NIH working group examining sexual harassment says agency has fallen short

NIH Director Francis Collins asked a working group to propose actions and policies to promote a safe, inclusive culture at NIH-supported labs and conferences. (Getty/Milkos)

The National Institutes of Health needs to do a better job of tackling the underlying culture that enables sexual harassment in science, a working group assembled by the agency concluded during its first meeting.

The newly assembled working group of the advisory council to the director (ACD) on changing the culture to end sexual harassment heard from a range of experts, including Dr. BethAnn McLaughlin, who has been a leader of the #MeTooSTEM movement.

"We can do better. We must do better," a letter signed by the working group which includes NIH Director Francis Collins read.

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RELATED: NIH announces plan to take on sexual harassment in #MeToo era

The group also issued an apology for the role the NIH has played in perpetuating a culture that allowed sexual harassment. They pointed to a 2018 report from the National Academies, which found no evidence that current policies, procedures and approaches have significantly reduced sexual harassment in academic sciences, engineering and medicine.

"The reports of scientists and students shared through the #MeTooSTEM movement portray a heartbreaking story of opportunities lost, pain suffered, and a systemic failure to protect and defend," they wrote. "To all those who have endured these experiences, we are sorry that it has taken so long to acknowledge and address the climate and culture that has caused such harm."

RELATED: Women in healthcare are saying #MeToo about sexual harassment in hospitals

The working group includes the Lawrence Tabak, chairman of the NIH Anti-Harassment Committee, Carrie Wolinetz, acting chief of staff and associate director for science policy. It also includes Michael Lauer, M.D., deputy director for extramural research, Michael Gottesman, M.D., the deputy director for intramural research, Hannah Valantine, M.D., the chief officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity and Alfred Johnson, deputy director for management.

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