Don’t just stand there… do something!

This blog is part of a series addressing issues further explored in GSA’s Pardee Session Women Rising: Removing Barriers and Achieving Parity in the Geosciences.  Attend the Women Rising session, 1:30 – 5:30 p.m.Monday, November 5, Sagamore Ballroom 5, Indianapolis Convention Center, Indianapolis, followed by a networking social, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.

By Blair Schneider, PhD, University of Kansas Center for Teaching Excellence, Lawrence KS

A few weeks ago, I was at a park with my two-year-old daughter, my best friend, and her two kids. We were catching up on each other’s lives and reflecting on some recent parenthood struggles when she asked me if I had heard about the attempted abduction of a women running in our community a few days prior. From there, our conversation quickly turned to our concern for our daughters’ futures. This is a subject that I have thought about for several years. How can I prepare my daughter to enter a world/workforce that is riddled with threats of harassment and bullying, rape culture, unequal pay for equal work, punishments for working mothers, and so on? How do I teach her how to stand up and protect herself, while also pursuing her life passions? Especially since this is something that I have been the victim of and am still learning how to fight myself! I know I am not the only person out there who thinks this type of thought (be it for our own daughters, someone we mentor, etc.), and so I would like to first share my strategies for coping with it over time and then dive deeper into bystander intervention as a prevention strategy.

My first reaction to this thought was a panic attack, followed by several days of extreme sadness – and I knew that that reaction could not continue. So I focused on being more proactive. First and foremost, I engaged with my support networks, like the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) and the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN). There are so many women out there going through the same thing, and just having that sound board and place to get advice was so helpful. Secondly, I identified my own strengths and asked myself how can I use these strengths to create change? I know that I cannot change all of these problems on my own, but I can certainly be a part of the change for a portion of it! From there, I sought out programs where I could pour this energy into helping catalyze a new world and workplace. This is where my role in AWG leadership began. I served as president from 2014-2017, and it was during this time that huge stories were coming out about sexual harassment in the sciences/academia (i.e. Geoff Marcy at UC-Berkeley and Jason Lieb at University of Chicago). I have experienced sexual harassment during my own career, so building upon this new movement sparked my interest. I poured my heart out into building AWG as a leader in the fight against sexual harassment while I was in the president position, collaborating with leaders from AWG, ESWN, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the American Association of Petroleum Geologists PROWESS committee, and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Women’s Network Committee (SEG WNC). At the end of my three-year president rotation, the ADVANCEGeo Partnership was created.

I currently serve as co-PI for the ADVANCEGeo Partnership, which is a four-year, $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program. A primary goal of the project is to improve work climate conditions by developing bystander intervention workshops for department heads, chairs, faculty and graduate students to appropriately respond to and prevent sexual and other types of harassment on campus and in the field. While this partnership does not address all of the barriers that women and underrepresented groups face (I don’t know how any one project could) – it does tackle the problem of sexual harassment, which is pervasive in the workforce. Sexual harassment is one of the most significant barriers I have personally experienced, so having the opportunity to be a part of the leadership team to develop these bystander intervention workshops and materials for the Earth Science community has been incredibly EMPOWERING in my struggle with these issues.

So why bystander intervention? To me, bystander intervention is a positive strategy for changing culture because it puts the responsibility on everyone to be a part of the change and not just the persons who are being targeted or who have been victims of harassment, bullying, or micro/macroaggressions. Ironically, research has shown that as the numbers of bystanders increases during an incident, the less likely it is that anyone will intervene (called “The Bystander Effect”). There are a variety of reasons that this happens, including an assumption that someone else will step in and do it (termed “diffusion of responsibility”), intrapersonal characteristics, peer interactions or peer group structures, and societal values (Darlay and Latane, 1968; Holland et al., 2016).

In order to combat this bystander effect, we have to educate our society on 1) how to recognize that an incident is occurring and 2) strategies that individuals or groups can utilize to intervene during an incident. Sometimes I feel like the major emphasis is placed on point two, but we can’t effectively utilize these strategies if we don’t know when an incidence is occurring. This happens often, especially for individuals who have higher levels of privilege – they don’t recognize a situation is happening because they have never experienced it themselves personally. For example, as a caucasian woman I have never had an experience of being bullied or harassed because of my culture or race – so if someone else is being bullied for these reasons, I may not immediately recognize that it is happening. This is often the case for men – most men don’t experience sexual harassment or assault, so they don’t always recognize when it is happening to their female colleagues. This compounds the problem – sexual harassment in STEM will never stop unless we have the support of our male colleagues (i.e. the other 50%!). So this is my plea to our male colleagues reading this – be our ally! Bystander intervention is a great way to make positive changes for you and your colleagues in every workplace.

ADVANCEGeo is hosting workshops across the United States – one of our next workshops will be at the GSA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis on Saturday morning (Workshop #521). If you are interested in learning how to be an active bystander and contributing to changing the culture of our STEM workforce, I encourage you to join us. If you can’t attend GSA this year, visit the ADVANCEGeo website where we list all of our upcoming workshops. In addition, we have recently launched an Online Resource Center available to the public. This resource center contains information on other types of trainings available, sample codes of conduct, how to respond to hostile behavior, etc. I welcome and encourage you all to be a part of this change!

Headshot photo of author Blair Schneider

Blair Schneider is a postdoctoral researcher with the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Kansas and also a co-PI for ADVANCEGeo Partnership. She received her PhD in Geophysics from the University of Kansas and specializes in the application of near-surface geophysical methods for archaeological research. Blair served as President of the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) from 2014-2017, and now serves as a Director for the AWG Foundation Board. In addition, she is a committee member of the AGU Honors and Recognition Committee and is incoming vice-chair for the SEG Women’s Network Committee.

References

Darley, J. M. & Latané, B. (1968). “Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, v. 8, p. 377–383. doi:10.1037/h0025589.

Holland, K.J., Caridad Rabelo, V., and Cortina, L., 2016, See Something, Do Something: Predicting Sexual Assault Bystander Intentions in the U.S. Military: American Journal of Community Psychology, v. 58, p. 3–15. DOI 10.1002/ajcp.12077

 

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