For the past decade I have committed a significant portion of my time to changing the culture of STEM, and in particular physics, to enable full and happy participation by all. During my PhD I experienced prolonged sexual misconduct which led me to begin campaigning strongly in this area and I continue to be vocal on the subject today. In 2018 I won the Royal Society Athena Prize for my work in this area.
I am an activist but also a realist and while I do feel institutions have a responsibility to clean up their act, I also recognise that policies are complex and the employees in charge of them are sometimes simply not aware of the needed changes. I believe in working with institutions and sector bodies as much as possible and believe that simply applying pressure without recognising the difficulties of the situation or working towards evidence-based solutions will not amount to lasting change. Saying that, I have no patience for institutional inertia on this topic and have no d in taking senior management to task.
I am a member of The 1752 Group, a research and lobbying organisation aiming to end sexual misconduct in higher education. We work at the highest level of the education sector, with sector bodies such as UUK and UCU and regularly consult on policies with individual universities and organisations, including the UK government. You can find me blogging on topics of gender equality and harassment in academia here: https://1752group.com/blog/.
As a result of the misconduct I suffered, and the pressure I felt to stay silent, I decided to make a legal stand in order to demonstrate that the standard blanket confidentiality imposed on victims of sexual misconduct via non-disclosure agreements is damaging and unnecessary. At the conclusion of this period I achieved a legal settlement with a UK university which included a confidentiality waiver allowing me to speak out about the original harassment and the inadequate grievance policy that followed. This was carried out by the law firm McAllister Olivarius.
This settlement and its impact has been covered in the press and I have written about it in the media here and here and also on Twitter. The university in question now applies these waivers to all settlements of sexual harassment, a leading action in the UK and indeed the wider world. This settlement was reached fairly quickly and without much argument which, as much trouble as I went through in the last few years, I do believe speaks to the willingness for universities to now engage. While I do think there is a long way to go towards true institutional reform I don’t believe any one university has acted any worse than any other and that now is the time to be open about the faults of the past so that we can learn as a sector and produce robust reform.
I have submitted details of this settlement and my thoughts on the use of NDAs to the Women and Equalities SELECT Committee, in response to a recent call for evidence on the subject of the use of NDAs in discrimination cases.
I have uploaded my settlement alongside my SELECT committee response here in PDF form. The clause of my settlement relating to confidentiality can be found on Page 10, Clause 5.3. I hope that this may be of use by complainants fighting against imposed silence.