publicizing this study will have the opposite effect. “As horrifying as this data is, I’m really excited to have it out there. Every person who has had this experience will be validated and know there are others out there who have their back,” she said. “If this keeps just one more woman in science, it is absolutely worth it.”

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137 comments

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9:37PM PDT on Jun 25, 2015

This is really a sad situation.

4:12AM PDT on May 11, 2015

Very disappointing.

10:18AM PDT on Jul 26, 2014

ty for this important article. this news is absolutely disgusting!

9:51AM PDT on Jul 26, 2014

To be a physicist and a biologist and also a woman is a nightmare, not only during higher education (male teachers who harass female students) but also in teaching scientific matters (the students don't think a woman can be university graduate in this domain).

5:30PM PDT on Jul 24, 2014

WHAT A SHOCK !!!

3:16PM PDT on Jul 24, 2014

I am one of those women who was sexually harassed during my academic and professional years.

I am sad to have those memories rather than better memories of time spent working with my male colleagues.

2:09PM PDT on Jul 24, 2014

(continued)and it falls to men to make it stop forever. Now. He who is silent is deemed to consent and no man should be silent about this crime. About sexual trafficking, about domestic abuse, about date rape, about gender discrimination. Men create this problem and men must stop it. There is no other way. We must all speak out on this every time it happens, support laws that will end this problem. Support early childhood education that will teach our boys that this is unthinkable. Change has to come about in men because this IS our issue too. Sadly.

2:05PM PDT on Jul 24, 2014

"Fair or not, it’s especially disheartening to see this despicable behavior occurring within academic communities. Evidently, even educated men are susceptible to the boy’s club mentality and PhDs don’t necessarily teach men how to respect their female counterparts."

Perhaps these criminals are nerds who don't have much luck with getting to know women on any other level. Perhaps they are fools who think they are above the law, even natural law. Whatever their inane reason, where they belong is not in labs but in cells like the criminals they are. And cursed be any academic administrator who tries to cover up their brazen assaults. This is the bane of women's lives and there is no amount of shock or punishment, it seems, that can protect them from the male ego. When the day comes, and it will, when more than half of our leadership in every field is female, perhaps things will change. Because since we came down from the trees, and probably before, females have had to put up with this behavior. That we are finally wise enough to criminalize isn't enough. Now we need to STOP it, forever, around the world. Men must find the way through their testosterone to their soul, because this isn't behavior any being in touch with his true self could ever condone, let alone engage in. I am so tired of being ashamed of my gender. I want this long gender-based nightmare for women over. Forever over. We men are the only ones who can make that happen and it falls t

10:06AM PDT on Jul 24, 2014

"...Every person who has had this experience will be validated and know there are others out there who have their back..."
Thank you! :)

5:49AM PDT on Jul 24, 2014

Degree of education does not seen to matter when it comes to sexual harassment. Woman need to continue to speak out and so do men. It is time to make changes. Imagine all of the talent that is being missed because of harassment.

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