11 October 2016

Sexual Harassment Workshop: Highlights and Outcomes

Nancy Morrison University of Toledo (Emeritus)

On Friday, 9 September, there was held in Washington, DC, a workshop entitled, "Sexual Harassment in the Sciences: A Call to Respond." It was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and co-sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), American Chemical Society (ACS), American Geosciences Institute (AGI), Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG), and Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN). The workshop press release is available online.

The AAS was represented by President Christine Jones, Past President Meg Urry (an invited speaker), Deputy Executive Officer Joel Parriott, and me, Nancy Morrison. Meg's talk came under the heading of the role of scientific societies in establishing the desired climate and culture in science and was entitled, "Lessons from the front lines of change: The AAS experience." The AAS experience was also referenced by other speakers, and the group Astronomy Allies (not an official AAS organization) was mentioned as an example of a helpful innovation that is being imitated in other scientific societies. The AAS graphic reading "If It's Unwanted, It's Harassment" was shown in at least one presentation in addition to Meg's.

The workshop topics were broadly organized around the seriousness of sexual and other forms of harassment and what scientific societies and other organizations can do about these bad behaviors. The invited speakers were informative and inspirational, and the small-group sessions were well-timed and well-organized. For me, there were eye-opening moments.

In preparation for the workshop, the organizers provided a useful list of resources. Particularly recommended: US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace: Report of Co-Chairs Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic (2016 June). A link to the full report is available on the same page.

The AAS Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) resource page on sexual harassment now includes the best of these resources. Newly added content is in blue.

Tangible outcomes from the workshop, as recently listed by the organizers, include:

  • A resource page
  • A draft set of organizational principles on harassment
  • Reports and programmatic activities in the geophysics community
  • Projected scholarly articles
  • Plans to develop "Stop Harassment" toolkits, teaching modules, bystander intervention training, traveling workshops, an expert speaker list, and metrics for measuring impact
  • Establishment of a network of informed advocates
  • Formal reporting to a broad range of scientific societies

This workshop aimed to engage the energies of the scientific community toward the goal of ending harassment of all kinds, and sexual harassment in particular. The AAS should start by attacking this problem at its own venues. As Kevin Marvel wrote, "Enough is enough."