Women…aren't signing up to work in your lab because they want to be sexualized or objectified. They are there to become a successful scientist.
She adds: "Even though the details of the case were horrific, there was… deafening silence from the departments at the centre of the case." Caltech did not respond to Broadly's invitation to comment.Another prominent astrophysicist calling for change is Professor Carole Mundell, the head of astrophysics at the University of Bath, who says: "There have been a number of high profile cases in the media over the past six months; it is clear that there is a strong research community desire to encourage institutions who do not appear to have good work cultures to address this urgently."Dr. Watts is aware that speaking out risks retaliation. She says victims wanting to report harassment face "substantial discouragement from institutions with a vested interest in maintaining their reputations, or from people who will warn them 'not to be a troublemaker.' This is toxic, and deeply harmful."But she says: "I have tenure, which provides a degree of insulation. The onus has to start to be on the tenured to stand up to the bullies in our field."Dr. Watts herself experienced harassment as a graduate student when she was groped by a senior male scientist at a collaboration dinner. She reported the assault, which was witnessed by her supervisor, but does not know if her attacker faced any repercussions. Even today, she has to avoid him at conferences, and stepped down from a research council recently when she found out he would also be a member."I explained to the chair why I was stepping down and although he was understanding, there was no question of the other guy being asked to step down," she says. Having now learned about a string of follow-on incidents where the man went on to harass other women, she says: "I am taking concrete actions to remove him from any position where he would have power over young women."There are days, Katherine says, where it's impossible for her to do any work— either because she's supporting other women who have been harassed, or because she's dealing with her own harassment. "We are standing up to fight back now because we have no other option. The universities have a duty of care that they are completely ignoring. I think talking to each other about what we're all experiencing has made a huge difference. We're still a minority in most departments, but we all have worldwide networks that we can bring together."The UK and Europe, says Mia, are only just starting to wake up to the problems faced by female scientists, and some of the world's most respected universities continue to offer jobs to known bullies and harassers. "These people are incredibly aggressive and bullying and they come to the top. I feel really sad that the daily abuse still happens. For all the talk about sexual harassment, will things change? I have no idea—but we will keep fighting for it to change."
We are standing up to fight back now because we have no other option. The universities have a duty of care that they are completely ignoring.
* Some names and identifying details have been changed