The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology unanimously approved bipartisan legislation today, 20 June, to stop sexual harassment in the sciences. The bill follows a 2018 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that found that 58% of individuals in the academic workplace experience sexual harassment.
The Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2019 “is an important step in tackling the serious issue of sexual harassment in the sciences,” committee chair Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said at a committee markup that advanced the bill for consideration by the full House.
Johnson and committee ranking member Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) jointly introduced the legislation on the first day of the 116th Congress.
The bill calls for the National Science Foundation to expand research efforts to better understand the causes and consequences of sexual harassment and gender harassment in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce and to examine interventions to reduce harassment. The bill also calls for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish an interagency working group to coordinate federal science agency efforts to reduce sexual and gender harassment.
The bill states that “sexual harassment undermines career advancement of women” and that many women have reported leaving their jobs at institutions of higher education because of sexual harassment.
“I hope [the bill] can play an important role in focusing federal efforts to stamp out sexual harassment in the sciences,” Johnson said at the hearing.
“Unfortunately, too many women have been driven out of STEM careers due to a culture of harassment and abuse,” Lucas stated. “H.R. 26 takes the first steps to addressing the problem.”
He said that engaging more women in STEM studies and careers “is essential to American competitiveness. Women make up half of the workforce but account for less than 25% of America’s STEM workforce.”
Bipartisan Committee Effort
In an interview with Eos, Lucas said that the legislation is an example of bipartisanship on the committee.
“My chairman indicated early on in the year after we’d gone through all the investigations and all the background work last year that there was a major problem about sexual harassment,” he told Eos. “I agreed with it. It was something that we could address working within the jurisdiction of the committee, and it seemed like the appropriate way to send the signal by filing this [bill] as one of the first pieces of legislation at the beginning of the session that we were going to do something. And you’ve seen this committee now become a very product oriented group. Progress.”
Lucas, however, would not venture a prediction about how the legislation might fare in the Senate. “I’ve been around long enough to know that you can’t guess the other body,” he said. “We can only do our work and do it in an efficient and effective way, and lay it out before them and encourage them to be responsive. They’ll step up when and how they see fit, but we’ve laid great groundwork here today.”
—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer