AWIS member Dr. Joanne Kamens

Addressing Harassment in STEM at the Systemic Level

By Joanne Kamens

AWIS is a founding member of the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM which was formed in response to the 2018 NASEM report on the persistent issue of sexual harassment in STEM. The consortium’s mission is to address harassment in all its forms and intersectionalities.

I am currently serving as AWIS’s representative to the Societies Consortium Leadership Council and recently attended the 5th annual convening of the Consortium along with Meredith Gibson, CEO of AWIS. The convening was hosted by the American Geophysical Union and included a diverse representation of society leadership, academic senior administration, DEI knowledge experts, funder representatives and early career voices.

The convening had a very timely theme – Advancing the Future of STEMM: Transforming the Threat of Gender/Race DEI Retrenchment into an Opportunity for Systemic Change – and was guided by three objectives:

  1. Defang DEI backlash—Societies will consider their role in catalyzing ecosystem-wide progress toward gender and intersecting racial equity, diversity, and inclusion in STEMM.
  2. Explore strategies for how societies individually, and through the Consortium, can empower graduate student and early-career leaders of marginalized gender and race, to advance a future of STEMM equity, ethics, and excellence.
  3. Continue to focus on courageous, transformative, and ethical leadership–and how to pivot from principles to policies to concrete and sustainable action, advancing gender and intersecting racial equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The keynote by Holden Thorp, Editor-In-Chief of the Science Family of Journals was moderated by the amazing Shirley Malcom, SEA Change Director AAAS and Consortium Co-Vice Chair. It was inspiring to hear these leaders talk bluntly and openly about the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion in our academic science infrastructure and their calls for change.

I particularly appreciated Dr. Thorp’s discussion about the “hidden curriculum” of scientific success. Those are the things that members of marginalized groups don’t always get to know and therefore have less chance to succeed. For example, reach out to talk with editors and grant managers to get advice and guidance before writing or submitting papers and grants. Those who are “in the know” know how impactful this is.

There were a series of panels and breakout sessions focused on action and solutions. I facilitated a session with Dr. Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux, Assistant VP of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Assessment at Caltech on “Empowering Early Career Voices & Leadership.” Dr. Malcolm-Piqueux and I were asked to use the breakout time to identify lessons on how scientific societies can welcome and elevate the voices of early career professionals in ways that benefit their career advancement, as well as the society/field. Some of the ideas that were generated in our session included:

  • Reward, credit, travel support and incentives for participation in culture change initiatives.
  • Include more earlier career scientists on boards and in leadership of societies.
  • Implement cross organizational group mentoring programs (e.g hosted by societies, such as our AWIS Mentoring Circles)
  • Shift to term limits in society leadership roles as a requirement.
  • Base awards on the full scientist, not just the scientific part of their career.
  • Uncover the “hidden agendas” of involvement – the volunteer roadmap should be clear with clear, inclusive entry points to participation.

The Societies Consortium has spearheaded a project to drive change around harassment and particularly around the practice of “pass the harasser.” Universities sometimes withhold tenure or silently terminate harassers allowing them to rapidly seek (and obtain) employment elsewhere. The Ethical Transparency Tool (ETT) is designed to “support AAU’s harassment prevention principles and the recommendations of NASEM’s June 2018 report on sexual harassment of women in academic science, engineering, and medicine by helping to create a norm of transparency about findings of misconduct against a person, across the higher-education and research ecosystem of societies, institutions of higher education, and other research organizations. This tool covers sexual, gender, and racial misconduct — as well as professional licensure, financial, and research misconduct to maximize its utility.”

These careful, collaborative efforts by extraordinary leaders will improve the STEMM ecosystem so all are welcomed, supported and treated ethically. Review the actionable and useful resources available on the consortium website. If you want to get involved, consider seeking a leadership role in your scientific societies and make sure they join the Consortium. Offer your voice to this work.