Academic common room
20nil · 30/10/2017 18:45
Just want wondered if anyone hadn’t experienced sexual harassment or bullying? My complelety unscientific polls among female colleagues suggest that it is rife. I’m mid 40s and have experienced this at every level of my career. I was hoping things had improved, but it doesn’t seem so. Very depressing
Summerswallow · 31/10/2017 08:13
I don't think I have been sexually harassed. Not at work anyway. Constant street harassment in my twenties. At work, I've worked in fields with quite a lot of women in them (social sciences) and the men have always been respectful, even in the more male dominated fields. I don't much like conferences so don't tend to go very often, no idea if it is different there, my experiences have always been fine and enjoyable with male colleagues and I've had lots of good working relationships over the years.
I have experienced gender discrimination which is a whole different thing, relating to women having to be better at the same point than men to get promoted. This I have, and so have many women I know.
Summerswallow · 31/10/2017 08:15
I do also know of women being bullied by dominant male professors who get a tiny bit of power and run with it. The women ended up with unfair workloads, because the men were too scared to tackle their poorer performing male colleagues and prefer to overload junior women as a way of dealing with this. I've seen this happen a couple of times.
Twickerhun · 31/10/2017 08:23
I work in academia and think bullying at senior levels is rife. The worst bully I know is a woman. It's horrible. I'm looking to get out as soon as I can.
20nil · 31/10/2017 08:29
I had more overt sexual harassment when I was younger. The insidious bullying and undermining has got worse as I’ve got more senior. Obviously bullying, gender discrimination and sexual harassment are different beasts, but all seem to be a normal part of life for academic women. Am so fed up.
user918273645 · 31/10/2017 08:35
In areas of STEM where women are in the minority, bullying, harassment are common and occasionally sexual assault occurs (but the latter is almost never reported). That's in addition to gender discrimination. A lot of the behaviour I hear from junior women would simply not be tolerated in businesses.
I think academia is in denial. Athena SWAN has led to an increase in the training on unconscious bias, but this training assumes erroneously that there is no conscious bias and direct discrimination against women.
try2hard · 31/10/2017 09:36
Unconscious bias 'training' is unlikely to make any impact long term anyway. A week after you're out of the class room most people who need that knowledge have ignored/forgotten it anyway. Inventions targeting unconscious bias generally lose any efficacy after 24 hours anyway.
I've experienced sexual harassment. Male profs physically holding me to stop me walking away, making inappropriate comments. I've reported it all but it's all been swept under the rug with 'well that's profs for you' responses with a 'tsk' and a jaunty eye roll
user918273645 · 31/10/2017 10:07
I've been told to ignore sexual touching by professors also, with similar dismissive phrasing. There are several serious stories of sexual assault in my research community for which the woman has been blamed.
One thing I find interesting is that female academics who don't work in STEM don't seem to know that this happens. Male academics working in STEM turn a blind eye/accept it as normal/deny that it happens.
geekaMaxima · 31/10/2017 17:43
I work in STEM but haven't experienced inappropriate behaviour myself. It seems to vary by subfield. I've seen it in action at conferences a couple of times, in each case an American male professor in his 50s being creepy towards a clearly uncomfortable European female PhD student in her 20s (different individuals, same pattern).
A few of us discussed it at the time and wondered if sexual harassment was more rife from American profs because there's a greater tendency to treat them like gods in their labs. At least in my field, you often see US senior academics walking round conferences with an entourage of fawning students and postdocs from their lab. (It happens occasionally with UK and Euro professors as well, but nowhere near as much). It's also far more common when the professor is male compared to female. All that fawning must make some of them feel invincible, like of course no one is going to pull them up on their sleazy behaviour.
I didn't feel at the time that it was overt enough to say anything, but it probably was. I'm not sure how best to intervene in situations like that.
geekaMaxima · 31/10/2017 17:45
user Your experiences sounds awful. I'm sorry you had to go through that.
user918273645 · 31/10/2017 19:40
I don't think bad behaviour is more common in the US in my field. (BTW I suspect that bad behaviour becomes more and more common as the percentage of women drops.)
