#MeToo: Tackling Harassment in Academic Publishing


Originally sparked last year in the film industry, the #MeToo movement has slowly spread across to other sectors as people begin to come forward with their own stories of sexual harassment and bullying. In academic publishing, this conversation was in part started in February by Alison’s Mudditt’s powerful post on The Scholarly Kitchen. “Breaking the silence” and drawing on her own personal experiences, she called on the scholarly communication industry to tackle its own inherent problem and work together to confront the issue “to ensure that the world is better for the next generation of women.”

Mudditt’s article highlighted that by age 31, 46 percent of women say they have experienced harassment of some kind, according to data from the Youth Development Study, which is the largest survey of these issues undertaken to date. How, she asks, can we address this in academic publishing, especially when access to data on the subject is so thin on the ground?

Moving this conversation further was the closing plenary, chaired by Mudditt, at this year’s Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers Conference. Panelists included Afroditi Pina, a senior lecturer in forensic psychology at the University of Kent, whose research focuses on sexual violence; Femi Otitoju, training director of Challenge Consultancy, which delivers bespoke interventions for organizations to create inclusive workplaces; Karen Phillips, senior vice president of  global learning resources at SAGE Publishing; and Eric Merkel-Sobotta, vice president of communications and external affairs at De Gruyter. Their goal was to discuss how these toxic behaviors are able to continue within publishing organizations, to share ideas about how we can foster more inclusive cultures where no one has to experience harassment, and to share practical actions that can be implemented in organizations across the industry.

From a SAGE perspective, Phillips talked about how SAGE has been developing and implementing a dignity at work policy, visible on its website – an important signal to all those it works with externally. While SAGE can do much on its own — and something that it is dedicated to continuing to address — Phillips noted the need for publishers to work collectively – both to create an industry we are proud of and in which everyone can flourish, and to ensure that we don’t simply pass problem employees, authors or vendors between ourselves.

Closing the panel, Otitoju shared her top ten takeaways for organizations to address harassment and bulling within the workplace:

  1. Clear statement position
  2. Supporting policy and procedure
  3. Inclusion in handbook and induction
  4. Training for all staff
  5. Specific briefings for leaders
  6. Clarify individuals understanding
  7. Evidence communication of policy
  8. Set up support and reporting mechanisms
  9. Monitoring of reporting and outcomes
  10. Regular review of policy

Watch the full panel:


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