Is Sexual Harassment Causing Women to Flee STEM Jobs?

A recent article published by The Atlantic suggests many women are pushed out of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs due to sexual harassment. Most of the sexual harassment occurs while women are pursuing graduate and post-doctorate studies. Sexual harassment in academia can have lasting effects on the careers of women.

According to the article, many women experience quid pro quo sexual harassment from professors and male faculty. Quid pro quo means ‘this for that’. Male faculty often control access to lucrative research assignments and expensive lab equipment. Graduate students and post-doctorate researchers also depend on professors for good recommendations after leaving their research programs. Professors may use their authority to solicit sexual favors from women who are desperate to advance their careers.

The article goes on to describe how pregnant women are especially vulnerable to harassment and discrimination. Some have their funding pulled or are taken off of research assignments after becoming pregnant. Others receive snide comments. When pregnant women are forced out of research programs due to harassment, this can leave them without health insurance or access to stipends.

Obviously, some women may see STEM careers as too risky or not worth the trouble. Keep in mind, a UC Hastings report from last year claimed one in three female science professors have experienced sexual harassment!

Sexual Harassment in Academia May Be Illegal

Women in academia do have legal options. The vast majority of research grants given to universities come from federal funds. As the Atlantic article points out, this means that most research programs are subject to Title IX enforcement. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in all programs that receive federal funds.

Title IX specifically prohibits “gender-based harassment, sexual harassment and sexual violence.” This means academic programs can face legal consequences for sexual harassment or for discriminating against pregnant women.

Women who are employed by universities also have protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This means workers can file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or file lawsuits.

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