In order for any industry to flourish, there needs to be as broad a range of ideas and input as possible. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is no different.
So why is the diversity of the STEM workforce so poor? We so often see the stereotype of the older white man in a lab coat that this image becomes ingrained in the social consciousness.
The figures published in the 2014 Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE) Improving Diversity in Science report show that women, disabled people, ethnic minorities and people from socially-disadvantaged groups are under-represented in STEM careers, particularly at senior levels.
There are initiatives active in trying to address some of these imbalances such as the Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN Charter which aims to address gender imbalance in Higher Education Institutions and the new Race Equality Charter. However, there is still little visibility or even information regarding LGBT people in STEM.
From my own viewpoint as a bisexual transgender woman, the lack of LGBT visibility comes from different sources. Firstly there’s the stereotypical view that STEM is a masculine field. We see this in the numbers and society’s attitude.
For example, the CaSE report asked parents what profession they would like to see their son or daughter in after education: the responses showed a clear male gender bias in science and engineering.
A misconception is that gay men go into fashion and entertainment rather than science. Are young LGBT people discouraged from taking up STEM subjects at school and university due to career biases? Had I been out at a younger age would I still have pursued the degree I did? I believe we lose many young LGBT from STEM before they even begin.
Secondly there’s a kind of unofficial “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy pervading some institutions. It has certainly been perceived by LGBT scientists I have spoken to, as well as myself, that there can be an atmosphere of being there just to do our research.
The rationale may be benign – “we don’t mind who you love or live with or how you identify, we don’t really care so long as you do your work”. However, this can actually have an opposite effect.
This kind of attitude tells us as LGBT scientists not to reveal personal information. A chat in the lab about what you did at the weekend suddenly becomes a difficult and stressful situation through fear of revealing a partner is the same sex, for example.
During my undergraduate years I really had no idea if I would ever be accepted as a trans woman or if I would be ever be taken seriously again. These fears held by many LGBT people in STEM, or considering STEM as a career, can prevent someone being open and as effective a researcher, or indeed, keep a promising person out of a STEM career altogether.
How can we improve LGBT diversity in STEM? In a word, visibility. LGBT people are part of society, we are all ages, all genders (including non-binary identities), all ethnicities, different disabilities, different socio-economic groups and we have a lot of different skills and abilities to offer. The more we see of each other out there in workplaces, particularly STEM workplaces, the more open we can be.
From my own perspective, being open about who I am, my gender identity, the person I love, how I present myself and knowing I will be respected as the person and scientist I am, enables me to do a much better job as a scientist than anyone could expect while expending unnecessary energy hiding those fundamental aspects of myself. I can do this because I know I am not alone. I can do this because I am not the first. I can do this because I can see others who are like me and have a career like mine.
LGBT STEM are a group of LGBT scientists who put themselves out there and share their research interests to encourage young LGBT people to take up a STEM career and for LGBT people already in STEM to be open and proud of who they are.
I read many stories on their website including from other trans scientists and felt I could add my own to it. The Royal Society for Chemistry showed a wide diversity of past and present chemists including LGBT chemists for their 175th anniversary. STEM needs to encourage and display diversity to improve diversity. Dr Charlotte S McCarroll BVMS (Hons) MSc (VetSci) PhD MRCVS, Cardiovascular Researcher, vet and the B and T in LGBT