Taking Pride in STEM careers

“Diverse teams are more likely to reach scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations because people who bring different perspectives to a problem envision different solutions,” says Dr Bryce Hughes at Montana State University, USA. There’s lots of focus on encouraging more women and ethnic minorities into STEM subjects, but what about LGBT+? To coincide with Pride month and LGBTSTEM Day, let’s celebrate true diversity in STEM.

What’s the issue?

“LGBTQ folks are in science, and we’re interested, but we’re not necessarily finding conditions that make it as easy for us to stay, and that’s worrying.”

Dr Jeremy Yoder, California State University

There are approximately 20% less LGBT+ employees working in STEM fields than would be expected, and many report significantly more negative workplace experiences than their non-LGBT+ colleagues.

A study in 2015 found that heterosexual men were 17% more likely to remain in STEM than their LGBQ male counterparts. In an unexpected twist, the opposite was true for women: LGBQ women were 18% more likely than heterosexual women to remain in STEM.

A 2013 survey found that some fields are more “open” than others. For example, in subjects where there are higher ratios of women, like biology, more LGBTQ people opened up about their sexual orientation.

In a study published in May 2019, 55 STEM workers – including faculty members, students, and staff – were interviewed about what it’s like to identify as LGBT+ in STEM.

“We had participants saying, “If I’m the best in my field, it won’t matter that I’m also gay. It feels like you have to be the absolute best to counteract the fact that you’re gay.” That resonated with me because I went through a stage like that.”

Dr Daniel Cruz-Ramírez de Arellano, University of South Florida

Another recent study, investigating the LGBT+ climate in physics, also highlighted a number of issues: many LGBT+ individuals felt “uncomfortable” within in their department or division; they felt there was a heterosexist culture (a culture that discriminates in favour of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships); and they found it difficult to identify allies. Allies create safe and welcoming environments which ultimately improves the professional climate.

What can we do about this issue?

There are three key factors to improving sexual diversity in STEM:

  1. Reduce heteronormative attitudes: Heteronormative is the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality, and that people fall into distinct genders (man and woman) with distinct roles in life. Clearly, this is not the case. However, if these attitudes are widespread, people outside of these “norms” will become alienated. Heteronormative attitudes will only be reduced by increasing LGBT+ representation: in schools, colleges, universities, TV, films and the media.


  2. Community and visibility: Having a supportive and visible LGBT+ community or network goes a long way to making a field more inclusive and welcoming. Check out some of the links below for role models, online communities, conferences and volunteer opportunities.


  3. Mentoring and support: To ensure that the STEM workforce is as diverse as it can be, schools, universities, colleges and employers must provide sufficient mentoring and support for LGBT+ students and staff. Training on how this can be improved in schools and colleges is provided by companies such as Stonewall and The Safe Zone (see below).

Help and support is out there, grab it!

Various organisations provide support for LGBT+ in STEM:

  • LGBT STEM day, on the 5th of July, raises awareness that LGBT+ people in STEM continue to struggle to openly be themselves. Pride in STEM events are taking place worldwide to help forge a sense of community, to share experiences of being out and proud in the world of STEM and to enable you to meet incredible LGBT+ researchers.
  • oSTEM (Out in Science, technology engineering and medicine), provide support to empower LGBT+ people to succeed personally, academically and oSTEM organise an annual conference and offer opportunities for student volunteers.
  • LGBT STEM showcase inspirational LGBT+ role models, who work worldwide across the STEM fields. They also host an annual LGBT STEMinar: a conference designed for people who work or study STEM subjects and identify as LGBT+.
  • 500 Queer Scientists aims to ensure that the next STEM generation has LGBT+ role models and to improve visibility of LGBT+ people working in STEM and STEM-supporting jobs.
  • In the US, the Best Colleges website gives advice and recommendations on which colleges are best for LGBT+ students, i.e. those with LGBT+ support centres and groups, inclusive policies and practices, gender-inclusive housing and roommate matching.
  • In the UK, Stonewall has produced a list of the top six LGBT+ friendly universities.
  • Stonewall offers support to schools by delivering training and producing resources to empower teachers to train their colleagues in LGBT+ inclusion.
  • The Safe Zone offers free online resources for LGBT+ awareness and ally training workshops, to enable STEM professionals to become effective allies of LGBT+ colleagues.