Blumenthal & Smith Lead Introduction of Legislation to Stop Sexual Harassment in STEM

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act today to improve the understanding of factors contributing to sexual harassment in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, examine impacts of harassment on individuals and policies to reduce it, and spur interagency efforts to mitigate this harassment.

“This bill directly confronts the persistent and pervasive culture of sexual harassment in STEM,” said Blumenthal. “Harassment and discrimination rob talented individuals of brilliant careers and deprive our country of their great minds. With deep gender inequality in STEM fields, we must make it easier for women and other underrepresented groups to join and thrive in these industries. I’m proud to spearhead this effort with Senator Smith and ensure we put a stop to unacceptable harassment and discrimination in STEM.”

“This sad truth is clear: we know that many people pursuing careers in STEM fields have experienced sexual harassment,” said Smith. “We need to put a stop to this, and empower all students to live up to their fullest potential and succeed. I’m introducing the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act with my colleague Senator Blumenthal because we cannot look away—we have to address this problem and support all those pursuing, and actively working in, jobs in the STEM field.”

This legislation follows a landmark 2018 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which found that sexual harassment is wide-spread in higher education institutions and contributes to loss of talented, highly-trained individuals in STEM. U.S. Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced a similar version of the bill in the House last week.

Among its provisions, the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act would award grants through the National Science Foundation (NSF) to better understand the factors contributing to and consequences of sexual harassment across institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations and to examine interventions to reduce its frequency and impact. The bill would also direct Federal statistical agencies to collect national data on the prevalence, nature, and implications of sexual harassment in institutions of higher education, direct NSF to enter into an agreement with the Academies to update the Academies’ research conduct report to include more detailed data points, and establish an interagency working group chaired by the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate the efforts of Federal science agencies.

The legislation has also been cosponsored by U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Alex Padilla (D-CA).

“The ongoing culture of sexual harassment in STEM fields is unacceptable. We must directly confront this culture and take action to address it. Tackling gender inequity – and inequity across the board – in our STEM fields is vital to ensuring our success in these areas, and promoting safe and inclusive work and learning environments is key to that goal,” said Van Hollen.

“Workplace sexual harassment is a widespread problem that affects too many, and I’ll continue pushing for policies that send a clear message that it will not be tolerated,” said Klobuchar. “I thank Senators Blumenthal and Smith for their work on this bill.”

“Sexual harassment has no place in our society. Congress needs to do more to combat sexual harassment in federal programs, colleges and universities, and the workforce, and this bill takes important steps to address the issue through better data collection and research, new resources, and improved coordination,” said Hirono. “I join my colleagues to reintroduce this legislation today because we must actively work to stop sexual harassment everywhere.”

“Sexual harassment in the workplace is especially pervasive in male-dominated fields like STEM. Harassment creates a culture of impunity, fear and abuse that far too often results in some of our brightest and most talented minds being driven away from the sciences,” said Shaheen. “This legislation includes common-sense policies to identify and address factors contributing to harassment and ensure our scientific workforce can thrive. Supporting survivors of sexual harassment and violence will always be a top priority for me in the Senate.”

“As the #MeToo movement continues to spotlight, sexual harassment remains all too prevalent in the workplace. Too often, women, people of color and non-binary people are forced out of academic work due to this very kind of harassment. This is a travesty on two fronts—it deprives survivors of the careers they should have had and it causes brain drain in critical STEM disciplines, curbing scientific and technological advances,” said Wyden. “Congress must figure out how to stop sexual harassment in STEM, and this bill is the start we need.”

“This pandemic has proven how crucial STEM skills are to the future of our country and how important it is to support our STEM workforce,” said Brown. “American innovation in science and technology is made stronger when everyone is able to participate free from discrimination or harassment. This legislation takes important steps toward ensuring more inclusive, safe, and equitable opportunities are afforded to scholars in STEM fields, which were already underrepresented by women and especially women of color, well before the pandemic.”

The Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act has been endorsed by American Educational Research Association, American Mathematical Society, American Physical Society, Society of Women Engineers, and American Geophysical Union.

The text of the Senate legislation can be found here and the summary of the bill can be found here.

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