Career In Progress

Women Are Quitting Science Because Creepy Bosses Won't Stop Hitting on Them

Sexual harrassment is affecting women in STEM careers 

Women are increasingly enrolling in college and higher education, but one place they continue to struggle is the science lab...and not for reasons you might think.

According to a New York Times op-ed, many women are leaving science, technology, engineering and math programs (or STEM fields) because of ongoing sexual harassment by male colleagues.

Professor A. Hope Jahren says she receives countless emails from former students and colleagues about the creepy behavior they have to put up with. "Sexual harassment in science generally starts like this: A woman (she is a student, a technician, a professor) gets an email and notices that the subject line is a bit off: 'I need to tell you,' or 'my feelings,'" she says. "The opening lines refer to the altered physical and mental state of the author: 'It’s late and I can’t sleep' is a favorite, though 'Maybe it’s the three glasses of cognac' is popular as well." The guy confesses his feelings and attempts--continuously--to hit on the woman, whether on email, in-person or at conferences and events. 

This is especially problematic because that the world of academia depends on good relationships. "The scientific method may be impartial, but the scientific culture is not. From grad-school admission on up through tenure, every promotion can hinge on a recommendation letter’s one key passage of praise, offered — or withheld — by the most recent academic adviser. Given the gender breakdown of senior scientists, most often that adviser is a man," she writes. Women often feel pressured to be nice or even indulge in the harassment out of fear of losing out on promotions and funding.

Jahren says she often advises women, telling them to set clear boundaries and stick it out. "And I hope that this is enough to make him stop," she says. "But it never, never stops."

How do you think sexual harassment should be addressed within higher education?

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