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Women scientists hope to see changes regarding sexual harassment

Scientists -- especially women scientists -- hope that 2017 is the year that things change so that sexual harassment and gender bias among scientists starts to become a relic of the past.

2016 was the year a peephole opened up to reveal an ugly view of the role sexual harassment plays in the scientific community. The response has been tremendously vocal and proactive, with the hopes of changing the situation once and for all.

Among other revealing research, a study on female scientists found that 71 percent had been sexually harassed in the field and 26 percent had been sexually assaulted. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported two-thirds of female biomedical researchers had personally experienced gender bias and one-third had experienced outright sexual harassment, including sexist comments and pressure for sexual favors.

The net effect of the unchecked sexual harassment in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and other related fields is that it's damaging to everyone. Young women who experience harassment early in their careers are put in the position of either capitulating to the demands made or angering their older, male mentors -- the very people who are supposed to help open doors for them in their field.

Nearly half of the women who had been sexually harassed said it affected their career advancement and more than half said it affected their confidence level. Many say that there is a sense among women in the sciences that sexual harassment is a price that has to be paid in order to remain in their fields -- so many ultimately don't. They drop out and move into other jobs or move into private industry instead. When bright people flee the science fields rather than deal with the sexual harassment, progress as a whole suffers.

In response to the growing concern over sexual harassment in the scientific community, the American Geophysical Union, the American Astronomical Society, the Biophysical Society and the American Physical Society have all created new codes of conduct and clarified the consequences of violating those codes. The ultimate goal is to create a cultural shift that won't be as accepting of the status quo and an environment that will encourage more women to stay in their chosen scientific fields.

If you've experienced sexual harassment or demands for quid pro quo sexual favors from your mentors and supervisors in your field, an attorney can tell you about your legal options.

Source: WIRED, "Month By Month, 2016 Cemented Science's Sexual Harassment Problem," Sarah Scoles, Dec. 29, 2016

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