Washington Update

FASEB and AAMC Host Sexual Harassment Webinar, Final in Series

By: Teresa Ramírez
Thursday, April 25, 2019

On April 22, the findings and recommendations from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) report, “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine,” was presented in a webinar hosted by FASEB, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and NASEM. FASEB and AAMC are part of the newly formed Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine).

The report’s study director Frazier Benya, PhD, summarized the report’s key findings and two critical recommendations: addressing gender harassment, which is the most common form of harassment, and moving beyond legal compliance to address culture and climate change. Dr. Benya mentioned that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination comprised of three types of behavior: sexual coercion, unwanted sexual attention, and gender harassment.

One sobering finding Dr. Benya shared – from a meta-analysis cited in the report – is that 50 percent of women faculty and staff in academia experience sexual harassment. She also mentioned a recent survey finding that between 20 and 50 percent of female students in science, engineering, and medicine experience sexual harassment from members of their faculty and staff.

The NASEM report found that women of color and minorities experience the most sexual harassment when compared with their peers. Women of color, in particular, experience a combination of both racial and sexual harassment. The NASEM report’s authors found that sexual harassment is most likely to take place in environments that are male-dominated, and in organizations that tolerate the harassing behavior.

Other speakers during the webinar were Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, from University of Michigan and Laura McCabe, PhD, from Michigan State University. Dr. Jagsi focused her remarks on promoting safe and equitable environments in medicine. She cited a statistic that female medical students are 220 percent more likely than students from non-STEM disciplines to experience sexual harassment from faculty or staff. Dr. Jagsi said the interventions needed to address the high rates of harassment in medicine are data-gathering and learning from evidence-proven approaches to inform interventions and demonstrate institutional commitment.

In her remarks, Dr. McCabe described early steps that universities and scientific societies are taking to address harassment by providing learning opportunities and open discussions for faculty, students, and staff. She said that vehicles to address the problem include online training modules, town hall sessions, new departments of harassment prevention, and climate surveys.  To move beyond legal compliance towards addressing culture and climate change, Dr. McCabe said bias training should be available for bystanders, students, staff, and faculty to prevent sexual assault and harassment, implicit bias, and macroaggressions.

In order to implement the recommendations outlined in the report, NASEM has launched the Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education; over 40 institutions have joined.

FASEB, AAMC, and NASEM joined forces on a series of six webinars keyed to 2018 NASEM reports on the biomedical and medical workforce. The archived webinars can be viewed here.