It is true though that it is hard to report sexual misconduct in the US, particularly if you want to stay in academia. Under title IX, if you tell anybody in the university, they have to report it officially. But if you want to stay in academia you aren't likely to want to go through official complaint channels, acquiring a reputation for yourself as a "trouble maker". At least in Europe you can talk to people confidentially about what is happening, to get advice on how to deal with it, without it becoming an official complaint with all that this entails.
try2hard · 31/10/2017 20:15
I'm not in STEM and it is pretty rife in my discipline. I think you have to be pretty arrogant to be a successful academic and that combined with power and low gender diversity means inappropriate conduct isn't challenged
20nil · 31/10/2017 20:27
I’m not in STEM and can tell you some terrible things that I’ve seen and experienced myself in my field. I was in a position for a few years where I heard complaints too and that was pretty harrowing. The worst of it was that women were damned if they complained and damned if they didn’t. I don’t think this has changed.
user918273645 · 31/10/2017 21:14
Yes, another consequence of sexual misconduct is that senior women have to spend their time (and emotional energy) dealing with it - this is time taken away from their research, time which is not accounted for in workload models as the issue is not acknowledged to exist.
20nil · 31/10/2017 21:48
Yes, exactly. Tackling discrimination against women takes up most of my energy at the moment. There’s no recognition for it but I am senior enough that I can carve out some time for it. However, this means no research so my career suffers. And so the cycle goes on ...
geekaMaxima · 31/10/2017 22:27
I think you have to be pretty arrogant to be a successful academic
I don't agree. There's a big difference between knowing your own worth and being arrogant. I know more self-effacing senior academics than arrogant ones (thankfully).
Arrogance is a symptom, though. In the most egregious example of inappropriate behaviour I'm aware of, the perpetrator was arrogant to the point of a god complex. Tosser.
try2hard · 01/11/2017 09:26
Maybe it's just my field then, but all the 'top names' are massively up their own arses and I think you do need enough arrogance to think your ideas are worth others' time
user918273645 · 01/11/2017 09:41
I agree with geekamaxima - not all successful academics are arrogant.
Most top academics are very driven (even more than other academics). Some are very competitive. Many are perfectionist, setting very high standards for themselves. A few are arrogant.
I do think academia encourages people not to complain about bad behaviour - we keep the same colleagues for many years so tend to tolerate behaviour that people working in businesses wouldn't. And even senior academics are reluctant to make a fuss about bad behaviour and appear confrontational.
A lot of universities are introducing more management of academics (not just performance, but also behaviour) but academics are often very reluctant to start "managing" colleagues' behaviour.
geekaMaxima · 01/11/2017 09:46
you do need enough arrogance to think your ideas are worth others' time
See to me that's just confidence. Why would you ever give a talk or write a paper if you didn't think your ideas were worth someone's time to consider?
Arrogance is more when you think your ideas are better than everyone else's and that you're never wrong. Not only arrogance but bad science.
LisaSimpsonsbff · 01/11/2017 09:50
I was thinking about this the other day (I'm a humanities postdoc) - I can honestly say that, in contrast to many other parts of my life, I've never been sexually harassed or subjected to inappropriate behaviour within a university, either as a student or as an employee. I know so many other women with terrible stories, though. I don't want to say I'm lucky because of course it shouldn't be 'lucky' not to be harassed it should be the absolute norm, but I certainly know my experience isn't standard.
Summerswallow · 01/11/2017 10:05
When I was at uni in my twenties, there definitely was inappropriate behaviour by our head of department with students and affairs were common between colleagues.
Since I moved department about 10 years ago, our department is quite 'straight' for want of a better word, I don't know of any inappropriate behaviour, or even affairs between colleagues. No sexual harassment that I know of. I also haven't found this at conferences, perhaps as someone else said, we are not in STEM and there's less of a cult-like aspect to Big Names.
There is domineering behaviour by senior male staff though, especially in one field which seems to attract the aggressive bullish types. My own field this is less the case and I can't imagine the men I know behaving like this.
I can imagine that this is really discipline dependent as cultures in the workplace differ a lot. I've also worked in female-led units which helps.
GameOldBirdz · 01/11/2017 10:33
In everyday life, male colleagues are, largely, respectful and treat women equally. I'm in social sciences.
I think there are lots of sexist structures and assumptions that my male colleagues are quite blind to though. For example, taking it for granted that their female partners will look after their children while they jet off for three month research visits on the other side of the world. Most of my male colleague's female partners don't work or work in part-time jobs with little prospect of progression. I don't think my male colleagues are always attuned to how much their career is being supported by their female partners.
Anyway, everyday at work in academia is fine.
Conference season though is a whole other ball game. A small number of senior men in my field turn into 20-year old frat boys at conferences.
MerryInthechelseahotel · 01/11/2017 10:34
When I was 20 I was working in a big college for men training to be priests. I was targeted by one of the very senior priests and attacked, very nearly raped. I was told it was my fault. Apparently I should have known he was like that. I wish I had.
MerryInthechelseahotel · 01/11/2017 10:36
I didn’t stay long after that but he did continue to harass me with looks and comments.
To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.