Oakland, CA—June 12, 2018
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a report on sexual harassment today. Mills College President Elizabeth L. Hillman has been a working member of the Academies' blue-ribbon study committee since 2016.
“Our committee’s consensus report reveals that despite decades of reform and increasing representation of women, sexual harassment remains prevalent and damaging to people, institutions, and science,” said President Hillman. “Fortunately, the report provides several recommendations for changing the behavior of people in academic workplaces to stop sexual harassment.”
According to the report, a system wide change to the culture and climate in higher education is needed to prevent and effectively respond to sexual harassment. There is no evidence that current policies, procedures, and approaches—which often focus on symbolic compliance with the law and on avoiding liability—have resulted in a significant reduction in sexual harassment.
The report, which examines sexual harassment of women in academic sciences, engineering, and medicine, concludes that the cumulative result of sexual harassment is significant damage to research integrity and a costly loss of talent in these academic fields. The report urges institutions to consider sexual harassment equally important as research misconduct in terms of its effect on the integrity of research.
Colleges and universities and federal agencies should move beyond basic legal compliance to adopt holistic, evidence-based policies and practices to address sexual harassment, the report says. It notes that sexual harassment often occurs in an environment of generalized incivility and disrespect. In contrast, sexual harassment is less likely to occur when organizational systems and structures support diversity, inclusion, and respect.
“A change to the culture and climate in our nation’s colleges and universities can stop the pattern of harassing behavior from impacting the next generation of women entering science, engineering, and medicine,” said Paula Johnson, co-chair of the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report, and president of Wellesley College.
In addition, the report urges Congress and state legislatures to consider a range of actions, including prohibiting confidentiality in settlement agreements and allowing lawsuits to be filed directly against alleged harassers, not just their institutions. It recommends that judges, academic institutions, and administrative agencies rely on scientific evidence about the behavior of targets and perpetrators of sexual harassment when assessing both institutional compliance with the law and the merits of individual claims. And, it urges professional societies to use their influence to address sexual harassment in the scientific, medical, and engineering communities they represent, and to help promote professional cultures of civility and respect.
Among the report’s findings:
In a survey the University of Texas System conducted among its graduate and undergraduate students, about 20 percent of female science students, more than a quarter of female engineering students, and more than 40 percent of female medical students experienced sexual harassment from faculty or staff. The Pennsylvania State University System conducted a similar survey and found that 33 percent of its female undergraduates and 43 percent of its female graduate students (all disciplines) experienced sexual harassment from faculty or staff; so did 50 percent of female medical students. As these surveys reveal, women students in academic medicine experience more frequent sexual harassment perpetrated by faculty and staff than women students in science and engineering.
In addition, the best available analysis to date found that 58 percent of women faculty and staff in academia (all disciplines, not limited to science, engineering, and medicine) experienced sexual harassment. Other research shows that women of color experience more harassment—sexual, racial/ethnic, or a combination of the two—than other groups.
Gender harassment—behaviors that communicate that women do not belong or do not merit respect—is by far the most common type of sexual harassment. Although often unrecognized as a form of sexual harassment or considered a “lesser” form of it, gender harassment that is severe or frequent can result in the same negative outcomes as isolated instances of sexual coercion. And, when an environment is pervaded by gender harassment, other types of sexual harassment are more likely to occur.
Colleges and Universities Need Strong Leadership, Increased Transparency and Accountability
Preventing and effectively addressing sexual harassment of women in academia is a significant challenge, but research shows what will work to prevent sexual harassment, says the report. College and university presidents, provosts, deans, and department chairs should make the reduction and prevention of sexual harassment an explicit goal of their tenure. “Ultimately, success in addressing this challenge will require strong and effective leadership from administrators at every level within academia, as well as support and work from all members of our nation’s college campuses—students, faculty, and staff,” said committee co-chair Sheila Widnall, Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The report offers evidence-based recommendations as a road map for academic institutions:
The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, NASA, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The National Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit http://national-academies.org.
About Mills College
Located in Oakland, California, in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area, Mills College is a nationally renowned independent liberal arts college for women with graduate programs for women and men. Ranked one of the top-tier regional universities in the West by U.S. News & World Report, Mills is also recognized as one of The Best 382 Colleges in the nation by The Princeton Review. Since 1852, we’ve been empowering students to become creative, independent thinkers who take and inspire action. For more information, visit www.mills.edu.