Sexual harassment experiences and consequences for women faculty in science, engineering, and medicine

By Christine Lindquist, Tasseli McKay

In a qualitative study of 40 women faculty in sciences, engineering, and medicine (http://sites.nationalacademies.org/SexualHarrassment.htm), respondents at all career levels and fields reported a range of sexual harassment experiences, including gender-based harassment (e.g., gendered insults, lewd comments), unwanted sexual advances, stalking, and sexual assault by a colleague. Sexual harassment experiences often diminished study participants' scientific productivity as energy was diverted into efforts to process emotional responses, manage the perpetrator, report the harassment, or work to prevent recurrences. Many women who experienced sexual harassment adjusted their work habits and withdrew physically or interpersonally from their departments, colleagues, and fields. Study participants who disclosed harassment to a supervisor or department leader often reported that the reactions they received made them feel dismissed and minimized. Sympathetic responses were often met with dismissiveness, minimization, or sympathy, but active or formal support was rarely provided, and women were typically discouraged from pursuing further action. Formal reporting using university procedures was often avoided. University-level reporting sometimes damaged women's relationships with department colleagues. Women who disclosed their experiences often faced long-term, negative impacts on their careers. Study participants identified opportunities to address sexual harassment by (1) harnessing the power of university leaders, department leaders, and peer bystanders to affect the academic climate; (2) instituting stronger and better-enforced institutional policies on sexual harassment with clear and appropriate consequences for perpetrators; and (3) advancing the cross-institutional work of scientific and professional societies to change the culture in their fields.

Bibliography

Lindquist, C., & McKay, T. (2018). Sexual harassment experiences and consequences for women faculty in science, engineering, and medicine. (RTI Press Publication No. PB-0018-1806). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press. https://doi.org/10.3768/rtipress.2018.pb.0018.1806

© 2018 RTI International. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Authors

Christine LindquistChristine Lindquist, PhD, is a senior research sociologist in the Center for Justice, Safety & Resilience at RTI International.

Tasseli McKayTasseli McKay, MPH, is a social science researcher in the Center for Justice, Safety & Resilience at RTI International.

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