Ending Sexual Harassment in Science: Designing and Administering a Survey That Can Lead to an Improved Organizational Climate

This article is co-authored by William T. Riley, Ph.D., Kathryn A. Morris, M.P.H., Charlene E. Le Fauve, Ph.D., and Hannah A. Valantine, M.D.

Workplace harassment, particularly sexual harassment, has substantial negative implications for individuals and organizations and for scientific advancement. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is uniquely positioned to lead the effort to prevent sexual harassment in the scientific community and mitigate its detrimental effects. Recognizing the need for benchmark data, NIH developed and validated the 2019 NIH Workplace Climate and Harassment Survey. The goal was to use best practices in survey design methods to create an instrument for rigorous assessment of harassment incidence and organizational climate predictors of sexual harassment in scientific research environments.

This article summarizes the processes used to design and administer the NIH survey and provides brief descriptions of 3 products of the process developed to guide scientific institutions wishing to embark on a data-driven approach to assess and prevent harassment: a document detailing survey development and methods; a survey implementation guide; and the key findings obtained from the survey, including recommendations for interventions targeting organizational climate at NIH and limitations of the survey. The survey identified that 1 in 5 respondents had experienced sexual harassment in the 12 months preceding their participation in the survey and that women, sexual and gender minorities, younger respondents, trainees/students, and individuals with a disability were more likely to have experienced sexual harassment. Those who had experienced sexual harassment during that period were also more likely to have experienced incivility, bullying, and intimidating behaviors in the workplace. NIH intends to use the survey findings as a quality assurance and quality improvement guide to inform future activities to prevent and address harassment across NIH.

Read full article at Academic Medicine.