February is LGBTQ+ history month, which celebrates the lives and achievements of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s great to see the University supporting LGBTQ+ history month, with everything turning rainbow coloured, from lanyards to logos, in addition to the impressive range of events organised throughout the month. The prevalence of all things LGBTQ+ at the moment reminded me to write this blog post.
I want to share some of the opportunities available for LGBTQ+ scientists and engineers. These opportunities offer the chance to meet people, get involved, network, collaborate and become part of a supportive community. While writing this post, I was struck by the number of major publishers and funders who now are backing these initiatives.
Although LGBTQ+ history month prompted me to write this post, these opportunities apply throughout the year. So, if you’re an academic, researcher, post-doc or student working in a STEM subject, or just someone who’s wondering what it’s all about, then read on.
Why is this important?
OK, so let’s start with the serious bit. Recent surveys of UK academics working in STEM have found –
28% of LGBT+ respondents stated that they had at some point considered leaving their workplace because of the climate or discrimination towards LGBT+ people.
16% of all respondents had personally experienced harassment or other exclusionary behaviour and 30% of all respondents reported witnessing exclusionary behaviour.
This is from a 2019 survey of around 600 academics working at UK universities in STEM subjects, conducted by the Institute of Physics, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry (Full report and summary in Nature).
Another recent survey of almost 4000 UK academics in STEM subjects reported that a significantly lower proportion of LGBTQ+ staff felt safe from harassment and discrimination at work, compared to their straight counterparts.(Wellcome Trust survey)
These results are disturbing. I’ve highlighted the major UK surveys, but a browse through further academic research throws up more studies showing a similar pattern. (For a summary, see this article in Nature). For example, a recent-ish (2013) survey in the US found only 60% of academics in working STEM subjects were out at work. It goes without saying this situation needs to change –
Living in fear or not being able to show their true selves harms individuals. Keeping people from doing their best science, or excluding them, harms everyone. Scientists should never be made to feel that hiding their sexual or gender orientation is the solution. (Nature 2019).
Or as a woman interviewed by Science explains, “It’s hard to see yourself in a career where you don’t see other people who are like you.”
I feel the University makes a real effort to help LGBTQ+ staff and students feel welcome, so I would hope that these surveys don’t reflect what happens at Portsmouth. However, the surveys do shine a light on the broader context in which academics work, so they cannot be ignored.
To address the challenges faced by LGBTQ+ scientists and engineers, the national and international academic community has grouped together and established a network of events, organisations and activities. And you’re very welcome to join!
How can I get involved?
There are many ways to get involved. Whether you prefer online or face-to-face, there should be something that takes your interest.
And of course, if you’re not LGBTQ+ then you don’t need miss out! Everyone is more than welcome to get involved with any of these things too.
Pride in STEM
The Pride in STEM website includes events, resources, news stories and much more. Follow Pride in STEM on –
Twitter – @PrideInStem
LGBT STEM day
The annual LGBT STEM day is organised by Pride in STEM, along with a number of other groups. It’s supported by supported by over 40 major organisations including UKRI, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), the Institute of Physics (IOP), the Royal Astronomical Society, the National Physics Laboratory (NPL), the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK, Springer Nature, and many more.
This is rather like LGBTQ+ history month, in the sense that it’s when people all over the world run events celebrating the lives and achievements of the LGBTQ+ people. This University of Cambridge article gives a good flavour of what the day is about.
LGBTQ+ STEMinar annual conference
This conference is an exciting chance to meet up with other people, network, socialise and generally have fun! Or put another way, “The conference is designed for people who work or study in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and identify as LGBTQ+. We aim to use the day to show case work from diverse fields and to encourage collaborations between different departments, Universities, companies and subjects. We also welcome those who may not identify as LGBTQ+ but wish to discover and support the work that LGBTQ+ people are doing.”
The conference is organised by LGBTQ+ STEM and supported by the major publishers shown above. It will be hosted next at the University of Oxford. Previous hosts include University of Birmingham, University of York, University of Sheffield and the Institute of Physics.
You can submit a paper to present or come along as a delegate. The conference has grown from around 30 people to almost 300 people this year. In fact, this year’s conference was massively oversubscribed, so apply early to avoid disappointment.
Look at the LGBTQ+ STEMinar conference website for more information. Or keep in touch via –
Twitter – @LGBTSTEM
Come along to Pride! Whether it’s London, Manchester or elsewhere in the country, pride events all over the country have STEM groups taking part.
Also, last year at London Pride staff and students from universities across the sector marched together as a group. This year they’ve set up a WhatsApp group to help more people get involved. This isn’t specifically for people working in STEM, but it’s also a good way to get involved.
House of Stem – A network of LGBTQ+ scientists in Ireland.
Out in Stem (oSTEM) – US group which is the ‘Student & professional society for the LGBTQ+ STEM community.’
Queer in STEM – National survey based in the US.
Inter Engineering – Free and inclusive organisation for everyone who believes that LGBT diversity and inclusion within engineering is important.
Queers in Science – Australian based organisation.
LGBT+ physics – “Here to celebrate diversity in science, and highlight the careers of LGBT+ people working in physics”.
University of Portsmouth Staff network
This network isn’t specifically for STEM staff and it’s open to all LGBTQ+ staff and allies. It uses a Google group to communicate and share events. Join the LGBTQ+ University of Portsmouth staff network.
If you’re reading this blog post and you’re not from Portsmouth, then take a look at the list of all LGBTQ+ university staff networks.
Hopefully this has been a useful tour around the many and varied things you can get involved with. Please free to get in contact with the University’s Equality and Diversity team. Good luck!