The tip of the iceberg

Dr Nancy Hopkins is known for her research identifying genes required for early development of the zebrafish and genes that predispose adult fish to cancer. During her early academic career, she worked under the supervision of James Watson. Watson collaborated with Crick and we know the famous story of how they won the Nobel prize for reaching the conclusion that DNA exists in the form of the 3D double helix.

Less widely known is the story (which has now been depicted in ‘Picture a Scientist’) of when Crick came into the lab where Nancy was working, ran up to her and put his hands on her breasts whilst looking over her shoulder asking her questions about her analysis!

This is the tip of the iceberg

We often assume that to classify as sexual harassment, it must fall under one of these three categories.

 Unwanted sexual behaviour

These types of harassment are just the tip of the iceberg.

What lies underneath

The vast majority of sexual harassment consist of subtle slights and microaggressions.

 Subtle exclusions
 Being left off an email
 Not being invited to collaborate
 Vulgar name calling
 Obscene gestures
 Passed over for promotion
 Relentless pressure for dates
 Remarks about bodies
 Sabotaging of equipment

Many talents individuals leave positions as a result of harassment and other negative experiences.

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong or fit in?

The nature of the beast

A few years later, Nancy was denied additional lab space despite it being obvious to see that more junior male colleagues had more space than her.

She worked to bring data to light to prove the gender inequality she saw and experienced at MIT, starting with measuring the labs space. She did this after everyone had left for the day under the cover of darkness.

When the Dean was presented with the data, it was hard to deny the facts.

Unexpected activism

Many of us don’t start out in our careers wanting to be part of activist and women’s groups but the experiences we face often lead to us wanting to be part of the solution. It was certainly that way for me.

If we had enough people that cared already, we would have gender parity, and we do not. The more people who care, the faster change will happen for us and for many generations to come. At the current rate it will take 100 more years to reach gender parity.

What does this mean to you?

I certainly want Elsie to have a different run at things and my boys to be allies.

PS You can watch the ‘Picture a Scientist’ trailer here. I highly recommend it.

PPS Download the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report on sexual harassment of Women in Academic Sciences, Engineering and Medicine here. Free summary version here.

PPS Lets move away from a culture of compliance to a culture of change. Join me