We are in 2018, and the director of the National Science Foundation, France Córdova , is tired of learning that male scientists whose research she works with the public funds have sexually harassed their students, staff and colleagues.

At age 71, she still remembers an unwanted sexual remark from a high school teacher that she had sought advice on her research in astrophysics. And in recent years, she has been listening to stories – so narrated – told by young scientists at conferences for geologists and astronomers.

Last month, Dr. Cordova adopted the kind of structural change that experts say is a prerequisite for increasing the number of women scientists, who occupy only about 30% of Senior faculty positions at colleges in the United States.

Institutions that accept a grant from the DSF must now inform the agency of any findings related to harassment. by the leading scientists who work there – and risk losing the coveted funds. Individuals can also report harassment directly to the agency, which can then conduct its own investigation. This too may result in the suspension of funding.

This decision may seem obvious, but it is perhaps the most decisive action that all scientific organizations in the country have taken to keep it. academic institutions explicitly responsible for sexual harassment. Other agencies require notification if a scientist can no longer work on a grant but does not explain the reason.

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For the NSF, which provided grants to some 40,000 scientists in 2,000 institutions in 2017, the goal is also a change. in a scientific culture that has long sought to evaluate scientists without worrying about their personal behavior.

"We were raised with the idea of ​​letting our backs run," said Dr. Cordova, whose resume includes Los Alamos National Laboratory and NASA as as chief scientist. "Are you harassing me? I will ignore it. I will do my research elsewhere. & # 39; "

" Well, that's enough. "

The NSF's New Policy on Sexual Harassment was put in place by a woman who controls a $ 5 billion research budget reflecting the bittersweet nature of the #MeToo moment for many scientists

Image Cori Bargmann ] Hilary Swift for the New York Times

] Even as a small group of women who have held some of the most influential positions in science in recent years, their own experience – as well as effective research – has shown that harassment and other forms of gender discrimination remain widespread.

While they struggle with the great challenges of the field, rid it of the gender inequalities that, according to many, would now be among the priorities of the past list.

"I think when my generation came Cori Bargmann, a neurobiologist at the head of the $ 3 billion scientific branch of the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic organization," added Cori Bargmann.

"I even feel personally responsible, as if I were giving up these young women. I thought I was going to solve this problem by doing O.K. And, obviously, that's not enough, so we need to do more. "

At a recent meeting, Dr. Bargmann recalled, a distinguished scientist told her that she held a particular view on gene editing embryos as she was a woman and "women are more conservative."

"I watched it and thought:" And that's your opinion because you're a dinosaur, " she said.

To reinforce the low representation of women in physics, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, one of many women whose scientific contributions have not received the same credit as that of mentors or male competitors, stated that she would use her $ 3 million Breakthrough Prize to create scholarships for women and other underrepresented groups.

Dr. Burnell thinks his knowledge has been heightened by his alien status at the lab so n thesis supervisor in Cambridge, who received the Nobel Prize for his work shared in 1974.

"I was one of the few women and I was not t of the South East of England, the most affluent part of the country, "she told Space.com. "So, I think the growing diversity of the workforce actually allows for the development of all kinds of things."

In a discipline often described as the ultimate meritocracy, scientists strove to fight effectively against unconscious sexist prejudices. Among the other measures, studies have documented biases that favor male scientists in hiring, salary, start-up funds for labs, credits for writing papers, letters of recommendation, invitations to give lectures at prestigious academic conferences and invitations to speak to panels. (aka "manels").


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Erin O. Shea [Notavailable [1945911] [1945912] Jeff Elkins / Washingtonian

The widely held belief that science, unlike any other field, will reward anyone who advances the collective search for truth will not help.

"There is this belief that science is noble and impartial, and if I am good, I will be recognized," said Margaret Rossiter, historian emeritus of science at Cornell. "Sometimes it's true. Marie Curie came and received two Nobel Prizes. But often this has turned out to be wrong and the women have been disillusioned. & # 39; & # 39;

Much has changed for women in science, of course, since the 1970s, when Dr. Córdova sought the advice of a senior scientist on his master's thesis and was caught off guard by a comment that she describes as "completely inappropriate" and "out of the left field".

In 1970, the "List of Zeros" published annually by the American Chemical Society's Women's Committee reported that the chemistry faculties of 113 of the country's leading universities did not count no woman in their faculty.

In 1994, the year of MIT. Molecular biologist Nancy Hopkins, famous for measuring space on the laboratory of a report on gender-based discrimination that drew national attention, was trained at the Faculty of Sciences of the United States. Faculty of Sciences of the University, against 194 men.

Today, women represent about 20 women. percentage of principal teachers in mathematics, computer science and physics. They have obtained about half of the PhDs in life sciences over the last decade and make up about half of the teaching assistant positions.

But the representation of women in general decreases among associate professors and falls to 33% among full professors. . (And only 3% of women employed as full professors are African-Americans.)

Among the university laboratories of major research institutions, the representation of women is further reduced, especially when the head of the lab is 'a great prestige. A 2014 article showed that men are 90% more likely to do postgraduate training with a Nobel laureate.

Image Carol Greider Credit ] Puce Somodevilla / Getty Images

While a recent study found that women behaved as well as men when they asked for their first NIH grant, far fewer were able to do so.

For many women scientists, the focus on the term "sexual harassment" in a major report on sexual harassment scientist published this summer a kind of revelation.

Defined as "verbal and non-verbal behaviors that convey hostility, objectification, exclusion or second-degree status", it is much more common in scientific circles than harassment and coercion sexual or unwanted touching: less common than the charge.

"I've always thought that sexual harassment got hold of people," said Carol Greider, molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. "We've been talking about the" leaking pipeline "for years, and it may be the big hole that pops up."

Dr. Greider is one of many senior women scientists who stated in interviews that male scientists often discussed their female colleagues, including, apparently without realizing it. She thinks that there needs to be pressure on the universities from outside and she is therefore co-organizing a small meeting next month with lawyers, economists, behavioral scientists and activists to find solutions to sexual discrimination in the scientific field.

Erin O. Shea, appointed in 2016 the first woman to lead the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, an influential biomedical research organization, has implemented a new program to support underrepresented women and minorities in Canada. as postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty, likely to abandon the pipeline or be referred to less prestigious laboratories in lower rank institutions.

"My interest is to capture as much talent as possible for science," said Dr. O. Shea. "If you want to capture the best talent, you do not want groups to be de facto excluded."

For his part, Dr. Córdova stated that the N.S.F. is working on additional plans to combat sexual harassment.

In an interview granted last week, she stated that she had never publicly shared the story of her own harassment incident. She also did not tell anyone what had happened decades later, when she was found in the high-level committee charged with evaluating the candidates. at a price for which his stalker had been named.

"I explained to the group that I thought his conduct was not to become a scientist," said Dr. Cordova. "So that was my little thing. I thought I would do this for the rest of the girls.