Female Scientists Respond To Study Documenting Sexual Harassment Against Women Of Color

"These are all current issues that women of color are facing right now. They’re feeling unsafe today."

Sexual harassment for women in the workplace is nothing new, and women of color often face such harassment more frequently than others. A new study which hypothesized just that, confirms even the sciences (which boast many fewer women to begin with) aren't always "safe" for women, particularly women of color.

The study, which was published on July 10 in The Journal of Geophysical Research, focuses specifically on women in astronomy and related fields. It was authored by Kathryn B. H. Clancy, Katharine M. N. Lee, Erica M. Rodgers, and Christina Richey, all of whom work in the sciences themselves. 

To collect their data, the foursome used an internet-based survey to evaluate the workplace experiences of 474 astronomers and planetary scientists between 2011 and 2015. Per Gizmodo, participants were asked about everything from verbal harassment to physical assault.

Among the upsetting results, the study found 40 percent of women of color reported feeling unsafe in the workplace as a result of their gender or sex, and 28 percent of women of color reported feeling unsafe as a result of their race. The study also found 18 percent of women of color and 12 percent of white women skipped professional events because they didn't feel safe attending, identifying a significant loss of career opportunities due to a hostile climate.

"This isn't something anyone can point to and say, 'These results are padded by something that happened in 1967,'" Kathryn Clancy — associate professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois and lead author of the paper — tells BuzzFeed News. "These are all current issues that women of color are facing right now. They're feeling unsafe today. They're skipping professional events today."

In fact, in the 24 hours since the paper was published, several women have confirmed the study's findings with their own personal accounts. 



To add some additional perspective and context to the study's findings, it's important to remember that women of color are seriously underrepresented in STEM, making the results that much more impactful. According to a 2015 report from the National Science Foundation, minority women account for fewer than one in ten employed scientists and engineers.

 Addressing the long-known issues proven by the study will take time, but said problems are, in fact, being dealt with. For example, at the 2014 Women of Color in STEM Conference, there was an entire seminar dedicated to breaking the silence about sexual harassment in the workplace.

In a press release published by the American Geophysical Union regarding the study, co-author Christina Richey said she's seen steps taken to address the sexual harassment faced by women in STEM, explaining how several professional associations have created new committees and hosted town halls where members are permitted to discuss topics such as sexual harassment, racism, and implicit bias. 

"I am impressed with the efforts that the American Geophysical Union, the American Astronomical Society, the Division for Planetary Sciences and their diversity committees and subcommittees, have put forth to make their meetings more inclusive and welcoming and safe environments for all in this short period of time," Richey said. "Being a leader means being responsible for the people around you, and for the people who put you into a leadership role.  I commend our leaders who understand that and take that role responsibly. I hope that using the results from this study and the suggestions for minimizing harassment, we continue to improve our work climate."

Cover image via Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images.

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