“There is no place for sexual harassment at the MDC”

The MDC is committed to maintaining respectful interactions at the research center and is taking decisive action to prevent and address bullying, discrimination, and sexual harassment. Since early 2019 an Anti-Harassment Task Force, consisting of a broad cross-section of stakeholders, has been preparing guidelines for this very purpose. The Board of Directors has declared its support for the proposed guidelines.

On behalf of the MDC, Thomas Sommer, interim Scientific Director, and Heike Graßmann, Administrative Director, made the following statement:

“We at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) have a zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment, discrimination, and bullying. We are committed to maintaining respectful, tolerant, open, and civil interactions in our research center.

Heike Graßmann, Administrative Director, MDC and Thomas Sommer, interim Scientific Director, MDC.

In the past, employees reported that they had been sexually harassed by a co-worker. The Board of Directors unfortunately did not learn of these allegations until summer 2018. We are very thankful to these colleagues and have great respect that they had the courage to report the incidents.

The then Board of Directors took immediate steps to ensure the safety of the affected individuals. The accused employee was banned from the premises and a termination agreement was concluded in just a few days.

Anti-Harassment-Task Force launched, counseling services expanded

We also took the incidents as an opportunity to ask ourselves where improvements could be made and what we could do to promote a respectful culture at the MDC. Bullying and harassment are signs of abuse of power and dependency. We want to maintain an open, tolerant, and respectful work environment at the MDC. Our goal is to strengthen and protect our most vulnerable employees. So, in addition to the already established points of contact at the MDC, we have, since May 2019, been offering our employees outside psychological counseling services.

An Anti-Harassment Task Force, which was set up by the Board of Directors and has involved 50 employees from every part and every level of the research center, has been at work since early 2019. The task force is advised by Professor Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, a specialist in gender medicine at Radboud University in Nijmegen and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. At the latter, she investigated boundary violations and sexual harassment at the workplace in a study called “Watch, Protect, Prevent.”

The task force, which engaged in transparent and intensive dialogue, developed guidelines for dealing with bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination. It also proposed a procedure for how to handle misconduct. In addition, the task force compiled a list of preventive measures. These range from trainings for management staff and bystander trainings to special coaching for counselors in our points of contact, to incentive systems and much more. In late August, the task force presented its results to MDC employees and submitted them to the Board of Directors.

The Board of Directors has declared its support for these recommendations and will adopt the guidelines in the coming weeks. The guidelines will enter into force in early 2020 and will be rigorously implemented with the participation of our colleagues.

We are grateful to all employees, especially those who served on the task force, for their outstanding work. There’s no place for bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination at the MDC! We aspire to foster a positive leadership culture and good interpersonal relationships at the MDC, because only then can we conduct excellent research. We want to establish a culture that puts our values into practice.“

Further information and links

We at the MDC

This is a special series on the MDC website that reports on the work of the Anti-Harassment Task Force and features interviews with key members of the initiative as well as with people who work in the various points of contact. The topics covered include how to maintain a respectful work environment and to foster a good organizational culture.

About Sabine Oertelt-Prigione

Professor Sabine Oertelt-Prigione is a specialist in gender medicine at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and at Radboud University, Department of Primary and Community Care, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Oertelt-Prigione worked as research associate at the Berlin Institute for Gender in Medicine (GiM) from 2009 to 2016. She led a study called “Watch, Protect, Prevent,” which made the Charité the first university hospital in Germany to investigate the topic of boundary violations and sexual harassment at the workplace. Learn more about the ‟Watch, Protect, Prevent” study.

Sexual Harassment of Women

Recommendations by the National Academies of Sciences in the United States on how to prevent and address sexual harassment.


Jutta Kramm
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC)
Head of the Communications Department
+49 (0)30-9406-2140 or