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AAAS Hosts Symposium About Current Landscape Impacting LGBTQ+ People in STEMM

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The Planning Committee for the Inclusion and Advancement of LGBTQ+ People in STEM Fields Symposium hosted at AAAS on May 30, 2023

It is not news that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) individuals interested in STEMM experience longstanding challenges to their pursuit of education, mentorship, and employment in STEMM fields. In fact, current research finds that LGBTQ+ people are not only underrepresented in STEMM professions, but that those in STEMM professions are also more likely to experience workplace harassment and consider leaving their jobs compared to their heterosexual and cisgender peers.

To address the inclusion and advancement of LGBTQ+ individuals in STEMM fields, AAAS and the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH) convened scientists, policymakers, community organizations and LGBTQ+ community members for the annual State of Sexual and Gender Minority Health Symposium last month. The symposium covered many topics, including how LGBTQ+ scientists are faring in the workforce, how mentorship positively impacts LGBTQ+ students and early career professionals, and how federal policy can aid inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals in STEMM fields and research. Other presentations covered topics such as the challenges and disparities faced by LGBTQ+ students and employees and personal experiences of barriers to career advancement. The event was live streamed, and a recording of the symposium can be found here. 

Bryce Hughes, Ph.D., an associate professor at Montana State University-Bozeman, was a speaker on a panel called “Evidence of LGBTQ+ Challenges and Disparities in STEMM.” He and his co-panelists not only reviewed research, data, and key points describing the challenges and disparities faced by LGBTQ+ individuals in STEMM, but also discussed the impact of homophobia and transphobia on careers.

“The symposium was a unique opportunity to hear about insights into the experiences of LGBTQ scientists, engineers, and other STEMM professionals across all stages of career development,” says Hughes. “It showcased how far the field has come in terms of what the state of research on LGBTQ+ people in STEMM is like, as well as what more we need to know to fully understand the problems LGBTQ+ people face in STEMM—underrepresentation, academic and professional inequities, and barriers to participation. We have a lot more work to do both in terms of fully defining the problem as well as addressing barriers to participation such as climate, discrimination, and the relative ‘invisibility’ of LGBTQ people in STEMM.”

AAAS ISEED LGBTQ+ Symposium fed policy panel
"Federal Policy for LGBTQ+ Inclusion in STEM: Opportunities & Challenges" panel featuring Travis T. York, PhD (moderator); Charles Barber, PhD (NSF); Meghan Maury, JD (Dept. of Commerce); and Karen L. Parker, PhD (NIH).

Charles Barber, Ph.D., who is Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at the National Science Foundation, was another panelist at the Symposium. He and his co-speakers drew on their experiences working in federal agencies to offer insights into the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ scholars and how these can be addressed through policy. “This is the kind of event that is needed to advance multicultural competence,” Barber notes. “It helps continue the necessary conversations to create environments that can fully leverage the full spectrum of diverse talent to advance national security, science and the well-being of society.”

For Hughes, the most important step that non-LGBTQ+ identifying scientists can undertake to support their LGBTQ+ colleagues is to be self-aware about their privileges. “In what ways has navigating STEMM been smoother because one is heterosexual and/or cisgender? Being able to recognize the lens through which one views the world helps build greater empathy for those who experience the world differently,” explains Hughes. “Safe Zone type trainings, use of inclusive language, and raising questions about policy and practice can all help make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ scientists, all of which relate to being able to understand how someone else may experience the world around them differently.”

Echoing a similar sentiment, Barber emphasizes the importance of listening with empathy: “Being a good listener in today’s environment is a cultural competence multiplier and… puts us all on the right path to making barriers for the LGBTQ community actionable.”

As AAAS celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, both Hughes and Barber see a role for AAAS to ignite progress for the next 175 years, especially in addressing LGBTQ+ challenges, opportunities, and disparities in STEMM. “AAAS can continue to be an advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion in STEMM and in society at large,” says Hughes. “LGBTQ+ people are being hyper-politicized today—particularly transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people. Organizations like AAAS need to push against the perception that science is or even needs to be apolitical. Contributions of LGBTQ+ people are needed in science.”

Barber sees AAAS as a “path finder” and “true culture champion.” “The thought leadership provided by AAAS helps Chief Diversity Officers like me to ‘future proof’ DEIA and Culture programs,” he adds. “We need to be data informed, data driven, and data inspired to ensure we make [the] work sustainable.”

With support from Tiger Global Impact Ventures, AAAS is already working on a project to do just what Hughes and Barber have mentioned. Partnering with researchers at University of Vermont's Queer and Trans People in Education (QTPiE) to increase success of LGBTQ persons in the scientific ecosystem, the Catalyzing a Data Infrastructure to Support LGBTQ Inclusion project seeks to understand and address the systemic barriers to the collection and use of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data with the intent of increasing postsecondary institutions’ knowledge and capacity to normalize such activities. 

As has long been the case with measuring gender and race information in student and employee data collections at U.S. academic institutions, SOGI data could aid in developing accountability systems to protect against LGBTQ+ bias and discrimination and identifying barriers LGBTQ+ people face at STEMM institutions. Moreover, once informed by such data, colleges and universities could create programs to foster more supportive and inclusive STEMM pathways for LGBTQ+ students and scholars. The Symposium hosted by AAAS last month is just the beginning of efforts to achieve this goal.


Wendy Li

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