Science, technology, engineering and math have long been male dominated fields, with women making up only a small fraction of the workforce. While educators and workplaces have made progress to lessen the gender divide, women in these fields still face sexual harassment at an alarming rate.
An issue obscured in subtlety
The rise of the #MeToo movement highlights the prevalence of ongoing sexual harassment problems in workplaces in a broad range of industries. A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences draws attention to pervasive sexual harassment issues in STEM fields and education. A staggering 40 percent of female medical students and 20 percent of female science students experience harassment from staff and faculty members during their studies. But the harassment is often gender based and subtle, which can go unnoticed by officials. The lack of overtly sexualized behavior can make it difficult for women to report the problem.
A systemic problem
While high profile incidents involving celebrities continue to make headlines, the takeaway is not that there are a few bad apples that engage in this behavior. Rather, the problem of sexual harassment is systemic and often facilitated and reinforced by workplace cultures.
The study identified three workplace elements that foster inappropriate behavior:
· Employees fear retaliation for reporting harassment
· Workers do not think employers will take harassment complaints seriously
· Harassers are not appropriately punished
In STEM-based industries, female students and workers continuously fight against a culture of devaluation and disrespect towards the contributions and efforts of women. The ongoing harassment issues continue to put women at risk and limit their career prospects. It also deters other young women from entering STEM fields, furthering the ongoing gender gap problem.
Taking proactive measures
As lawmakers and companies slowly make strides to end sexual harassment, women should take a proactive approach if facing harassment in the workplace. If you are sexually harassed you need to document the incident as thoroughly as possible. Follow your company’s reporting guidelines and keep copies of any relevant information, such as a suggestive texts or emails. Refrain from talking about the issue on social media, as what you say could be used against you. When you are ready, seek professional guidance to determine possible legal remedies.