In an earlier post I asked if we have TCS “Harvey Weinsteins”. Unfortunately academia is hardly immune from sexual harassment and now a TCS researcher posted about her experiences with sexual harassment and assault in our community. While this is not pleasant reading, it is important, and I urge you to read the full post (see also here).
It takes courage to talk about such painful experiences, even anonymously, in a community as small as ours. But this researcher deserves our thanks for bringing up this topic, and hopefully starting a conversation that would make theoretical computer science more welcoming and inclusive. I do not know who this person is, but I urge people not try to guess her identity, but rather focus on asking what we can do, both men and women, to make things better.
The blog post already contains some good suggestions. As the overwhelming majority in our field, we men enjoy many structural advantages, and it is especially up to us to step up to this challenge. Research is not a 9 to 5 job: conferences, workshops, and informal interactions are extremely important. But we should remember that we are there for the sake of scientific collaboration. A woman shouldn’t have to worry about the motivations behind every invitation for a discussion or meeting.
Given our skewed gender ratio, it is enough for a small minority of the men to behave badly to essentially guarantee that almost all women will encounter such behavior at some point. That is unless other men step up and call out unprofessional (or worse) behavior when we observe or are made aware of it. I know this is not easy – we are not selected for our ability to handle awkward social situations, and I can’t say I myself have stepped up or been very aware of such issues in the past. But I will try to do better, and hope others do too.