More must be done to address systemic gender bias and harassment in STEM

February 15, 2022



Shelley O’Brien

More must be done to address systemic gender bias and harassment in STEM

WASHINGTON, DC, February 15, 2022There has been a lot of discussion over Dr. Eric Lander’s resignation as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. The Union of Concerned Scientists provides a great summary of what has transpired and why Lander had to resign — to ensure a safe workplace with scientific integrity and greater innovation. 

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Harvard University was also recently named in a lawsuit for ignoring harassment complaints of students. Due to the ongoing prevalence of bias and harassment of women in science and STEM, the Association for Women in Science wants to reinforce the following points:

  1. Harassment does not have to be sexual to be damaging and disruptive. Microaggressions and bullying have the same emotional impact as unwanted sexual attention. 90% of harassment is unseen. It is subtle and cumulative like being mistaken for the junior technician, the custodian, or just feeling invisible. It takes an immense toll when you deal with it day after day.
  2. There is no room for bullying in STEM. It hurts the victims, the science, and the economy. Only 28% of STEM occupations are filled by women, yet 50% of STEM degrees are earned by women. This discrepancy is due to the unwelcoming environment in many organizations. (The lack of parental leave and support for caregivers does not help.) A McKinsey report found that promoting gender equality could add $13 trillion to global GDP in 2030.
  3. Employees, students, and bystanders should report inappropriate behavior. We encourage victims to bring their concerns into the light so that abusers can be held accountable. We acknowledge this is very difficult to do and applaud their strength of character. If you have not seen the documentary Picture a Scientist, watch it on Netflix.
  4. Organizations must adopt and enforce zero-tolerance policies for bullying and harassment. If your employees or students report harassment, listen to them and take action. People, especially leaders, must be held accountable for their actions to ensure a safe and inclusive work environment. We are disappointed that the White House did not ask for Dr. Lander’s resignation when the results of the investigation confirmed his inappropriate behavior.
  5. Future candidates should be thoroughly vetted. Dr. Lander downplayed the scientific contributions of Drs. Doudna and Charpentier, two Nobel Prize-winning scientists, and toasted a man known for sexist and racist behavior. “Red flags” like this should not be ignored. As the saying goes, when someone shows you who they are – believe them the first time.
  6. Women, non-binary people, and BIPOC candidates should be considered. There are plenty of qualified candidates, but not everyone shares the same perspective. A leader from a group that has been under-represented in STEM will have empathy and motivation to ensure an inclusive workplace.


As a member of the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM, AWIS will continue to advocate for change. We encourage the administration to find an appropriate replacement for Dr. Lander that will both advocate for science and treat employees with respect.


About AWIS: Founded in 1971, AWIS has been the leading advocate for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to achieve business growth, social change, and innovation. We are dedicated to driving excellence in STEM by achieving equity and full participation of women in all disciplines and across all employment sectors. In addition to scholarships, AWIS provides career resources, professional development, as well as networking, mentoring, and volunteer opportunities to build leadership skills. To learn more, visit and @AWISNational.