House Bill Would Direct Agencies to Examine Sexual Harassment in STEM

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Those who introduced it intend to help pave the way for new federal policies.

A bipartisan pair of senior lawmakers introduced legislation that would prompt multiple federal entities to comprehensively study—and inform new policies to reduce—sexual harassment impacting America’s science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM workforce.

Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, and Frank Lucas, R-Okla., on Tuesday put forth the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act.

“This bill supports research and data collection to understand the causes, consequences, and mitigation of sexual harassment in federally funded research environments,” Johnson said. “The bill also requires federal agencies that fund research to do their part to ensure that such funds do not go to researchers who are found to be harassers.”

The 17-page piece of legislation first points to official reports published in recent years that suggest sexual harassment holds heaps of women back professionally, and that reporting procedures among government agencies to target it are not consistent. 

If passed, the bill would direct the National Science Foundation to implement a competitive grant program for academic institutions and nonprofit organizations to extend research into sexual and gender harassment among STEM personnel, and interventions to lessen incidents and the consequences of such behavior. NSF also would be required to convene a working group with others from federal statistical agencies to gather national data and craft questions to potentially be used in future surveys around the “prevalence, nature and implications” of sexual harassment in higher education. 

Among other mandates, NSF would also need to collaborate with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to undertake an up to three-year study into “the influence of sexual harassment and gender harassment in institutions of higher education on the career advancement of individuals in the STEM workforce.” Further, the bill would direct the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to create an interagency working group to coordinate federal science agency-driven efforts to mitigate such hassles involving grant personnel. Deeper policy guidelines for federal agencies regarding sexual harassment would also be developed.

To fulfill these calls, the legislation would authorize to be appropriated $17.5 million. 

It was referred to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which Johnson chairs, and Lucas serves as a ranking member.

“Only 23% of women who earn STEM degrees stay in STEM careers, and, sadly, a culture of harassment is one of the largest factors in our inability to retain women in the scientific workforce,” Lucas said. “I’m proud of the work our committee has been doing to expand STEM education and professional opportunities for women, but without addressing sexual harassment we will continue to struggle to keep women in STEM careers.”

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