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  • Washington Highlights

    The National Academies Releases Report on Sexual Harassment in Sciences, Engineering, Medicine

    Amanda Field, Specialist, Science Policy

    The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) June 12 released its report on “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.”

    The report explains how the types of sexual harassment that are most typically in the public’s awareness, such as sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention, are only the “tip of the iceberg” - other types of gender harassment, including humiliation and name calling, are more prevalent and, depending on severity and length, can be as damaging to an individual or her career. Using this more comprehensive definition of sexual harassment, studies cited by the report show that 20 to 50% of students in science, engineering, and medicine report that they have experienced sexual harassment, with medical students experiencing significantly more than other disciplines.

    The report was developed by the Committee on the Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia. The committee recommends that a key area of focus to reduce and prevent sexual harassment is to create a culture and climate that does not allow such behavior. The committee also found that the legal system, while necessary, is not adequate enough to effect this cultural change. The legal system, for example, relies substantially on reporting, but most harassment is never reported.

    According to the report, evidence shows that the two most potent predictors of sexual harassment are an organization with male-dominated gender ratios and leadership and, the strongest predictor, an organizational climate that communicates tolerance of sexual harassment. The presenters at the report’s release emphasized ways to create an inclusive environment, suggesting that professional societies could play an important role, and outlining six recommendations for institutions:

    • Create diverse, inclusive, and respectful environments;

    • Diffuse the hierarchical and dependent relationship between trainees and faculty;

    • Provide support for targets;

    • Improve transparency and accountability;

    • Clearly stated, appropriate, and escalating consequences of perpetrators, corresponding to severity and frequency;

    • Strive for strong and diverse leadership; and

    • Make the entire academic community responsible for reducing and preventing sexual harassment.

    Following release of the NASEM report, AAMC President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, MD, issued a statement, noting, “Sexual harassment has no place in medical schools, teaching hospitals, and biomedical research. The AAMC strongly encourages our member institutions to review the findings and recommendations as they work to promote a culture of inclusiveness and respect across the academic medicine and biomedical research communities.”

    To assist institutions, faculty, and students in these efforts, the NASEM website provides several resources, including the report highlights, a video on the key recommendations, and an infographic on preventing sexual harassment, as well as highlights directed at federal policy makers.

    NASEM is hosting a discussion and responses to the report on June 26 in Irvine, Calif., which can also be attended by webcast.