Seven leaders have left the #MeTooSTEM advocacy group, founded last year to advocate for and provide legal help to survivors of sexual harassment in science. The scientists who left complained about the abrasive style of and lack of transparency from the group’s founder, neuroscientist BethAnn McLaughlin of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, as well as her perceived slights against nonwhite women, according to a report by BuzzFeed News.
The article reports that the most recent resignations from #MeTooSTEM, on 24 April, included two women of color on the leadership team. The pair wrote to McLaughlin that “white leadership input was prioritized over our own” and that “MeTooSTEM receives little input from women of color.”
Two white women who resigned from the organization in November 2018 wrote to McLaughlin: “We are afraid to voice our opinions” and complained that “the organization has no policies, procedures or delineated roles and our attempts to develop such have been met with resistance.”
In a brief phone interview today, McLaughlin told Science that “the concerns are totally legitimate and we’re working on them hard.”
In a statement responding to the article and posted on Twitter this afternoon, McLaughlin writes: “I didn’t have the bandwidth for traditional organization hierarchy or administration people wanted.” She adds that it “is not my recollection” that she shut down other leaders who were seeking more organized roles.
The Buzzfeed article also notes that the three 24 April resignations followed “a tense exchange of messages with McLaughlin after [other leaders] asked questions about MeTooSTEM’s nonprofit status and finances.”
#MeTooSTEM has raised $78,000 through a GoFundMe campaign. Its web page says the organization “needs your help to take our organization non-profit.”
McLaughlin announced in her statement that the group was officially incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization with charitable status and a board of directors 2 days ago. She also wrote that the concerns that “white women were centered” in the group “are concerns I take seriously as do the folks on the Leadership Team” and the new board of directors. That board includes Nobel Prize–winning biologist Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
McLaughlin added, “I now realize that starting MeTooSTEM meetings ask[ing] ‘What are the things you want to talk about?’ seemed to me like an opportunity for minority voices to voice concerns. That’s not true,” because minorities may not feel empowered to speak.
McLaughlin has sharp elbows and has made bitter enemies, as Science noted in a recent profile. But her testy tweets have not been on display since the Buzzfeed article appeared.
Last night, the account @MeTooSTEM tweeted an apology that reads in part: “We are deeply sorry to any who have been harmed by the actions @MeTooSTEM has or has not taken, and in particular we recognize the harm to women of color.”
*Update, 31 May, 2:15 p.m.: This story has been updated to include comment from BethAnn McLaughlin.