In an economy increasingly built on freelance work, independent contractors are routinely told to have thick skins; stay upbeat, career experts advise, even if your proposal is rejected or your calls and e-mails aren’t promptly returned. Yet far worse indignities can come into play. A recent harassment scandal in the seemingly sedate world of science blogging showed that even in new media women may confront retrograde behavior. But the episode also highlighted how vulnerable freelancers are to abuses — and how the obligation to network at all costs may keep them from speaking up.
Last month, an editor named Bora Zivkovic resigned from Scientific American magazine after blogger Monica Byrne publicly identified him as the initiator of an uncomfortable exchange: Byrne had gone to what she assumed was a business meeting with Zivkovic, a prominent science journalist, only to have him drop innuendoes about his own love life. After the meeting, he apologized — sort of — and Byrne recalled trying to rationalize working for him despite her discomfort because she hoped he would promote her work. A colleague of Zivkovic’s, Hannah Waters, came forward to describe similar incidents with him — which she, too, initially tried to minimize. Zivkovic has indicated that he doesn’t dispute either woman’s account.