Survey: Half of women scientists worldwide sexually harassed

PARIS — Half of women scientists worldwide have been victims of workplace sexual harassment at some point in their careers, reported a survey published Thursday, March 16.

The poll, which included more than 5,000 researchers across 117 countries, showed 49 percent of women scientists saying that they had “personally experienced at least one situation” of harassment.

Nearly half of the cases took place after the MeToo movement emerged in 2017, according to the survey conducted by the Ipsos polling firm on behalf of the L’Oreal Foundation.

For 65 percent of the women, the harassment had a negative impact early in their careers. Yet only one in five victims reported her experience to the organization concerned.

READ: Gabriela wants harsher penalties for sexual harassment in workplace, schools

Insults, intrusive questions

The respondents to the survey’s questionnaire worked in more than 50 public and private institutions across the world, in such fields as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

A quarter of the respondents said they had been in a situation where someone “inappropriately and repeatedly referred to me as a girl, … doll, babe or chick,” or otherwise insulted them.

Twenty-four percent said they had been asked “intrusive and repeated questions about my private or sex life that made me feel uncomfortable,” the survey said.

‘They must feel safe’

Around half of the respondents said they had avoided certain members of staff, while one in five felt unsafe at the workplace.

Almost 65 percent said not enough was being done to combat sexism and sexual harassment.

READ: Sex predation looms large for women health sector workers

“This survey confirms that science has not been through enough of a revolution since the MeToo movement,” Alexandra Palt of the L’Oreal Foundation told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The foundation, which works with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to support women scientists, called on academic and research institutions to adopt zero tolerance policies and make budgetary commitments to address the problem.

“There needs to be an effective and transparent internal reporting system,” Palt said.

READ: ‘Widespread phenomenon’: Workplace violence, harassment

Only 33 percent of scientific researchers worldwide are women, and just 4 percent of Nobel Prize winners in the field of science have been female, the foundation said.

“If we want to fully harness the potential of women in research, they must feel safe,” Palt said.

The survey, held July 26 to September 12 last year, was conducted, not by the standard method of face-to-face interviews, but through consultations in groups.