Persistent sexual harassment is a likely driver behind why women leave science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, writes Hope Jahren in an op-ed in the New York Times.
More women than men enroll in graduate education in the US, notes Jahren, a geobiologist at the University of Hawaii, but there is a progressive loss of women from STEM ranks, even with concerted efforts to encourage women to pursue STEM careers.
Part of the reason women leave, she says, is because of sexual harassment. As she's begun to write about women in science, Jahren says that many women, including her own students, have shared their stories with her. And they tend to follow the same patterns.
It, Jahren writes, typically begins with an email with a subject line that is unusual and an opening line that's along the lines of "It's late and I can't sleep" or "Maybe it's the three glasses of cognac." The sender then goes on to tell the recipient how special she is and how she has awoken certain feelings in him.
The recipient usually isn't quite sure how to respond, Jahren says, and still has to work with the sender professionally. This first email, she notes, is usually ignored, but then the situation escalates as the sender tries to get the recipient alone. "On and on it goes, and slowly she realizes that he's not going to stop because he doesn't have to, " Jahren says.
The recipient often just wants to go back to before that first email was received, Jahren says. But since that's impossible, "she starts to want the one thing that she feels she can have at this point: She wants out of science."
Jahren tells any woman who contacts her to respond immediately to that first email to tell the sender to stop, since that's where any investigation, should there be one, will first look. She also advises her to create and enforce strong professional boundaries and to document everything.
"I wearily advise her to stick it out in science, but only because I cannot promise that other fields aren't worse," Jahren adds.