The Breakfast Club is a 1985 John Hughes film about five high school students who are assigned to a Saturday detention, and who represent different high school cliques: the jock, the nerd, the rebel, the princess, and the outcast. The cast has members of the “Brat Pack” – Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, and Anthony Michael Hall, and IT IS A CLASSIC. It is one of those movies that I know well enough that I can quote much of it. If you haven’t seen it, head on over to YouTube or Netflix or any other streaming service and check it out (after you finish reading this, of course). Anyway, this group comes together for their detention wary of each other, and each with their perception of the others just based on their appearance. They start off in quite an adversarial way, each rebuking the others. But by the end of the movie, they realize that they are more similar than different, and walk away perhaps not as friends, but at least with a better understanding of their Shermer High School community.
When the American Statistical Association (ASA) Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Assault was brought together, the membership may have felt similarly to the Breakfast Club. We came from all corners of ASA Community, each representing our own interests and experiences. And like in the movie, we started off not really knowing each other nor how we viewed the job in front of us. We each had our perceptions of the others based on what little we knew about them. And maybe some of us felt that being appointed to the Task Force was sort-of like detention (but hopefully not!).
In a previous blog post, I described how the Task Force was born, and while I did publish an update in the Amstat News, I haven’t blogged about our progress since. As we are nearing the end of our duties, I thought it would be good to report what we’ve been up to, and what happens next.
When we set out, we had the following charge:
- Assess the extent of sexual harassment/assault in the ASA community
- Review surveys used by other professional organizations to assess the prevalence of sexual harassment/assault;
- Develop a survey to administer to the ASA membership to assess the frequency, location and kinds of harassment/assault occurring;
- ASA leadership to distribute the survey to ASA membership
- Summarize the findings from the survey
- Review the current best practices of professional organizations and academic institutions with respect to sexual harassment/assault.
- Consider creation of a resource that allows victims of sexual harassment and assault to anonymously receive support.
- Make recommendations to the ASA Board of Directors regarding sexual harassment/assault policy changes for the organization.
We naively thought that our work would be fairly straightforward. How many different conduct policies could there be? It turns out, at the time that we were beginning our work, the #MeToo movement moved into high gear in the academic and scientific communities. Almost daily, new articles were being written about instances of sexual misconduct and gender discrimination in science, medicine and academics. Organizations rushed to develop conduct policies that far improved upon what they had, some in very proactive ways, others very reactively. As the Task Force tried to collect information about “best practices” for conduct policies, we had a hard time keeping up! Even now, nearly a year later, the amount of information still coming out can be overwhelming.
But we plodded along, learning about what other professional organizations were doing, and borrowing heavily from those we thought got it right. This was not easy – with the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives on the Task Force came diversity about which policies had it right. We spent hours discussing possible additions and deletions to the policy. At one point, we discussed whether to use the word “and” or “or” as a conjunction for over 30 minutes.
By the 2018 Joint Statistical Meetings, we had drafted a revised ASA Activities Conduct Policy and submitted it to the ASA board for initial review. With some back and forth, we finalized a draft revised policy in September and in October made it available for public comment from the ASA community. At the same time, our colleagues at Langer Research Associates emailed the ASA community a link to a questionnaire aimed at understanding the extent of sexual misconduct in the profession. ASA Membership had a month to both comment on the revised conduct policy, and to complete the questionnaire.
With comments in hand, the Task Force sent a final draft of the ASA Activities Conduct Policy to the Board. On November 30, 2018, it was approved and has since been posted on the ASA website . The Task Force is extremely excited to see this concrete product of our efforts completed.
In addition to the Conduct Policy, the Task Force has been working on other recommendations to the Board regarding processes and procedures for complaints of misconduct, mechanisms for adjudicating complaints of misconduct, and recommendations to improve the climate in the field of statistics for all, particularly given the data from the questionnaire. A full report of our activities, including a summary of the data collected from the questionnaire, will be delivered to the ASA membership during the 2019 Joint Statistical Meetings, and we will be available to answer questions and to have open, frank discussions about the activities of our Task Force and their implications during that time.
As we’ve moved ahead in our work, we have come to be a strong team, understanding that the different perspectives we bring are important to ensuring the best product we can. Of course, this realization is nothing new – there is already evidence that having diverse representation leads to more creativity and innovative results (https://imeetcentral.com/the-impact-of-team-diversity-on-your-business; https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/; https://smallbusiness.chron.com/advantages-diverse-workforce-18780.html)… but this was a good reminder that having diverse input can lead to stronger, more innovative results.
Service on the Task Force has taken an incredible amount of time. We have had calls twice a month for the last year, and between the calls there has been work to ensure that the Task Force is moving forward: policies to review, questionnaires to revise and review, meeting minutes to summarize, reports to write, and more. When I travel to conferences and to visit other departments, conversation often turns to the work of the Task Force, and even with my friends outside of the statistical community, there is much discussion of this work.
My Doctoral advisor always said that being a collaborative statistician allowed him to work in many methodological areas… I have always felt the same way about my statistical career.
So far, I have done work on methods for clinical trials, spatial analyses, measurement error, and with my current students, I continue to expand my methodological reach based on the questions arising from my collaborations. However, I never thought that my career would take me in this direction – that I would become an expert in the issues surrounding sexual misconduct.
That said I have been honored to be able to lead this incredibly smart group of people in our work. I’ve learned a ton in this process, both through the research we’ve done, and from the insightful input and experiences of my colleagues. I’ve gained perspective into thoughts, actions, and perceptions – both my own and those of others – that were not always apparent to me before. These discussions have made me examine my own practices, attitudes and beliefs, and think more carefully about what I say and do. I realize now that while I may not perceive myself to be in a position of power, as a Department chair, others view me that way, and it is essential that I am constantly aware of the implications of that.
And while I’m so happy to be at a stage in my career where I can help make the climate better for those around me, particularly the junior folks coming up now, I am also looking forward to getting back to my “real” work. To being asked about my research again, and to having more time to think about science again. And this is really what is at the crux of the issues with sexual misconduct and gender discrimination not only in science, but beyond. The heavy lifting, the bulk of the work to improve the climate, falls on those who are the target of the bad behavior. Who takes the lead in helping to improve the climate for women? Typically women. Who actively works to improve conditions for people of color? Typically people of color. Who leads the charge to create equitable environments for sexual and gender minorities? You guessed it,… And while we are making strides to have a more inclusive community, it isn’t enough. We need everyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation to join the fight and help create fair and equitable communities. It is only when we are working together that we can truly make change happen.
As the work of the Task Force begins to wind down, I think about the all that we have learned from each other, and how like the members of the “Breakfast Club,” we have
begun to see each of us in the others (although maybe, as statisticians, we were all part of the nerd clique in high school). I think about how much of myself I see in each of the Task Force members… in the immortal words of John Hughes: “…each one of us is a brain and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” And now, cue the music…