Anita Hill, an attorney and professor at Brandeis University, is one of my heroines. She had the courage in the early 1990s to accuse her ex-boss Clarence Thomas of inappropriate sexual behavior toward her when he was her supervisor. When she learned that he was nominated for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, she felt she had to testify to his lack of moral character during his confirmation hearings. She came forward and spoke the truth of her experience. While she was not able to stop his confirmation, she did give a voice and a name to the abusive behavior that women have always been subjected to by powerful men—sexual harassment. Her testimony opened a door for women to work together with male allies to make the workplace safer and more inclusive for all women.
First, the good news: dozens of women have been speaking out about sexual harassment in the workplace in recent months, bringing their upsetting experiences into the light and out of the shadows after a long period of silence about this issue in organizations. Understandably, women have been coming forward slowly either because of pressure to stay silent or justifiable fear of negative consequences to their careers. Gretchen Carlson spoke out at Fox News and brought about the firing of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, and other women gained courage from her example to tell their stories of sexual harassment at Fox.
Women, for the most part, just want sexual harassment to stop when it happens. But, as Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports, women (and it is mostly women who are harassed) rarely report sexual harassment for good reasons: fear of retaliation that can take the form of hostility from supervisors, bad references, or loss of opportunity when labeled as a “troublemaker.” This is not a small problem for women. Miller reports that an analysis of fifty-five surveys shows that close to 50 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment, but only one-fourth to one-third of people who have been harassed report it to a supervisor or a union representative. Only 2 percent to 13 percent file a formal complaint.
I love Spain and have spent a lot of time there for work and leisure travel. I was, therefore, particularly interested in an article by Raphael Minder in the New York Times reporting that women in Spain have achieved greater parity in their national parliament, the Cortes Generales, than we have made in the US Congress. Women make up 40 percent of the Spanish Cortes while, according to the Rutgers Center for Women in Politics, women hold only 19.4 percent of all seats in the US Congress.
Why is sexual harassment so widespread? Recent headlines reveal sexual harassment scandals at Fox News—against Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly—and a long list of technology and financial organizations including Uber and Tesla. Additional offenders play on sports teams at multiple universities. Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes that we need to take a close look at the culture of masculinity in the United States to understand the source and the pervasiveness of sexual harassment.
Gretchen Carlson went public about the sexual harassment she endured from Roger Ailes as an employee of Fox News and got Roger Ailes fired. Carlson did not agree to stay silent when offered a settlement as part of a nondisclosure agreement, and she got fired. It took courage to go public, and, subsequently, many women have come forward to tell their previously undisclosed stories of sexual harassment. In her article in the New York Times, Carlson notes that, according to the National Women’s Law Center, “almost half of all women have been sexually harassed at work. And those are the ones who have been brave enough to reveal it.” In a previous article, I explain why sexual harassment is still so prevalent in the workplace.
I am the survivor of both sexual assault and rape, and I understand all too well the high cost, or tax, that women pay for being treated as sexual objects. I experienced sexual assault as a child, an adolescent, a young woman, and a middle-aged woman. I have never talked about most of these experiences, but I believe that women now need to speak out to make it clear that disrespecting women is a real problem, not just “locker room talk.” Sexual assault and violence are serious problems all over the world and not small problems in our country. Amanda Taub of the New York Times reports the following:
The American Bar Association (ABA) recently passed national standards that prohibit harassment of opposing counsel, witnesses, coworkers, court personnel, and others in the course of practicing law. Elizabeth Olson of the New York Times reports that according to the new standards, “harassment includes sexual harassment and derogatory or demeaning verbal or physical conduct” based on race, religion, sex, disability, age, sexual orientation, or marital or economic status.
In a separate article, Olson explains that harassment has long been intentionally used in the legal profession to intimidate or fluster opposing counsel and witnesses as well as to reinforce male-dominated attitudes in the legal profession. She reports that a recent ABA study found that “stereotypical sexist remarks to female lawyers contribute to their underrepresentation in the legal field.” The study also revealed these statistics:
“I am worried about my new boss,” reported my client, Julie, a bright young woman in her thirties. “I had to leave my last job because my boss demanded sexual favors from me in order to keep my job. I had no one to turn to for help because he is so powerful and respected in the small world of our profession. Reporting him would have been career suicide, so I just quit. Now I am worried that my new boss is starting to show signs of the same expectations. I need this job and I don’t know what to do! Can you help me?”
3 Reasons Why There are Fewer Women in STEM Professions: New Research Brings Hidden Barriers to Light
The fact that there are so few women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) professions has been a mystery for a long time. A. Hope Jahren of the New York Times writes that according to the most recent statistics released by UNESCO, “women’s enrollment in graduate education in the United States has been greater than men’s for each of the last 30 years.” But every year, female students drop out of STEM graduate programs in large numbers and are denied tenure at high rates when they do complete their studies and move into faculty positions. Women are also poorly represented as senior STEM leaders. Jahren notes that women do not drop out of graduate programs because of performance—there is no difference in GPAs between women who drop out and those who stay in. And women are not denied tenure because of a failure to publish. So what is going on? Several new important studies reveal reasons why women struggle to be successful in the sciences and point the way to changes that will make it possible for them to succeed in the STEM professions.