Sexual Harassment in the Academy

photo of group of women, facing away from the viewer, with text "Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine"
photo of group of women, facing away from the viewer, with text "Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine"

In 2016, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine assembled a committee to conduct a study on the impact of sexual harassment in academia on the career advancement of women in the scientific, technical, and medical workforce. 

Three University of Michigan faculty members served as committee members: Prof. Lilia Cortina (Psychology and Women’s Studies), Prof. Anna Kirkland (Women’s Studies), and Prof. Timothy Johnson (Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Studies).

In June 2018, the committee published a comprehensive report titled, “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.” The report identifies key findings on the causes and impacts of sexual harassment, and recommendations for institutional policies, strategies, and practices to address and prevent it.

Preventing and effectively addressing sexual harassment of women in colleges and universities has remained a challenge for decades. More than half of women faculty and staff report having been harassed. Student surveys of university systems show disturbingly similar rates, with 20–50% of women students experiencing sexually harassing behavior perpetrated by faculty or staff.

Persistent sexual harassment in STEM fields, and its adverse impacts on women’s careers, jeopardizes progress in closing the gender gap, damages research integrity, and results in a costly loss of talent.

Academic sciences, engineering, and medicine share characteristics that create conditions for harassment, but many findings of the report are not limited to STEM field settings. Other fields within academia can be similarly male-dominated, hierarchical work and learning settings in which abusive cultures may form. Such environments can silence and limit the career opportunities for both the targets of the sexual harassment and bystanders, causing both men and women to leave their fields.

“This report delivers some really tough news,” says Professor Kirkland. “Laws against sexual harassment haven’t solved the problem, trainings do not seem to be very effective, and women continue to be driven from careers in science, technology, and medicine through exclusion and contempt, not just sexual advances. Administrators and attorneys in higher education must realize that we need new approaches that grapple with what the research and the targets themselves tell us.”

Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • Organizational climate is the single most important factor in determining whether sexual harassment is likely to happen in a work setting.
  • When women are sexually harassed, their least common response is to formally report the experience. These women fear retaliation or other negative outcomes if they report the incidents.
  • Sexual harassment training has not been demonstrated to change people’s behaviors or beliefs.

The report calls upon university leadership—from college and university presidents to department chairs—to heed several recommendations, including:

  • Integrate values of diversity, inclusion, and respect.
  • Improve transparency and accountability. Academic institutions should develop and share clear policies on sexual harassment and standards of behavior.
  • Diffuse the hierarchical and dependent relationship between faculty and trainees.
  • Provide support for targets of sexual harassment, including alternative ways of reporting incidents and accessing services.

In October and November 2018, IRWG, in collaboration with the Office of Research, ADVANCE, the Office for Health Equity and Inclusion, the College of Literature, Science, and Arts (LSA), and the College of Engineering will host three public panel discussions to share findings and recommendations from the report.

The three distinct panels are led by local scholars from engineering, the sciences, and medicine, respectively, including co-authors of the National Academies report, but will offer broad discussion of use to any member of the university community or the public interested in sexual harassment in academia. 


Sexual Harassment in Engineering

Monday, October 1, 2018

3:30 - 5:00 pm; Stamps Auditorium, North Campus

Welcome by Alec D. Gallimore, Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor of Engineering, University of Michigan

Report Summary & Panel Moderation:

  • Lilia Cortina,* Associate Director of ADVANCE for the College of LSA; Professor of Psychology, Women’s Studies, and Management and Organizations, U-M
  • Anna Kirkland,* Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender; Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Women’s Studies, U-M

Panelists:

  • Gilda A. Barabino*, Dean and Daniel and Frances Berg Professor at The Grove School of Engineering at The City College of New York (CCNY), and National Academies committee member 
  • Alec D. Gallimore, Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor of Engineering, University of Michigan 
  • Allison Steiner, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Michigan 

Sexual Harassment in the Sciences

Thursday, October 18, 2018

4:00 - 5:30 pm; Rackham Amphitheater

Welcome by Chris Poulsen, Associate Dean for the Natural Sciences; Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; and Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Michigan

Report Summary & Panel Moderation:

  • Lilia Cortina,* Associate Director of ADVANCE for the College of LSA; Professor of Psychology, Women’s Studies, and Management and Organizations, U-M
  • Anna Kirkland,* Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender; Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Women’s Studies, U-M

Panelists:

  • Elizabeth L. Hillman*, President of Mills College, National Academies committee member
  • Kathryn Clancy*, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Illinois, National Academies committee member
  • Timothy McKay, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Professor of Physics, Astronomy, and Education, University of Michigan

Sexual Harassment in Medicine

Monday, November 12, 2018

4:00 - 5:30 pm; Kahn Auditorium, Biomedical Science Research Bldg

Welcome by Mark Schlissel, President, University of Michigan

Report Summary & Panel Moderation:

  • Lilia Cortina,* Associate Director of ADVANCE for the College of LSA; Professor of Psychology, Women’s Studies, and Management and Organizations, U-M
  • Anna Kirkland,* Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender; Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Women’s Studies, U-M

Panelists:

  • Paula A. Johnson**, President of Wellesley College, National Academies committee co-chair, and member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine
  • Reshma Jagsi, Professor and Deputy Chair in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Michigan Medicine and Director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan

*National Academies committee member and report co-author

**Chairperson of the National Academies committee

 

Learn more about the fall 2018 panel discussion series.

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