Last week the Dutch newspapers published on misconduct and misbehaviour at the universities. Almost half of the employees reported not to feel safe in their own working environment (44% of women over 35% men)

 

 

 

This blog is to bring more awareness of the problem and help to stop harassment in science.

 

 

 

The mentioned report started yet another shift in my perception of what happened to me last year.

 

 

 

Let me first tell you my story

 

 

 

The short version, many details are lacking of course. I hope it makes sufficient sense to put the current situation in perspective.

 

 

 

As you might know, I am a scientific researcher working at a university in the Netherlands. I love working in science. But working conditions dramatically changed last summer… 

 

 

 

One day I heard that others in my Faculty were gossiping about me. Rumour had it that they were not pleased with how I was conducting research (Let me make at this point already clear that my superior is very happy about what I do and how I do it!)

 

 

 

I was angry. And bothered. And upset.

 

 

 

Foremost, why did they not tell me this in person? If there was I problem I did not yet see, we could talk and find a solution together.

 

 

 

So I decided to take all my courage and make an appointment with the professor of that department.

 

 

 

He started telling me that he did not agree with the type of research I was conducting (as they could do it better, were more entitled to do it, etc).

 

 

 

In addition, he told me whom I was entitled to work with (them) and whom not (a scientist from outside, but someone they did not like).

 

 

 

He even started to intimidate me…

 

 

 

I was baffled. This professor, from another department, made his only rules and was manipulating me!

 

 

 

I shared what happened to various colleagues. They were all very supportive for my case in words. As was my supervisor, agreeing how ridiculous this situation was. 

 

 

 

But in the end, there was no one stepping up, no one to guide me in the direction of really getting a solution to this situation.

 

 

 

Hitting rock bottom

 

Hitting the bottom of the well

 

My life was upside-down.

 

 

 

I felt a lack of support. I felt alone. I felt that I lost control not only over my work but also over my life.

 

 

 

At the point I hit rock bottom, I decided that I could not wait for others to rescue me. Only I could take control of my own life. And that is what I did.

 

 

 

Through personal development I slowly found my way out.

 

 

 

I start building the confidence of me deciding whether I fear or have faith. I will get back to the courses I took and the things I learned. But that is for a later blog.

 

 

 

Over the months that followed things did not affect me that much anymore. But the situation was never completely resolved…

 

 

 

So back to last week

 

 

 

take a big (and scary) step into leadership

taking a big and scary step

 

After the publication of the results on harassment at universities.

 

 

 

First, I was shocked about the large number of people suffering from something comparable.

 

 

 

In various grades of course, from gossiping to sexual harassment. The impact of this on the people involved was beyond imagination. I felt really sad.

 

 

 

Next I realised that I did not use the possibilities in place to get help, for various reasons. So would others? 

 

 

 

My superior did not step up to defend me or act to find a solution.

 

 

 

The Human Resources department I thought of contacting, but decided against. As I believe that they would not be familiar enough with the scientific subculture to truly see what was the underlying cause (which they admitted later on).

 

 

 

A confidentiality counselor did not even cross my mind, because I started blaming myself rather than the situation.

 

 

 

Finally, I voted against informing the dean, as the superior of that professor, as it felt like a weakness to ask him solve my issues.

 

 

 

Third, I started realising that sadly this misbehaviour might be an intrinsic part of the scientific culture.

 

 

 

Like for example high work pressure. You basically ‘know no better’, ‘many people do it, so it is normal’. And I understand that.

 

 

 

But as long as no one speaks about it, there will never be a change.

 

 

 

Forth, and finally, I realised that I did not feel a victim anymore!

 

 

 

It rather felt like I have a purpose, a mission to accomplish by stepping into leadership, speak up, and grow awareness of this huge problem!

 

 

 

So I stepped into leadership

 

 

 

I decided it was time to start listening to my inner voice. And to take action!

 

 

 

I contacted the dean, offering him help with future programs to reduce social harassment at universities.

 

 

 

I spoke to Human Resources about what happened in a constructive way, without blaming anybody but ready to take next steps.

 

 

 

And another meeting with a taskforce is planned.

 

 

 

And here I am sharing my story with you.

 

 

 

To create awareness, to tell a story that need to be told in order to allow a change.

 

 

 

Taking this path is scary. But it is what I feel I need to do. 

 

 

 

If my story resonates with you, or if you were in a similar situation, I would be grateful to get in touch with you! 

 

 

 

You can leave a reply in the comments or send me a PM: lifestylehelene@gmail.com