Female academics’ career opportunities ‘reduced after #MeToo’

World-first study highlights need for clear sexual harassment policies, suggesting that men became more wary of collaborating with female colleagues

September 14, 2022
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The #MeToo movement has diminished female researchers’ careers by inhibiting collaborations at a crucial early stage, an analysis claims.

A study of female academics at 58 top US economic departments has found that their research productivity almost halved from 2018, after the #MeToo movement focused the world’s attention on sexual harassment in the workplace.

The study says that collaborations between female and male researchers had declined sharply. Women had few female alternatives to turn to – unlike men, who simply switched to collaborating with other men.

The negative effects were apparent in universities with higher numbers of sexual harassment cases and where harassment policies were “ambiguous”. In organisations with clear policies, the study found no significant decline in collaborations.

“MeToo was really important in creating awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace,” said author Marina Gertsberg, a senior lecturer in finance at the University of Melbourne. “But it’s also very important for organisations to support the movement by adjusting their internal governance structures and putting in place clear policies that outline appropriate behaviours in the workplace.”

The study, available on the SSRN repository, was conceived by Dr Gertsberg as a visiting scholar at Yale University, after observing how the #MeToo protests affected day-to-day activities. “I saw how men – especially those in more senior positions – were somewhat concerned about meetings with women. In academia, I saw how doors were left open when there was a meeting with a female student or colleague.”

The study identified every female academic who had obtained her doctorate after 2013 and had a tenure-track position at one of the top 100 ranked US economics departments. It focused on “work in progress” projects initiated between 2015 and 2020 by the 83 academics who had not changed institutions over that period.

The number of projects started each year plunged by 44 per cent after #MeToo’s emergence in October 2017.

Dr Gertsberg said that for the purposes of her study, it was unimportant whether concerns about #MeToo were warranted. “If men think they could be accused, that has an effect on how they behave.” While institutional policies were often intentionally vague, so that they covered unanticipated forms of abuse, this left men unsure of their ground.

“Men may worry that if they say one wrong thing, they’ll be cancelled and lose their careers. Policies must specify the things they cannot do. For example, some policies say it is not OK to repeatedly ask a colleague out on a date. Asking for a date is not a problem, but if she says no – and then you repeatedly ask – that is not OK.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: #MeToo ‘hurt female scholars’ opportunities’ 

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Reader's comments (4)

So true and sad that whatever happens, it is always the women folk who suffer. Why is it so difficult for men to NOT go the harassment way, not touch, be appropriate in their behaviour towards women, be it a student, colleagues and consultants.
"The study says that collaborations between female and male researchers had declined sharply. Women had few female alternatives to turn to – unlike men, who simply switched to collaborating with other men." So if men switched to work with men, why didn't women switch to work with women? Thwse findings also suggest that men became more productive and were able to advance their careers, unlike women? Obviously the above observations are deeply speculative, just as this "study". Very poor analysis. You have two control groups, women and men, not one.
Well, duh. As just one example of extreme lack of clarity on what is ok for men, this author suggests it is acceptable to ask a colleague for a date. Whereas for me as a male it feels extremely risky to ask a colleague on a date, far less pursue any kind of romantic relationship. Many senior males have had their careers and reputations ruined for just such at the hands of the me too mob.
Where is the rest of the article? Did you post the wrong edit?

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