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LGBTQ Professionals In STEM Experience More Exclusion And Harassment, New Study Reports

author

Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockJan 22 2021, 11:05 UTC
Pride Flag displayed near the entrance to SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Pride Flag displayed near the entrance to SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Image Credit: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock.com

A new study published in Science Advances reports the systemic inequalities experienced by LGBTQ professionals working in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The work found that among professionals with the same education level, work effort, or job commitment, LGBTQ+ people in STEM were more likely to experience professional devaluation, exclusion, harassment than cisgender heterosexual colleagues.

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The data comes from surveys conducted by 21 STEM professional societies in the US with 25,324 participants, 1,006 of them identifying as members of the LGBTQ community. Potential inequalities were examined on five subjects: career opportunities, professional devaluation, social exclusion, health and wellness difficulties, and intentions to leave STEM. The researchers controlled for demographics, disciplines, and job factors to make sure that the differences were due to prejudices against being LGBTQ.

The study found that LGBTQ STEM professionals are less likely to be given access to resources to do their job well and are given fewer opportunities for development. One in five reported being devalued about their expertise, despite having the same experience and education as their non-LGBTQ colleagues.

The study reports that 30 percent of LGBTQ respondents had experienced harassment in their workplace in the last year. This negative environment is reported as a contributing factor towards ill health for LGBTQ respondents, in particular in terms of stress, depression, and insomnia.

“We suspected we might find that LGBTQ professionals experienced marginalization among their colleagues, due to enduring biases toward LGBTQ-identifying people,” co-author Professor Erin Cech, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. “What was striking was that these inequalities extended to how colleagues treated their scientific and technical contributions. These disadvantages not only impacted LGBTQ professionals’ careers, but also affected them in deeply personal ways – amplifying experiences of stress, insomnia, and other health problems.”

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The study reports that 22 percent of LGBTQ professionals interviewed have considered leaving their STEM careers at least once in the last month, compared with 15 percent for their non-LGBTQ counterparts. When it comes to the longer term, this number came to about 12 percent of LGBTQ respondents (vs. 8 percent of cisgender heterosexual people interviewed). This finding is, in general, in agreement with a survey conducted in the last few years in the United Kingdom.

The work also showed how these disadvantages were amplified for individuals whose identity spans two or more protected characteristics. For example, LGBTQ-identifying women were more likely to experience professional devaluation than LGBTQ STEM professionals who were white men. Transgender and non-binary respondents report work-related health issues compared to their cisgender sexual minority colleagues, and LGBTQ people belonging to a racial/ethnic minority were more likely to experience harassment at work compared to LGBTQ white men in STEM professions.

The work also looked at specific disciplines and the employment sector within STEM. They concluded that “these LGBTQ disadvantages are not isolated to certain STEM fields or to certain employment sectors but may be operating across the U.S. STEM workforce.”