Even Doctors Get Sexually Harassed

by Emma Cueto

When you think of workplace sexual harassment, you tend to think about corporate offices rather than doctors' offices, but turns out sexual harassment happens everywhere. A new study finds that 30 percent of top female clinician-researchers have been sexually harassed at work. That's right: Literally a third of the best women doctors around have had to deal with extremely inappropriate comments and behavior directed towards them in the workplace. That, in a word, sucks.

In the study researchers surveyed over 1,700 men and women who have received prestigious career development awards from the National Institute of Health (known as K-awards) — that is, 1,700 people who are at the forefront of academic medicine. And it turns out that not even being a doctor at the head of your field is enough to shield you from sexism: 66 percent of women surveyed said they had experienced some for of gender bias during their career; 70 percent said they have seen gender bias in their field; and 30 percent have been outright sexually harassed.

"I had a misperception that overt sexual harassment was largely a thing of the past, a vestige of another generation,” study author Dr. Reshma Jagsi of the University of Michigan said. “I think we can say that it looks like things might be somewhat better today than they were in the past, but not as much as I expected.”

Indeed, these results are better than a study conducted in 1995 and published in 2000, which Jagsi points out found that about half of all female academic medical faculty said they'd been sexually harassed at work. But the fact that things have gotten better than "outright horrifying" still doesn't make these latest findings anything other than "unacceptably bad."

The study's authors found that one of the issues allowing sexual harassment to remain common is women's understandable reluctance to come forward or to speak about it publicly. “The people who get these K-awards are rockstars in research, and they don’t necessarily want the focus to shift to them as ‘victims,'" Jagsi explained.

And that's a common issue in confronting harassment just about anywhere. From the Anita Hill hearings when workplace sexual harassment first became part of the national conversation all the way up to the present, speaking up about sexual harassment has rarely come without backlash or consequences for women. It's easy to understand how any woman — especially women who have found success in a male-dominated field — would be reluctant to make people see them differently by openly discussing harassment.

Images: DarkoStojanovic/Pixabay; Giphy