The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recently released a comprehensive report on Sexual Harassment of Women in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The long (over 300 pages) report is based on decades of research and is a must-read for everyone in academia. The authors of the report show how and why sexual harassment — and the ignorance and disregard of it — is tightly woven into the fabric of academia. This is not surprising to many of us who have experienced harassment, but the sheer magnitude and universality of women’s experiences is still astounding. There is no single ‘ah ha!’ moment; rather, the report provides a steady stream of data-driven and evidence-based conclusions that all point to the fact that academic institutions as they exist today are either unwilling to or fundamentally incapable of addressing sexual harassment. The report validates the experiences of many; for many more, it reinforces our frustration with lack of meaningful progress over the last three decades. The personal stories of women who have struggled and suffered in academic systems are a must read to understand how broken the system truly is.
The report makes it abundantly clear why institutional and legal policies that claim to address sexual harassment simply do not work. Despite many recommendations for how to implement meaningful change included in the report, the way forward remains unclear: when and how can recommendations be implemented? Who will be responsible for overseeing these changes? Can we rely on the National Academies or any other leading scientific and academic institution to meaningfully lead the way on fixing sexual harassment? The Academies are rife with their own issues of sexual harassment and harbour many culprits, yet have been unwilling to enact meaningful change — making it hard to believe that the organization is willing to set an example and lead the charge to hold others accountable.
We 500 Women Scientists applaud the National Academies for publishing a report that arms us with concrete data as we work with institutions to implement policies that protect people from harassment as well as hold the harassers accountable. But before we can roll up our collective sleeves and get to work, we have to have a shared understanding of what harassment is, name the problem, confront the ugly consequences, and come up with immediate steps to root out harassment in academia, something the NASEM report fails to do. So stick with us, we summarize the report below and begin to lay out a path forward.
NOTE: We 500 Women Scientists want everyone (even if you think you know the problem inside and out) to read the entire NASEM report. But in lieu of that, we want everyone to read all the way to the bottom of this article and face the discomfort, learn from it, and help us fix it.