Sexual harassment by postdoc – no support of boss

We got a new postdoc in his middle thirties in our lab from an eastern European country. From the beginning on, he was disproportionate friendly. He especially chummed up with the female part of the work group and always suggested going to a concert together. At first we all were very friendly, invited him to join in to go out for a beer together with the whole group after work. Since most of us didn’t like him too much from the beginning on, the girls always said no when he asked them out. However, he kept on asking even if you told him you had a boyfriend and preferred not seeing him in the evenings. After some time I got angry when he kept on asking. Especially since he on the one hand wanted to see you after work but didn’t respect you as an equal colleague during work (although we were both postdocs). One had the impression that he felt like the better scientist because he was a man. He never accepted my advice in genetics although I was clearly the expert whereas he never really had worked genetically before. He also started discussions about that in his opinion girls and women exclusively dress up and use make up to please men. One of our male PhD students told us that the postdoc and a postdoc from a Persian country (around 40 years old) came to him one day to ask him if it is true that German girls are easy. When the postdoc started to harass even our young female student helpers (although always with words, never physically), I became worried about letting them work alone in the culture rooms in the cellar on weekends. The more he harassed the girls and the less respected I felt, the more angry and unfriendly I became. Interestingly, every time I had a quarrel with him in the evening, I would find some lose tubes from my culture flasks the next morning. I cannot prove that he pulled them out but there was a high correlation. I know that several girls went to our boss to inform him about this postdoc. We also begged our boss to do something to stop the postdoc bothering the girls. However, I got the answer that we must understand that this postdoc – originating from an eastern European country – has another cultural background and therefore it might be that we misinterpret his behavior. Interestingly, I also originate from an eastern European country and I am absolutely not used to such a behavior from men. This story happened in a university in one of the bigger cities in Germany.

Story signed by : Angry female postdoc

The story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2011 around an academic institution in ‘Not in Belgium’

Sexist harassment by a University Professor in a well-known Belgian University

I started a new job in a Belgian University, so happy to have found a research position in an institution that was famous for its outstanding quality in research. Very soon after I started the new job, the male academic professor who had received the grant for the research project I was working for, started to act in a weird way with me. He would ask from me to greet him in a way that was inappropriate, and then would react aggressively when I would refuse to play his sexist games.

He kept saying I was an excellent researcher – and being actually more intelligent then what he had first imagine. (He suggested I looked silly when I was opening my mouth and behaved surprised to see I could actually write!) Of course that was all about manipulation, he would never have hired me had he thought I was silly. He suggested insidiously on how strong as a researcher I was, but not “warm enough with him”.

As I was starting to be more and more scared by his changing and aggressive behaviours, and told my director about it, a lady who I thought was clever and supportive. She insisted I had to change my behaviour and be “warmer with him”…. To her, the only problem came from the fact that I was not being warm enough with him. “If I wanted things to work out better… I had to act differently”, she advised me. Then she also gave me examples…. of what kind of behaviours she had with him so that he would “appreciate” her.

A little bit later, and despite the stated outstanding qualities as a researcher, I was fired without me being even explained why. As I was crying after being fired… this director told me: Don’t say I did not warn you… I was so traumatized and humiliated by this event that I just left, silently, and without even daring to put a complaint for harrassement.

I think that is a perfect example of a Belgian University professor feeling above the law and obviously knowing it is safe for him to act as such.

Story signed by : Alice

The story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2011 at an academic institution in Wallonia

Story header : Sexist harassment by a University Professor in a well-known Belgian University

My/my friends story :

No kids allowed

Toen ik solliciteerde voor een doctoraatsbursaal, werd mij de vraag gesteld of ik toch geen 4 kinderen zou krijgen de komende 4 jaar. Deze vraag vond ik al zeer ongepast. Ik was niet van plan om meteen aan kinderen te beginnen en dit heb ik dan ook gezegd. Uiteindelijk bleek dat om ‘financiële redenen’ het onderzoeksproject niet van start kon gaan.

Achteraf hoorde ik – via gemeenschappelijke kennissen- dat de (mannelijke) professor die instond voor het onderzoeksproject vond dat ik teveel ‘oogde’ als iemand die klaar was voor kinderen en ik daardoor onvoldoende garanties kon bieden niet zwanger te worden.

Story signed by: m.

