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  • Writer's pictureThe Greater Us

Scientific societies are in a unique position to effect change

Updated: Mar 24, 2019

At The Greater Us, we work with a range of organizations including businesses, institutions, and community groups. Recently we had the opportunity to work with a scientific society which was interested in inquiring into the pressures faced by its early career scientists as well as the factors that cause attrition among historically underrepresented groups. The Greater Us conducted a large-scale survey of the society's early career members, as well as those former members whom we could reach going five years back.

STEM fields are at an interesting intersection between academia and sciences. The academic sciences are hierarchical, historically homogeneous, and in a period of transition as there is increased focus on how power dynamics operate in these fields and the vulnerabilities that can result. The National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering released a groundbreaking report on these issues in 2018, and found that harassment was a powerful driver of attrition for women in STEM.

The report stated that scientific societies "should accelerate their efforts to be viewed as organizations that are helping to create culture changes that reduce or prevent the occurrence of sexual harassment... They should use their influence to address sexual harassment in the scientific, medical, and engineering communities they represent and promote a professional culture of civility and respect." These societies are uniquely positioned to intervene in their fields by establishing new norms for professional behavior, creating and implementing new models, and intervening in the problems that tend to arise in STEM settings.

We perceive a strong desire on the part of young scientists we work with for scientific societies to set the tone for the field by demonstrating support for diversifying the field and-- most importantly-- not tolerating harassment. A subset of our recommendations for scientific societies navigating these issues in the current moment include:

  • Developing a code of ethics for the field which specifically names harassing and discriminatory behavior as violations of professional ethics

  • Issuing a strong and clear policy against exclusionary practices, including a position statement on civility and respect in work and educational environments

  • Inquiring about sexual harassment, exclusionary practices, and violations of professional conduct if the organization conducts site visits to departments and labs

  • Offering members who have been the targets of sexual harassment access to free legal counseling

  • Ensuring that leadership, which is often more homogenous than junior membership, is educated about the issues that face early career scientists

  • Ensuring that networking events that bring scientists together at conferences and other professional events do not center around alcohol.

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