Sex harassment in STEM fields highlighted by professor’s resignation

Posted in Sexual Harassment on November 18, 2015

There has been a big push in recent years to get more girls and women interested in STEM careers – jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. These fields continue to be male dominated, and many believe it is because girls are discouraged from pursuing STEM subjects starting in their earliest years of school.

This may be true, and there are probably a host of other complex reasons to explain why more women do not pursue careers in the STEM fields. But there also seems to be a simple reason why these fields are not attractive to women: Pervasive sexual harassment. Many women who currently work in these male-dominated professions say that women are routinely sexually harassed by male colleagues, superiors and professors (during college and graduate school). Speaking out against a harasser often means jeopardizing future employment prospects, research funding or a letter of recommendation.

In recent months, a scandal at the University of California, Berkeley has generated significant conversation among astronomers. A high-profile professor and researcher resigned after news agencies published the leaked results of a sexual harassment investigation focused on him. That investigation revealed that between 2001 and 2010, he had violated the school’s sexual harassment policies with at least four women.

Many are equally angry with the University for its failure – and admitted inability – to fire the professor for his inappropriate conduct. If he had not agreed to resign, school officials said they could not have fired him without a “lengthy and uncertain” disciplinary process.

The one silver lining to this high-profile incident is the discussion it has prompted. Women and men in the STEM fields are now talking about sexual harassment openly, which is a necessary first step in solving the problem.

If you have been the victim of workplace sexual harassment, you don’t need to suffer in silence. Please discuss your case with an experienced employment law attorney.