How You Can Help Fight Sexual Harassment and Discrimination in Science Right Now

500 Women Scientists
4 min readOct 16, 2017

Yesterday, many of our friends and peers started sharing a simple message on social media: “me, too.” The message is from anyone who has faced sexual harassment and sexual assault. If it wasn’t clear already, sexual violence, especially sexual violence against women, is rampant. 500 Women Scientists is committed to fighting harassment in science and empowering women and their allies with tools and resources to fight back.

To everyone who has faced sexual violence and discrimination, we want to say this:

We hear you. We believe you. We see you. We’re here to help. And we’re calling on all of our colleagues, especially our male allies, to listen, step up, and help.

When it comes to sexual harassment and sexual assault in science, the evidence is clear. Seventy-one percent of women field researchers have received inappropriate sexual remarks and 26 percent reported experiencing sexual assault. In the field of astronomy, 40 percent of women of color report feeling unsafe in their workplace as a result of their gender and 28 percent as a result of their race. In the last two years alone, high profile cases of sexual violence have been reported in astronomy, biology, entomology, linguistics, geology, immunology, paleoanthropology, and physics.

This culture drives women out of science. And despite our desire to be objective and neutral, the evidence is also clear that men often ignore the evidence of gender discrimination in our own ranks.

  1. Listen to women. Believe women. Share the evidence. This is not the time to tell women in your field that “not all men” are violent or sexist. We know. The problem is that most men are silent in the face of the ongoing violence against their female peers and their silence makes them complicit. If you want to be an ally, don’t just express your sympathy, demonstrate your allyship by speaking out and supporting women. Educate other men about sexual violence in our field — the numbers don’t lie.
  2. Know resources for victims. When we hear stories about sexual harassment and assault, we often don’t know what to do besides offering our sympathy. Educate yourself and share resources with victims. Offer to anonymously report misconduct on their behalf, with their permission. Understand that internal HR systems are not always geared toward helping victims, but are instead built to protect institutions. Encourage women who feel helpless to speak with counselors at organizations like RAINN.
  3. Speak up when women are harassed or marginalized. When a female colleague has a good idea, repeat it, build on it, and give her credit by name. When a female colleague offers to do traditionally gendered work like taking notes in a meeting or serving food, encourage men to share the work instead. When a male colleague makes a comment about a female colleague’s appearance, contrast that immediately by saying what you appreciate about her work. When male peers make sexist comments, pull them aside and let them know how poorly their words and actions reflect on them and their institutions. Often, to be effective and heard, these interventions have to come from other men. When men fail to intervene, the burden falls on women to protect themselves.
  4. Refuse to work with sexist colleagues. Make it clear to repeat offenders that they are harming everyone’s ability to do their work. Don’t write grants and papers with them. Don’t invite them to events. Refuse to participate in events to which they’ve been invited and tell the organizers why their participation makes you and your peers uncomfortable. Tell them sexism has no place in science.
  5. Challenge your own sexism. Good allies critically self-examine their biases and understand that good people can also say sexist things. Allies should also challenge themselves, deeply, to think about how they have approached consent in their own lives and commit to doing better and ensuring that their sexual relationships are founded on proactive, enthusiastic, stated-out-loud consent.
  6. Push for policy change. The American Geophysical Union has now classified sexual harassment as scientific misconduct, so ask your society to do the same. Push universities to transparently update and enforce anti-sexism policies and move toward zero-tolerance for harassment and assault.
  7. Know your Title IX rights. An Obama-era directive clearly defined sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination under Title IX, directing schools to evaluate harassment claims based on a “preponderance of evidence.” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has rolled back that directive, issuing guidance that universities should instead consider a “clear and convincing standard” of proof. But this guidance doesn’t change your Title IX right to an investigation around sexual harassment or assault. In October, California Representative, Jackie Speier, introduced a bill that would codify the “preponderance of evidence” standard. Call your representatives and ask they support the bill.
  8. Organize. We’re all in this together. Victims of sexual harassment and assault often feel isolated and powerless, but when a few of us start speaking out, we can fight back together against people in positions of power who abuse others. Join your closest 500 Women Scientists pod — membership is open to everyone! — or consider forming one at your campus or institution.

We will update this list with more ideas and resources.

We stand in solidarity.