SWE Works to Go Beyond Title IX as a Member of Societies Consortium

The Society of Women Engineers is among 125 members acting to advance inclusion, excellence, and integrity and to stop harassment in STEMM fields.

By Sandra Guy, SWE Contributor

While lawyers fight in court over President Trump’s redo of the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX regulations, a consortium of STEMM societies is advancing anti-harassment best practices. It’s called the Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM.

SWE was among the members that joined the Societies Consortium its first year. The consortium started in January 2019. Roberta Rincon, Ph.D., SWE’s associate director of research, served as one of about 25 volunteer facilitators for experience-sharing, problem-solving breakouts at the consortium’s annual (and virtual) members meeting Sept. 16–17, 2020.

The consortium’s mission is to gather like-minded STEMM societies whose leaders are committed to advancing ethical, professional, and inclusive societies and fields.

The consortium provides expert resources — model policies, operational tools, and law and policy guidance.

The consortium also:

  • Hosts “Hot Topics” web discussions led by societies in the Consortium Leadership Council and with law-policy experts contributing, with all members invited to participate.
  • Provides a web-based “Members Matching Tool” that allows members to identify and connect with other members working on the same issues and with similar size and resources, or with more experience if desired.
  • Holds a virtual annual meeting and members year-end meeting with small group breakouts.
  • Hosts focus groups and topical brown bag gatherings with small breakouts.

Each member makes a financial commitment based on a sliding scale to pay for the consortium’s experts to create the model policies. The societies provide input into the policies and share their experiences and any additional policies they’ve found effective. The sliding scale makes the consortium affordable to any society that wants to join.

“The consortium’s members aren’t just addressing what’s illegal [in terms of harassment], but what actually causes harm to people and the reasons people avoid or leave STEMM fields,” said Jamie Lewis Keith, J.D., a partner with EducationCounsel LLC, which focuses on making the American education system work for underserved students from early childhood through higher education. Keith leads the EducationCounsel team that serves as the consortium’s co-originators, policy-law advisors, and senior staff. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Geophysical Union (AGU), and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) were the consortium’s co-originators and sponsoring societies. They and seven other societies form the inaugural governing board.

“We are not just looking at whether regulations reflect the right policies for implementing Title IX,” Keith said. “Laws are important, but they’re not enough alone. We’ve had laws on the books for decades and they haven’t changed climate and culture, and have set only basic standards of conduct. We’re looking to create real inclusion in STEMM fields.”

keith headshot
“It’s a marathon,
not a sprint.”

“Laws are important, but they’re not enough alone. We’ve had laws on the books for decades and they haven’t changed climate and culture, and have set only basic standards of conduct. We’re looking to create real inclusion in STEMM fields.”

– Jamie Lewis Keith, J.D., a partner with EducationCounsel LLC

She noted, however, that the new Title IX regulations do emphasize that sexual harassment is prohibited by the statute.

AAAS, AGU, and Keith came up with the idea for the consortium after an AAAS panel discussion in which the audience discussed harassment, but no one offered concrete steps to stop it.

The National Academies’ June 2018 report “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine” provided the research-based evidence for the imperative to address sexual harassment in STEMM and the rationale for the consortium’s mission, Keith said.

“We wanted to focus on societies because they are the arbiters of excellence in STEMM fields,” she said. “They are committed to focusing on their standard-bearer role by modeling inclusion in their own operations, and their standard-setter role by setting standards of excellence that support a work product but also inclusive conduct.”

“So a society has resources that provide the option of considering not only, ‘What is an excellent contribution in the field?’ but ‘Do you have a research lab that is inclusive and supportive of success for everyone? Or is it an unhealthy kind of resource lab that perpetuates the barriers of sexual, gender, and other harassment?’” Keith said.

The effort to create model policies that societies may customize to their own needs takes time and commitment, but the consortium makes it a most cost- and time-efficient way to advance the ball, Keith said.

The societies may customize the consortium’s resources. The resources, among others, include:

  • Title IX regulations: What the Trump-DeVos rules say, key takeaways, to whom and how they apply, and their implications
  • Honors and awards for excellence in the field: encouraging the kind of good, ethical, and integrity-focused conduct that warrants this recognition. Requires both excellence in the science and inclusive conduct.
  • Conduct at meetings, both in-person and virtual. Do’s and don’ts range from making sure all voices are heard to remembering to criticize ideas rather than people. See the sidebar, “Consortium meeting guidelines,” for more of the list.
  • Conduct in ethics in any society activity: Sexual and gender harassment and intersecting bases of harassment are unethical. They exclude people and prevent inclusion and participation and perpetuate long-standing barriers. Key expectations for desirable conduct and elevating examples of proscribed harmful conduct are included, along with process guidance.
  • Investigation and resolution: Guidance on how to conduct an investigation with an inclusive aim to resolve incidents of sexual harassment when they occur. The objective is to prevent and elevate understanding of why the conduct was harmful, that it was harmful, and to teach people who want to understand how not to repeat the harm.

Consortium meeting guidelines:

  • Share the Air. Don’t dominate the conversation. Make sure all voices are heard.
  • Do not photograph others unless you have permission.
  • Be aware of your own dominance based on your identity and position.
  • Remember to criticize ideas — not people.
  • If you will be bringing up a subject matter that might be upsetting, provide some warning. Think about the way you present to be as sensitive as possible.
  • In virtual meetings, no commenting on whether someone chooses to be on or off camera or how someone appears.