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By Leah Poffenberger
A 2018 study by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine revealed the continued presence of sexual and gender harassment in the sciences: More than 50 percent of women faculty and 20 to 50 percent of women students have experienced some form of sexual harassment.
In response to this report, organizations in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM) are banding together to combat this widespread issue. The Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM now includes representatives from more than one hundred organizations, including APS.
“[The Consortium] is looking at the issue of sexual harassment very broadly and coming together, pooling our resources or knowledge or expertise, to develop shared tools and resources that we can use—that’s the first benefit,” said Monica Plisch, Director of Education and Diversity Programs at APS. “The other benefit is to create a network of organizations that are doing this work together and can learn from each other.”
The Consortium was launched by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the American Geophysical Union. APS joins the three originating societies and six other societies on the Consortium’s Executive Committee, which will help steer the direction of the Consortium. The Consortium is also working closely with EducationCouncil, an organization that provides policy and law support to improve education on all levels.
“EducationCouncil is managing the work of the Consortium. They're doing the work of producing tools and resources and gathering information, but we provide the oversight, we provide the steering,” says Plisch. “[Being on the executive committee] is a particularly important role as the Consortium is getting launched to see that it gets launched in the right direction.”
One of the Consortium’s first priorities was to create a model policy for revoking or withholding honors, drawing on experience from organizations within the Consortium and legal guidance from EducationCouncil. This model policy can be used as a starting point for leadership at organizations to create their own policies regarding consequences for ethical violations such as sexual harassment. The policy was presented at the June 6 meeting of the Society's new standing Ethics Committee (see article on New APS Ethics Committee Holds Inaugural Meeting).
Another priority for the Consortium is the implementation of a survey to learn what its 108 member societies are doing to address sexual harassment in their respective fields.
“Many of the members are looking for resources at this point and have just started to implement a code of conduct at society meetings, but not a lot of societies have gone beyond that,” says Plisch. “We’re all looking to each other for how to move forward.”
In September, delegates from each of the member societies will gather for the first time to build a society network and discuss tools, survey results, and exchange experiences.
“The National Academy report that came out last summer made it really clear that issues of sexual harassment are still pervasive throughout the sciences and something needs to be done because we are losing talent—sexual harassment is an issue that significantly impacts the enterprise of science,” says Plisch. “I think our greatest hope would be that by coming together and pushing in the same direction, we actually might be able to make significant progress toward eradicating sexual harassment in the sciences. And that's a big dream, but it's also something we have to do.”
For more information, visit the Societies Consortium web page.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik