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Girls & Women

Nearly Half of American Women in Science Have Been Harassed, Study Says

The #MeToo movement helped turn the spotlight on workplace sexual harassment, and it seems that no industry is innocent. Women in Hollywood, boardrooms, and even laboratories and lecture halls have all said they’ve experienced sexual harassment on the job.

In fact, more than half of female faculty members in science fields have experienced harassment, according to a recent study conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

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Harassment was a common experience among both students and faculty, the report, released on Tuesday, found. Most women said that inappropriate and sexist comments or jokes had been made at their expense, though several women also said they experienced physical abuse.

But the fear of sexual harassment was not equally felt among the women in the study’s sample group. Women of color reported feeling unsafe more often.

The report advocates for better handling of investigations into harassment claims and better support for victims. It also calls on Congress to consider taking action to prevent confidentiality in sexual harassment settlement agreements — which several lawmakers have already proposed.

Though male and female achievement in math and science are about equal in the US, and women comprise half of the country’s college-educated workforce, women hold just 29% of positions in the science and engineering fields.

Read more: 3 Black Girls Cyberbullied at NASA Competition Just Won a $4,000 Science Grant

Because the science field remains male-dominated, some argue it is easier for harmful attitudes toward women to persist.

“The reason you see [high levels of sexual harassment] in the sciences — as well as politics and the military ... has to do with the way the sciences are male-dominated and are organizationally tolerant of sexual harassment,” Dr. Kathryn Clancy, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois and co-author of the report, told The Hill

But by taking steps to make work environments safer for and more hospitable to women, as the report recommends, more women might feel free to pursue careers in science. And with more women in the field, gender discriminatory attitudes could start to change.

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