The story happened to me as a Master student in the year 2011 at an academic institution in Flanders

seksism among students

In the second year of my Bachelor in Civil Engineering and Architecture, we had lectures about women and their role in architecture during an architecture theory course. In fact, they were very interesting and realistically presented by a female professor, just with facts, nothing more. But when a male professor continued the lectures later on, he made sarcastic and offensive remarks towards this female professor about being rediculous and extremely feminist, followed by laughter of (nearly) all the male students.

From this moment on, it was clear that the idea of “women in architecture” was not taken seriously and this became even more obvious later that year.

During a collaborative design, I worked with a male student-collegue, who didn’t trust my skills at all. Whenever certain decisions needed to be made, he would deride my opinion and my ideas and made comments like “you can draw if you want to” or during deadlines “why don’t you cook for me” or “just go shopping”.

Story signed by : Julia

The story happened to me as a Bachelor student in the year 2011 at an academic institution in Flanders

Sexism and Ageism

My/my friends story :
While looking for the perfect ‘thing’ to study I went and talked to a lot of people. I’m really career driven and was already thinking about doing my PhD. My life plan was looking good. Studying for 5 years, messing up one year. So make it 6. Getting good grades. Doing a Phd.
While I was telling this to a prof I got to know during “open class days” he said:

“I would not go for it, because you will be pretty old once you’re done, 27 or older, and you would have passed the most fertile part of your life. Once you find a job you would be 30 if you start having kids that’s really old. It might be even hard to find a spouse” He wasn’t joking at all!

That answer was so wrong of so many reasons. He was like 65 or something (I don’t really know but old) But than again, 21st century?
It’s fine for a male to study till his late 20’s but I shouldn’t be doing it.

Story signed by: FleurDeLaCompot
My language preference : English

The story happened in the year 2011 at an academic institution in Flanders

“We want to keep you at our faculty as a professor – but only if you’re male”

I am now working in a foreign country at a prestigious university, but I used to be an FWO postdoc at a Flemish institution, in a large faculty that is almost completely male (+90%). This institution does not grant FWO prolongations, but it does have a BOFZAP tenure track system. While a postdoc, faculty members told me several times that I “should not count on getting a prolongation of the FWO” and even that I “should be looking elsewhere”, as I did not fit the faculty. However, male postdoc colleagues got the message that “We will do anything in our power to keep you.” – This included, I witnessed several times, positions written out specifically with their profile in mind. No female postdoc at this faculty ever made it as a professor, and to my knowledge no profiles have ever been written out to help secure a permanent position for a female candidate (indeed, this explains their quasi-absence).

A few years ago, I applied for a BOFZAP tenure track position at the same institution, despite getting no encouragement and getting the explicit message that another postdoc (male) was the favored internal candidate. This was generally known – several faculty members said they would do anything to support him. However, some faculty members wanted to advocate for other male postdocs, who were all considered brilliant (“Such a brilliant guy, he really deserves a position”). Nobody wanted to stick out their neck for me. When I talked about my career options, they just said vaguely not to worry because “They need more women everywhere”.

Bottom line: I have to carve out my own way, because I am a woman and enjoy the tremendous benefits of affirmative action (!), but several of the male postdocs are helped to positions because the faculty value their work and their teaching.

By the way, I have several papers in high-ranking (A1) journals, including in the top 10 journals of my discipline, as well as a monograph in press with a top university publisher. I am regularly invited as a plenary speaker and to contribute to edited collections with university presses. The students in my current university tell me how they love my teaching.

During the 2 job interviews at this Flemish faculty, I got lots of questions outside of my area of specialization, whereas (so I learned from my colleagues later) the male postdocs got mainly questions about their research. I was also asked about my religious beliefs, which was not relevant for the job. And although hard to quantity, I have had many job interviews, but never did I encounter such hostility and dismissiveness (faculty members saying “Oh, come on, you don’t seriously think that” during the job talks.

I am sharing this story so that faculty members, who are often well-meaning, understand that a lot of privilege (“We really want to keep this guy, he’s so brilliant”) is still accorded on the basis of being of the male gender, which makes informal friendships and contacts easier. To illustrate: many of the male postdocs regularly got invited to barbecues and other private meetings with male faculty members, but I was always an outsider. It is especially bitter, because I have been told time and again that I will make it because of affirmative action (note that the university at that time only had an equal opportunity policy in place in name, not in practice). I would want to see the day that female postdocs get valued fairly for their accomplishments.

Story signed by : NN

This story happened to me as a Post Doc in the year 2011, around an academic institution in Flanders