February 27, 2018

AGU CEO/Executive Director Chris McEntee Provides House Testimony on Combating Sexual Harassment in the Sciences

Posted by AGU Career Center

This morning, 27 February, Chris McEntee, Executive Director and Chief Execuitve Officer of the American Geophysical Union, provided oral and written testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Research and Technology Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, at a hearing on sexual harassment and misconduct in the science community. Her testimony addressed efforts and tactics aimed at preventing and combating sexual harassment in the sciences. To read the written testimony, continue reading below or watch the recording of the hearing (Chris McEntee’s testimony begins at the 52:21).

Chairwoman Comstock, Ranking Member Lipinski, Chairman Smith, Ranking Member
Johnson and members of the subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to testify on behalf of the
American Geophysical Union to talk about our efforts to address sexual harassment and
scientific misconduct. My name is Christine McEntee, and I am the Executive Director and CEO
of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). AGU is an international scientific society with
roughly 60,000 members in 137 countries. Our mission is to promote discovery in Earth and
space science for the benefit of humanity.

Harassment in the sciences, and in fact, in any industry, is not a new issue. But, it is an
issue that has become much more prominent as more victims have taken the brave step of
coming forward. Research confirms the extent of harassment in academic environments and
especially in disciplines with low diversity, where the lack of established support networks can
lead to feelings of vulnerability and professional insecurity. Another problem identified by
research on harassment is the scarcity of well-defined resources for reporting and responding to
inappropriate behavior, including the perceived risk that the victims’ careers may be jeopardized
if they speak out (Clancy, et. Al, 2014).

The Earth and space science community has a lower representation of women compared
to both the general U.S. population and many other science, technology, engineering and
mathematics disciplines. While the demographics of AGU’s members and the Earth and space
science community have evolved over the years, we know more work is required to ensure
diverse perspectives are represented in our sciences. In 1975, AGU’s membership comprised of
just 15% women; by 2016 that had grown to 27%, with women accounting for nearly 50% of our
members under the age of 30.

Additional considerations specific to the Earth and space sciences are that careers
typically involve remote work experiences in the field or on ships where accepted work norms
may be hard to enforce. When coupled with a male-dominated environment and power structure,
these isolated environments can amplify the issue and make women more vulnerable to
harassment. Collectively, these factors demonstrate an urgent need for scientific institutions to
address their role and obligations regarding harassment and workplace climate.

AGU leadership affirms the international principle that the free, open, and responsible
practice of science is fundamental to scientific advancement and human and environmental wellbeing.
As a member of the scientific community and enterprise, AGU also affirms its desire to
foster and support a safe and professional environment in order to learn, conduct research, and
communicate science with integrity, respect, fairness, trustworthiness, and transparency at all
organizational levels and in all scientific endeavors. This includes all professional interactions
within the scientific community and with members of the public. We recognize that failure to
uphold these principles harms our profession, our scientific credibility, and the well-being of
individuals and the broader community.

Based on the above, and after in-depth discussion on the topic of harassment impacts in
our scientific community with AGU Council, AGU Board, and an AGU Member Town Hall
Meeting, in June 2016, AGU leadership, under the direction of our Past President Margaret
Leinen, convened a task force to review the AGU ethics policy and practices. The task force was
charged specifically with addressing code of conduct expectations related to harassment,
bullying, and other professional misconduct impacting our scientific work-climate. This policy
update was to set clear expectations for the behavior of AGU members and those participating in
AGU-sponsored activities.

In September 2017, AGU formally adopted a revised ethics policy with new language
that defines harassment, bullying, and discrimination as scientific misconduct. The update
expands the ethics policy’s coverage to include code-of-conduct implications for all AGU
programs, including Honors and Awards as well as Governance. In addition, it identifies
conditions under which the policy’s provisions may apply to actions that occur outside of AGU
programs. It also outlines clear procedures for reporting and follow-up on ethics issues. This
updated policy was a significant advancement from the previous policy for two reasons. First,
by defining scientific misconduct more broadly to include professional misconduct beyond the
typical research misconduct definitions of plagiarism and falsification of data, we help establish
norms of what is acceptable scientific behavior. Secondly, this change acknowledges the severe
impact that sexual harassment has in our scientific workplace, and we can now address it with
professional sanctions – such as in our professional honors and awards programs.

We believe we are on firm ground in defining the behaviors in this way because of the
damage they inflict on the entire scientific enterprise. Our members vocalized their support for
stronger policies, and research has shown the profound destructive effects of harassment not only
on the people directly involved, but also on the research, institutions, students, faculty and
colleagues surrounding the misconduct.

I am proud of the steps that AGU, our leadership, staff, and members are taking to
address this important and harmful issue. Our new policy aims to set new and strong
expectations for the culture we will accept, but it is only one step towards desperately needed
culture change.

AGU understands that no one organization can do it alone. We commend the other
scientific societies, such as the American Astronomical Society and American Geosciences
Institute, who have instituted similarly strong policies on harassment, and the other members of
this panel for their work. In particular, we believe the new NSF policy will provide a strong
incentive for institutions to take sexual harassment seriously.

However, we know ultimately, we will need the help of the entire scientific community to
work together to protect scientists from unwanted advances and intimidation and ensure a
harassment-free environment for the future. This is why AGU is establishing an ethics resource
center by collaborating and partnering with other institutions on programs which will include
developing new and leveraging existing resources, and providing tools, trainings and research to
help address ethics and harassment in science.

We very much appreciate the Committee holding this hearing to understand and assess
some of the important steps we can collectively take. Here are some of the actions that we
believe will make a difference:

  1. Strong policies against sexual harassment with clear and transparent reporting and
    follow-up procedures with consequences can play a large role in changing the culture
    around this issue. It is important to also provide and support an environment where
    individuals can report and speak out against harassment without fear of retribution.
  2. Training, education and building awareness are essential to combating this issue.
    However, training that is simply in place for legal compliance reasons is known to be
    insufficient, and, in some cases, may even be counter-productive. AGU has sponsored
    bystander intervention training over the past one year with very positive feedback from
  3. Consideration should also be given to positive approaches for supporting the necessary
    culture change – such as awards or certifications for those departments and institutions
    that publicly measure and track their progress towards positive work-climate and gender
    equity issues.
  4. Lastly, legislation can be a powerful incentive to ensure that organizations take sexual
    harassment seriously and that all of us are moving forward to provide a harassment-free
    environment. Any legislation that is proposed should include not only robust reporting
    requirements and clear, strict consequences for harassers, but should also incorporate
    training, education, and the positive approaches I mentioned earlier. By using a
    combination of both positive and punitive measures, we can not only hold accountable
    those who are engaging in this bad behavior, but also encourage a safer, more inclusive
    environment for the next generation of scientists.

Again, I would like to thank the committee for convening this hearing and bringing
attention to these important issues, and I appreciate the opportunity to testify here today. I am
happy to answer any questions you may have and look forward to continuing to work with the
committee and others to put an end to sexual harassment.