June 2018

Earlier this month, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report documenting widespread and systemic sexual and gender harassment in academia. The report makes for depressing reading; sexual harassment is more prevalent in STEM than non-STEM fields, with “more than 50 percent of women faculty and staff and 20–50 percent of women students encounter sexually harassing conduct in academia” (pg 67).  The most common type of harassment is gender harassment: harassment that is not overtly sexual but includes belittling, jokes and insults based on gender that wear away at the recipient. Harassment takes a devastating toll not just on women’s professional and personal well-being, but on team productivity and morale at large.

What can be done to address these pervasive problems? The NAS report points out that ‘organizational climate is, by far, the greatest predictor of the occurrence of sexual harassment’ (pg 171). As individuals, we can all do our part to lead by example and call out those who belittle or denigrate others. As an MCDB community, we need to engage with and listen to each other and work together to change our culture and climate. And at the University level, we can work to put in place the recommendations of the NAS report.  These include improving accountability and transparency at the institutional level and incentivizing change, shifting mentoring and advising to more committee-based systems, and empowering victims to overcome fears of retaliation by employing Callisto, an anonymous online reporting system now used by a number of universities. I urge you to read the report and consider the many substantive recommendations included in the report. I have engaged the University administration on these issues and would be happy to bring any suggestions you may have to the attention of the administration.  Feel free to email me (Vivian.irish@yale.edu) with your ideas.

To read the NAS report see:  http://sites.nationalacademies.org/shstudy/index.htm

For more on Callisto see: https://www.projectcallisto.org/what-we-do