OSA Leadership Conference Tackles Thorny and Complex Anti-Harassment Issue

By OSA Communications

The Optical Society’s (OSA) 2019 Leadership Conference, during a 2 April 2019 plenary session, tackled a pressing and complex subject facing scientific societies: Implementing anti-harassment policies that address sexual and gender harassment as well as bullying behaviors.

Eliminating harassment of any kind is seen as critical to increasing the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.

But, if there is one thing that makes it most difficult for a segment of the population to join in on something like a STEM field, said 2019 OSA President Ursula Gibson, “it’s the feeling that they might get picked on if they try it.”

Left to right: Ursula Gibson, Jamie Lewis Keith, Billy Williams and Kevin Marvel

Credit: Suzanne Ffolkes

Gibson introduced panelists for the plenary session, which was entitled “Wish We Had Known: Implementing Anti-Harassment Policies.”

 Kevin Marvel, executive officer, American Astronomical Society, noted that AAS, founded in 1899, has gradually been shifting from a majority male membership to greater percentages of female members in younger age groups--though still not equal.

By 2008, AAS governance realized the need for an anti-harassment policy, Marvel said. Since then, AAS has learned that “having a policy isn’t enough.”

You can’t think of it as being as easy as having an anti-harassment policy and putting it on your website,” Marvel said. “There’s a lot more to be done.”

AAS began communicating the policy and ways to report harassment with, for example, prominent signage at meetings.  Marvel said he knows he is communicating effectively when members call and complain about seeing the anti-harassment policy messages too often.

Billy Williams, vice president, Ethics, American Geophysical Union (AGU), and another plenary speaker, said his organization followed AAS in creating an anti-harassment policy.

“We have many members who work remotely in the field,” Williams noted. In that environment, away from the lab, he said, “there are people who feel like anything goes.”

Today, the “Safe AGU” program is one way AGU as a scientific society is working to change the culture in science regarding harassment. At AGU meetings, he said, staff and volunteers sport green “Safe AGU” buttons to let meeting attendees know who they can go to for help should it be needed.

 Jamie Lewis Keith, a partner at consultancy EducationCounsel, spoke about gender harassment as an often-unseen problem in academia, including STEMM (science, technology, engineering, math and medicine) fields. Gender harassment can be thought of as put downs rather than come-ons, she said, and includes behaviors such as gender-based insults and slurs.

“Whether or not the law recognizes gender harassment as illegal,” Keith said, “it is as harmful to women as sexual harassment.”

High rates of harassment persist in STEMM fields, Keith noted. She suggested that scientific societies follow EducationCounsel’s “Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM.” OSA is one of seven members of the Societies Consortium leadership council that is working to develop model anti-harassment policies and educational tools.

Keith said scientists must build communities that are actively intolerant of harassment and support diversity and inclusion. Working together, Keith said, scientists can “urge collective acts of accountability and responsibility.”


Posted: 2 April 2019 by OSA Communications | with 0 comments

The views expressed by guest contributors to the Discover OSA Blog are not those endorsed by The Optical Society.


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