Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas., and Frank Lucas, R-Okla., introduced the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act, which would expand research efforts to better understand the causes and consequences of sexual harassment in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce.

“The academic workplace, when compared to the military, private sector, and government, has the second-highest rate of sexual harassment, with 58 percent of women in academia experiencing sexual harassment,” said Johnson, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. “This behavior undermines career advancement for women in critical STEM fields.”

In addition to supporting additional research and data collection into the causes and consequences of sexual harassment in Federally-funded research environments, the legislation would require Federal agencies that fund research to ensure that research funding does not go to researchers who are found to engage in sexual harassment.

“We have a responsibility to combat sexual harassment in the scientific community, both on behalf of the individuals who suffer from harassment, and on behalf of our STEM workforce as a whole,” said Lucas, who serves as ranking member on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Lucas pointed out that the STEM fields struggle with both attracting and retaining female workers.

“Only 23 percent of women who earn STEM degrees stay in STEM careers, and, sadly, a culture of harassment is one of the largest factors in our inability to retain women in the scientific workforce,” Lucas said. He said he’s proud of the work the committee has done to expand STEM education and professional opportunities for women, but “without addressing sexual harassment we will continue to struggle to keep women in STEM careers.” He said the new bill is “a key component of our work to build a stronger and more diverse American STEM workforce, and I hope we can move quickly to pass these important policies.”

The legislation would require the director of the National Science Foundation to create a new grant program for institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations to research sexual harassment in the STEM workforce.

The grant funding can be used for:

  • “Research on the sexual harassment and gender harassment experiences of individuals in underrepresented or vulnerable groups, including racial and ethnic minority groups, disabled individuals, foreign nationals, sexual- and gender-minority individuals, and others;
  • The development and assessment of policies, procedures, trainings, and interventions, with respect to sexual harassment and gender harassment, conflict management, and ways to foster respectful and inclusive climates;
  • Research on approaches for remediating the negative impacts and outcomes of such harassment on individuals experiencing such harassment;
  • Support for institutions of higher education to develop, adapt, and assess the impact of innovative, evidence-based strategies, policies, and approaches to policy implementation to prevent and address sexual harassment and gender harassment;
  • Research on alternatives to the hierarchical and dependent relationships, including but not limited to the mentor-mentee relationship, in academia that have been shown to create higher levels of risk for sexual harassment and gender harassment; and
  • Establishing a center for the ongoing compilation, management, and analysis of campus climate survey data.”
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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.