21% of Dental Conference Attendees Experience Sexual Harassment

Dentistry Today


While dental meetings present opportunities for education and networking, they also can be hostile environments, according to researchers at Boston University who studied the sexual harassment that occurs at these conferences. 

The researchers invited registrants for American Association for Dental Research (AADR) meetings from 2015 to 2018 to participate in an anonymous online survey. Demographics were assessed by age, gender, race and ethnicity, frequency of meeting attendance, academic degree, International Association of Dental Research (IADR) Division/Section membership, and academic status.

Bivariate analyses included eight types of perceived harassment, reports of any type of perceived harassment, and affirmative responses to the survey item assessing perceived experiences with sexual harassment at a scientific workplace or other career-related venue. Restricted analyses were additionally conducted among individuals who reported any type of harassment to identify respondents’ demographic characteristics and the statistical significance of bivariate associations among them.

Of the completed surveys, 21% responded affirmatively to experiencing one or more of the eight types of harassment surveyed. Within that 21%, experience with “put downs” or condescending remarks occurred most frequently (70%) and perceived harassment of a sexual nature was less common, by comparison with 37.8% reporting experience with “sexist remarks.”

Also, 33.1% reported staring, leering, or “ogling” that was uncomfortable; 22.7% reported “touching” that was uncomfortable; 11% reported unwanted attempts at a romantic relationship; and less than 5% reported experiences with “bribes,” “threats,” or provision of “suggested materials.”

While most respondents had no personal experience with harassment at AADR meetings, the fact that one in five did experience one or more of the eight types of harassment should be cause for concern, the researchers said. In 2018, the AADR introduced a new Professional Conduct at Meetings Policy, but further actions may be required.

Raul Garcia, DMD, MMSc, professor of health policy and health services research at the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine and AADR immediate past president, presented the study, “Survey of Dental Researchers’ Perceptions of Sexual Harassment at AADR Conferences 2015-2018,” during the 97th General Session & Exhibition of the IADR on June 21 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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