Fundamental Institutional Change Is Needed to Eliminate Sexual Harassment
In order to make change, it must happen at the institutional level with commitment, transparency, resources, and accountability.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) recently released 15 recommendations for university staff, students, legislators, and professional organizations to eliminate sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment can negatively affect health, as addressed in a report published in JAMA.
"Sexual harassment, both implicit and overt, restricts the productivity, recognition, funding, advancement, earnings, retention, and continuation of women in their fields," wrote Carrie L. Byington, MD, of the Texas A&M University Health Sciences Center, and colleagues. "The consequences for women who experience sexual harassment are not only professional. These women are also at risk for adverse health outcomes with health effects compounded for minorities, including sexual minorities."
Dr Byington and colleagues analyzed the recommendations from NASEM, which noted that "the greatest predictor of the occurrence of sexual harassment is the organizational climate." The authors noted that in order to make that change, it must happen at the institutional level with commitment, transparency, resources, and accountability.
The 15 NAESM recommendations are as follows:
- Create diverse, inclusive, and respectful environments.
- Address the most common form of sexual harassment: gender harassment.
- Move beyond legal compliance to address culture and climate.
- Improve transparency and accountability.
- Defuse the hierarchical and dependent relationship between trainees and faculty.
- Provide support for the targeted individual.
- Strive for strong and diverse leadership.
- Measure progress.
- Incentivize change.
- Encourage involvement of professional societies and other organizations.
- Initiate legislative action.
- Address the failures to meaningfully enforce Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination.
- Increase federal agency action and collaboration.
- Conduct necessary research.
- Make the entire academic community responsible for reducing and preventing sexual harassment.
As the report notes, institutions must stay committed to following through with disciplinary action. "Discipline must cease to be merely symbolic," Dr Byington and colleagues wrote. For transparency, the report suggests putting in place advising structures and mentorship rather than an "all-powerful committee chair" in order to help mitigate the occurrence of sexual harassment.
Trainings and other resources are also important factors toward eliminating sexual harassment.
"Training is a vehicle for clearly conveying behavioral limits; expectations for civil, respectful interactions; and the institutional commitment to act when laws, policies, or norms are breached," the authors noted.
Finally, institutions should be held accountable for upholding their commitment to ending sexual harassment. The report said not only should organizations implement programs, they should also review and continually improve aspects of the programs.
The recommendations from NASEM can only go so far. It takes institutional change to enact these steps toward eliminating sexual harassment.
As the authors asked, "Do medicine and the health sciences have the will to act swiftly and decisively by implementing essential structural change? Or will institutions, either by commission or omission, condone the practice that allows women physicians and scientists, collectively, to work hard, receive less recognition and lower salaries, and pay a mental and physical toll just to do their jobs?"
Fairchild AL, Holyfield LJ, Byington CL Making the case for fundamental institutional change [published online August 20, 2018]. JAMA. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.10840