Bullying and Harassment in Astronomy – The Report


As I advertised a few days ago, The Royal Astronomical Society has now released its report on Bullying and Harassment in Astronomy. You can download the full report (40 pages, PDF) here. I recommend you to read it as the statistics are stark. Here are a couple of graphical summaries from the RAS Website:

Note the greater prevalence of bullying and harassment directed towards LGBT astronomers.

The recommendations include the introduction of more effective bullying and harassment policies, procedures and safeguards to protect all colleagues, to support students, and to ensure that everyone can achieve their potential and work in a safe and satisfying environment, regardless of their background.

Noble sentiments, but the Royal Astronomical Society can do little itself to change policies, as it is not in the position of employer (except for its own staff in Burlington House) and there is no incentive for the universities and research institutions who employ most astronomers to comply. That will only happen if serious sanctions are imposed for mishandling bullying and harassment cases.

My view – born out by experience – is that it can’t be left to individual institutions to deal with this problem. In case after case, instead of dealing properly with bullying and harassment, senior managers have protected the perpetrators and silenced the victims. Reputation management, they call it. What is needed to start with is a system of independent adjudication, as recommended, for example, by the 21 Group.

This problem is neither confined to astronomy nor to the United Kingdom, and at least part of it is due to the ever-increasing cult of managerialism that places institutional branding ahead of positive workplace culture, paying at most lip-service to the latter.

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