RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Women teaching in science, engineering and medicine, may need their own #metoo movement equivalent, based on the findings of a new study from RTI International.
The data shows female faculty suffered “significant personal and professional consequences” to their careers “because of their harassment experiences,” says RTI. The international nonprofit research organization conducted the study for the Committee on the Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
While sexual harassment has emerged as a potent issue in Hollywood and politics, its impact in education has not been covered extensively by media but that might change somewhat with the publishing of the RTI study.
“Unfortunately, women faculty in the study had good reason to be worried about the consequences of disclosing their sexual harassment experience,” said study co-author Tasseli McKay, Social Science Researcher, Center for Justice, Safety & Resilience at RTI. “Institutions working to encourage reporting would do well to first address the negative career repercussions that many face when they do report.”
Risks in reporting incidents
Participants in the study reported that sexual harassment “often diminished women’s scientific productivity, as energy was diverted into efforts to process emotional responses, manage the perpetrator, or report the harassment.,” RTI noted.
Faculty members also said those who disclosed sexual harassment experiences to supervisors or department leaders “rarely received active or formal support and were discouraged from pursuing further action.”
If they did pursue the matters they “often faced long-term, negative impacts on their careers as their relationships with department colleagues were damaged,” RTI reported.
The study noted incidents of:
- Gender-based harassment (e.g., gendered insults, lewd comments)
- Unwanted sexual advances
- Sexual assault by a colleague
Consequences of harassment also “diminished study participants’ scientific productivity as energy was diverted into efforts to process emotional responses, manage the perpetrator, report the harassment, or work to prevent recurrences,” the study found.
“It is essential that academic institutions and senior faculty recognize these consequences and discuss the impact of sexual harassment on women faculty’s contributions to the scientific community,” said Christine Lindquist, Senior Research Sociologist at RTI and co-author of the study. “It’s important for institutions to create a more positive leadership climate and have stronger and better-enforced sexual harassment policies. Professional and scientific societies could also play an important role in addressing sexual harassment.”
Key findings of RTI sexual harassment study
• In a qualitative study of 40 women faculty in sciences, engineering, and medicine, respondents at all career levels and fields reported a range of sexual harassment experiences, including gender-based harassment (e.g., gendered insults, lewd comments), unwanted sexual advances, stalking, and sexual assault by a colleague.
• Sexual harassment experiences often diminished study participants’ scientific productivity as energy was diverted into efforts to process emotional responses, manage the perpetrator, report the harassment, or work to prevent recurrences.
• Many women who experienced sexual harassment adjusted their work habits and withdrew physically or interpersonally from their departments, colleagues, and fields. Some women reported that they ceased contact with collaborators and mentors, avoided nonrequired interactions with peers, and stopped attending scientific and professional gatherings.
• Faculty often feared they would encounter negative consequences if they reported sexual harassment through
department or university channels.
• Those who chose to report harassment to a supervisor or department leader often reported that the reactions they received made them feel dismissed and minimized. Sympathetic responses and active or formal support were rarely provided, and women were typically discouraged from pursuing further action.
• Women who disclosed their experiences often faced long-term, negative impacts on their careers and damaged relationships with colleagues.
• Study participants identified opportunities to address sexual harassment by (1) harnessing the power of university leaders, department leaders, and peer bystanders to improve the academic climate; (2) instituting stronger and better-enforced institutional policies on sexual harassment with clear and appropriate consequences for perpetrators; and (3) advancing the cross-institutional work of scientific and professional societies to change the culture in their fields