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Reducing Gender-Based Harassment in Engineering: Opportunities and Obstacles to Bystander Intervention

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Mala Htun


Amir Hedayati Mehdiabadi University of New Mexico

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Amir Hedayati-Mehdiabadi is an assistant professor in the Organization, Information & Learning Sciences program at the University of New Mexico. Hedayati has received a Ph.D. degree in Human Resource Development from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In broad terms, his research focuses on issues of ethics and inclusion in talent and professional development. His research explores how we can enhance ethical decision-making among professionals by understanding their ethical judgment processes. He is also interested in cultivating educational environments that are inclusive and free of harassment.

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Elizabeth Moschella-Smith University of New Hampshire

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Elizabeth Moschella-Smith, Ph.D., is a Research Scientist at the University of New Hampshire’s Prevention Innovations Research Center (PIRC). She graduated with a Ph.D. in Social Psychology and a M.A. in Justice Studies from the University of New Hampshire. Dr. Moschella-Smith has over seven years of experience collecting, managing, and analyzing quantitative and qualitative data and utilizes mixed-method and longitudinal designs in her research. Her research focuses on factors that promote resiliency and growth in trauma survivors, including factors that protect against future victimization. Dr. Moschella-Smith has researched outcomes of bystander action in situations involving interpersonal violence and intervention for recipients of sexual and dating violence disclosure. Recently, she has examined prevalence rates of sexual and dating violence among college students attending two-year institutions, along with victimization rates of understudied populations, including lesbian, gay, and bisexual college students.

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The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report finds that sexual harassment is acute in STEM fields, that harassment poses a major obstacle to the retention and advancement of women, and recommends that organizations aggressively promote climate and cultural changes to expand women's participation (NAS 2018). Historically, however, most efforts to reduce harassment, including legislation, reporting systems, and training, have failed (Dobbin and Kalev 2019, Feldblum and Lipnic 2016). Bystander training, which gives participants skills to interrupt and intervene when they witness episodes of sexual assault, gender violence, or harassment, has proven effective in universities and in the U.S. military (Potter and Moynihan 2011, Cares et al 2015). Yet little is known about whether the bystander approach can help to change norms and behavior among managers and leaders to combat harassment in STEM workplaces (NAS 2018). This paper reports initial results from a larger NSF-funded project focused on adapting and testing bystander approaches to reduce harassment and broaden participation in engineering. We present data from individual interviews with a sample of faculty and staff in academic engineering (N=31) about the obstacles to intervening as a bystander when they face situations of harassment and bias, as well as the conditions that facilitate bystander intervention. We find that lack of awareness, low-grade or "sugarcoated" harassment, power hierarchies, and reluctance to incur risks of intervening pose barriers to intervention. By contrast, leadership intolerance of harassment, gender balance, and an interest in helping students facilitated positive bystander behavior. The paper analyzes the implications of our research for strategies to increase bystander intervention within academic engineering and other engineering workplaces.

Htun, M., & Hedayati Mehdiabadi, A., & Moschella-Smith, E. (2022, August), Reducing Gender-Based Harassment in Engineering: Opportunities and Obstacles to Bystander Intervention Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--42113

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