by Sarah J.F. Braley | February 28, 2017
A new survey conducted by Sherry Marts, Ph.D., CEO of S*Marts Consulting, a speaker, facilitator and business consultant, took a look at sexual harassement at scientific meetings. Open Secrets and Missing Stairs, her report on the Survey of Meeting Experiences, attempts to quantify the types of harassment that occur at conferences and its impact on the behavior of those who experience or witness it.
 
"Pretty much every time I have brought up the issue of harassment at meetings, I'd get a response along the lines of, 'Well, that never happens at our meetings. We've never had anyone report an incident,'" Marts, whose doctorate is in physiology, told M&C. "So I decided to collect some data."
 
Respondents accessed the survey link through her website and on social media, as well as through a variety of women in science groups, including the Association for Women in Science. Marks focused the questions on what kinds of harassment people experienced, what effect it had on those targeted, why they don't report it, and what they want their societies and associations to do about the problem. More than 200 people completed the survey, 87 percent of them women. Among the findings:
 
• Sixty percent reported having experienced harassment at a scientific meeting at some point in their careers.
• Of those who said they were harassed at least once at a scientific meetings, 84 percent said the harasser commented on his or her appearance, 79 percent were leered at or stared at, 49 percent were asked for sex, and 39 percent were touched, groped or grabbed.
• The harassment changed behaviors. Incidents caused 52 percent of the targets surveyed to give greater thought to what they wear, 49 percent worry more about their personal safety at meetings, and 33 percent avoid going to the social or networking events associated with a conference.
• Those who were harassed at a meeting said they were reluctant to report the incidents, as 54 percent did not know how or to whom to report it, 46 percent were afraid of being labeled a complainer or a troublemaker, and 24 percent were afraid of being blamed for the harassment.
• Respondents said they want their societies and associations to take action: 77 percent believe repeat offenders should be banned from future meetings, and 70 percent favor a meeting code of conduct or anti-harassment policy that is strictly enforced.
 
"In the past couple of years, more scientific societies have adopted codes of conduct for their meetings, and they are now working out the best ways to enforce those codes," noted Marts, who started her career working in a laboratory, doing cancer research, but left partly because she was stalked by someone there. "There are a few other scholarly societies that have adopted codes. I have yet to find an association outside of the STEM and other academic fields that has a code that they enforce. There are several STEM societies that are doing a great job addressing this issue. If there are others out there, I'd love to hear from them."
 
Read the report here.
 
In the meetings industry, the American Society of Association Executives, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events, Meeting Professionals International and the Professional Convention Management Association all have codes of ethics, some more descriptive than others. None of them directly addresses sexual harassment.