June 12, 2018


To Prevent Sexual Harassment, Academic Institutions Should Go Beyond Legal Compliance to Promote a Change in Culture; Current Approaches Have Not Led to Decline in Harassment

WASHINGTON -- A systemwide change to the culture and climate in higher education is needed to prevent and effectively respond to sexual harassment, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. There is no evidence that current policies, procedures, and approaches – which often focus on symbolic compliance with the law and on avoiding liability -- have resulted in a significant reduction in sexual harassment.

The report, which examines sexual harassment of women in academic sciences, engineering, and medicine, concludes that the cumulative result of sexual harassment is significant damage to research integrity and a costly loss of talent in these academic fields. The report urges institutions to consider sexual harassment equally important as research misconduct in terms of its effect on the integrity of research.

Colleges and universities and federal agencies should move beyond basic legal compliance to adopt holistic, evidence-based policies and practices to address sexual harassment, the report says. It notes that sexual harassment often occurs in an environment of generalized incivility and disrespect. In contrast, sexual harassment is less likely to occur when organizational systems and structures support diversity, inclusion, and respect.

“A change to the culture and climate in our nation’s colleges and universities can stop the pattern of harassing behavior from impacting the next generation of women entering science, engineering, and medicine,” said Paula Johnson, co-chair of the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report, and president of Wellesley College.

In addition, the report urges Congress and state legislatures to consider a range of actions, including prohibiting confidentiality in settlement agreements and allowing lawsuits to be filed directly against alleged harassers, not just their institutions. It recommends that judges, academic institutions, and administrative agencies rely on scientific evidence about the behavior of targets and perpetrators of sexual harassment when assessing both institutional compliance with the law and the merits of individual claims. And it urges professional societies to use their influence to address sexual harassment in the scientific, medical, and engineering communities they represent, and to help promote professional cultures of civility and respect.

Among the report’s findings:

In addition, the best available analysis to date found that 58 percent of women faculty and staff in academia (all disciplines, not limited to science, engineering, and medicine) experienced sexual harassment. Other research shows that women of color experience more harassment -- sexual, racial/ethnic, or a combination of the two -- than other groups.

Gender harassment – behaviors that communicate that women do not belong or do not merit respect – is by far the most common type of sexual harassment.  Although often unrecognized as a form of sexual harassment or considered a “lesser” form of it, gender harassment that is severe or frequent can result in the same negative outcomes as isolated instances of sexual coercion. And when an environment is pervaded by gender harassment, other types of sexual harassment are more likely to occur.

Colleges and Universities Need Strong Leadership, Increased Transparency and Accountability

Preventing and effectively addressing sexual harassment of women in academia is a significant challenge, but research shows what will work to prevent sexual harassment, says the report. College and university presidents, provosts, deans, and department chairs should make the reduction and prevention of sexual harassment an explicit goal of their tenure. “Ultimately, success in addressing this challenge will require strong and effective leadership from administrators at every level within academia, as well as support and work from all members of our nation’s college campuses – students, faculty, and staff,” said committee co-chair Sheila Widnall, Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The report offers evidence-based recommendations as a road map for academic institutions:

The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, NASA, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  The National Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.  For more information, visit http://nationalacademies.org

Additional Resources: Watch the full public report release event

Sara Frueh, Media Relations Officer
Andrew Robinson, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail news@nas.edu

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Copies of Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are available at www.nap.edu or by calling 202-334-3313  or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


Policy and Global Affairs Division
Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine
Committee on the Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia


Paula A. Johnson1 (co-chair)
Wellesley College
Wellesley, Mass.

Sheila E. Widnall2 (co-chair)
Institute Professor and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Alice E. Agogino2
Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and
University of California

Nicholas Arnold
Professor of Engineering
Santa Barbara City College
Santa Barbara, Calif.

Gilda A. Barabino
Daniel and Frances Berg Professor and Dean
The Grove School of Engineering
City College of New York
New York City

Kathryn Clancy
Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Illinois

Lilia Cortina
Professor of Psychology, Women’s Studies, and Management and Organizations
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

Amy Dodrill
Vice President and General Manager
Trumpf Medical USA
Charleston, S.C.

Lisa Garcia Bedolla
Graduate School of Education, and
Institute of Governmental Studies
University of California

Liza H. Gold
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry
School of Medicine
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.

Melvin Greer
Chief Data Scientist, Americas
Intel Corp.
Washington, D.C.

Linda C.S. Gundersen
Scientist Emeritus
U.S. Geological Survey
Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth L. Hillman
Mills College
Oakland, Calif.

Timothy R.B. Johnson1
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Chair, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology,
Bates Professor of the Diseases of Women and Children,
Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Studies, and
Research Professor, Center for Human Growth and Development
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

Anna Kirkland
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Women’s Studies,
Director, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and
Director, Science, Technology, and Society Program
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor

Ed Lazowska2
Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering
Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering
University of Washington

Vicki J. Magley
Department of Psychological Sciences
University of Connecticut

Roberta Marinelli
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
Oregon State University

Constance A. Morella
Former U.S. Representative (R-Md.)
Washington, D.C. 

John B. Pryor
Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Psychology
Illinois State University

Billy M. Williams
Vice President for Ethics, Diversity, and Inclusion
American Geophysical Union
Washington, D.C.


Frazier Benya
Staff Officer

1Member, National Academy of Medicine
2Member, National Academy of Engineering