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Accepted answer

Most universities have an explicit statement about harassment. Here's Duke University's:

"Harassment occurs when unwelcome verbal or physical conduct, because of its severity and/or persistence, interferes significantly with an individual's work or education, or adversely affects an individual's living conditions."

 

It sounds like the behavior is "interfering significantly with an individual's work or education" and thus could be considered harassment. Just because a behavior may not be intentional or not a request for sexual favors does not mean it's acceptable.

 

My personal advice: Say something directly to the supervisor, albeit in a diplomatic tone. Maybe when such a glance is perceived, the victim can say, "I got the impression that you were looking down my shirt just now. I don't know if the glance was intentional or unconscious, but that impression made me uncomfortable, and it's happened a few times before. I'd really appreciate it if you could be aware of that impression and to consciously avoid it, even if unintentional." I realize it's dangerous to put this out there (ie, the adviser may take it very poorly), but there's not really a clear alternative.

 

It'll be awkward for sure, and he may deny it. Or he may insist it was unintentional (which, in fact, it may have been). But if he's really a good person, he'll be conscientious enough in the future to be careful to not do that, even the behavior was unconscious.

 

If he reacts very poorly, mocks it, or in embarks in some sort of open retribution, then you should consult with the Office of Human Resources at the university ASAP. I hope it doesn't come to that.

 

GOOD LUCK!

 

m Mohamed M Noor
Answered on Jun 01, 2015
0   Jun 01, 2015 6:38 pm

Accepted answer

I don't know if the anonymous poster will look for answers here, but I appreciate Lenny's instinct to solicit advice, knowing there are likely many others in similar situations. This is not my area expertise, so I would be very interested to hear others' thoughts. 

 

Regardless of intent, this behavior is absolutely inappropriate, and undermines you as a professional, as a scientist and as a colleague. Some suggest such gestures are harmless, but they lead women to step back, stay quiet, and even to leave altogether. It is also likely that you are not the only recipient of this unwanted attention. 

 

It is very difficult to provide concrete advice, since the best course of action depends on so many variables. I also think it is likely that a direct conversation will be most effective, and it is possible to do so without adverse consequences, but you will need support. I would suggest beginning with someone with whom you can speak confidentially to discuss options and approaches. This might be another faculty member, the office of the ombuds, or someone in the postdoc office. These individuals can help you identify what protections are in place should things go badly, can talk through the nuances of your situation, can help you consider your options for approaching your PI, and can even provide tools for navigating a conversation with him. Importantly, the members of this support network are not HR. It may be necessary to involve HR at some point, but hopefully these folks can help you decide whether that would be appropriate and necessary, given your specific situation. They can also help ensure that you are protected from retribution should it become necessary. 

 

Again, this is not my area of expertise, which is one of many reasons I recommend seeking out the support systems at your institution as a first step. I wish you the best of luck!

 

 

 

m Elizabeth Silva
Answered on Jun 01, 2015
0   Jun 01, 2015 9:21 pm

I really like Dr. Isis's answer, but I wanted to follow up specifically on this:

 

Bothered's question makes it clear that this behavior is unwanted and recurrent. What is not clear is whether the adviser is aware his behavior is disturbing (or even noticed).

 

I agree that this may be the case.

 

I definitely don't think it's as simple as "he IS aware", as another respondent said; specifically, the advisor may not be aware of how much it bothers the trainee, or that it may be causing problems for other people within the lab.  I've certainly been oblivious in the past to the impact of my behavior on people in my lab and also outside the lab, including one or two rather horrifying instances of misplaced humor or poor behavior on my part.  As a (white, male) professor I've also been been surprised at how reluctant people are to call me out on behavior that makes them uncomfortable.  In retrospect this is much more obvious to me, but in part that's because I have lab members and friends that call me out on bad behavior, and I've also been watching the Python community's efforts to deal with this (http://ivory.idyll.org/blog/pycon-2013-and-codes-of-conduct.html).

 

All of has led to us adopting a code of conduct within the lab, including a lab-external person to whom I can be reported informally & who can act as intermediaries: http://ivory.idyll.org/lab/coc.html.

 

It's hard to explain how important and positive it has been to me and to my lab culture to have these discussions.  They're very challenging and uncomfortable at the best of times, but also have been very enlightening in the long term.

 

So while I don't have one single strong opinion to offer the original questioner, I would say:

 

* the advisor might be having an impact on other people in the lab that the trainee is not yet aware of;

 

* the advisor might not be aware of this impact, and might welcome the opportunity to correct his behavior;

 

* if the advisor is informed (which will be awkward, no matter how it's done) and is dismissive, that tells the trainee (and everyone else in the lab) something about the lab and advisor that is useful;

 

* if the advisor is informed and retaliates, then the trainee DOES NOT WANT TO BE WORKING FOR THEM ANYWAY because the advisor will mess with them later;

 

* if the advisor is informed and works to change his behavior, then everyone wins;

 

so my inclination would be to figure out how to inform the advisor that his behavior is making the trainee uncomfortable.  I think the spectrum of those options has been better explored by others than I can do so I'll leave that there.

 

The only other strong piece of advice I have is this:

 

Having been through several interactions with ombuds-type people myself (as petitioner, not accused :), I would not advise making an official complaint without checking into what usually happens with such complaints.  Ombuds people are employed by the university, have certain reporting requirements (both legal and institutional), and are often NOT on the side of the petitioner.  For situations where a clear legal line has been crossed and action must be taken, they are a good option; for less clear cut situations, they may escalate well beyond what the petitioner wants.

 

m Titus Brown
Answered on Jun 02, 2015
2   Jun 02, 2015 12:17 pm
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