In modern universities, publishing many papers is seen as a mark of a successful researcher. This metric is far from ideal, creating a "publish or perish" culture. Many have called out the limitation of such an approach and what it is doing to academic culture.
Publication numbers also highlight the disparity in opportunities and barriers that people from historically marginalized groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics might face. A new study published in the journal PLoS ONE looked specifically at the experience of LGBTQA people – in particular, differences in whether they disclose their identity in their workplace or not.
The study authors define LGBTQA as "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, or otherwise queer." The work showed those who don’t disclose their identity tend to author fewer papers, and this potentially undermines their future career success.
Disclosing one’s identity is a personal choice that should have no bearing on a person’s employment or work quality, but many people can’t be open about their sexuality or gender without facing repercussions at work.
Until recently, it was perfectly legal for employers in several US states to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Beyond the confines of the USA, many countries worldwide criminalize people who are not cisgender and not heterosexual. Even where legal frameworks are in place, it might still not be safe for people to be out.
The analysis looked at the answers from 1,745 individuals: 1,116 identified as LGBTQA, and the remaining 629 as cisgender and straight from surveys in the US taken in 2013 and 2016, predating major legal victories.
Based on the data, straight men were predicted to publish the most, followed by straight nonbinary individuals who were out at work. This was followed by gay, bi/pan, asexual, and/or queer men who disclose their identity, then by disclosing LGBQA women, followed by straight women. Non-disclosing LGBTQA people all had the lower predicted papers based on the data collected.
The reason for this difference could be due to the stress that concealing one’s identity brings. There is a long-standing hypothesis that non-disclosure reduces productivity, and these results seem to align with that.
Research into the experiences of LGBTQA people in STEM has previously highlighted how they experience more exclusion, more harassment, and more career devaluation. This was even more pronounced when it came to racial/ethnic minorities as well as trans people.
To actually understand the cause of this, more in-depth studies are needed, but approaches to make STEM workplaces more accepting could be easily implemented and have an impact on people’s lives today.