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Why we’re celebrating the first international day of LGBT in STEM

Why we’re celebrating the first international day of LGBT in STEM

More diversity and inclusion in STEM means better science – that's why organisations and institutions should support LGBT STEM day on 5 July, says Andrea Bandelli, executive director at Science Gallery, Dublin

Is science too straight? This was the provocative title of an article published last year by Boston University, revealing how Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – STEM – does have a problem when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Shaun O’Boyle, a science communicator from Ireland, puts it very clearly: “While the scientific process treats all data equally, science does not treat all scientists equally.”

For LGBT+ people, studying and working in a STEM organisation very often means lying about their sexual and gender identity, being afraid of coming out and missing out on meaningful mentorship and support.

Just this year new research published in Science Advances showed that LGBT students in STEM are considerably less likely to finish their studies compared to heterosexual peers, despite a higher interest and participation in research activities.

Universities, industries and companies are haemorrhaging talent because LGBT+ people in STEM are being ignored.

And yet it’s not rocket science to realise that more diversity and inclusion in STEM means better science – it has been well documented. Everybody benefits from a workplace that is inclusive and supportive, and that can retain its best talent, rather than losing it to stress or to more competitive and more inclusive professional fields. As a new Nature article makes clear: diverse science means better science.

Like me, many Prospect members are involved with STEM advocacy and engagement, either individually or for their employers. They play a fundamental role in strengthening diversity and inclusion in STEM: developing innovative approaches to gender balance, social inclusion and widening participation of all people in science and technology.

Working closely with schools, academic institutions and other research organisations, they influence millions of young people by fostering their interest in STEM. They also provide professional development opportunities for teachers and educators.

That’s why world leaders in STEM, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Wellcome, National Physical Laboratory, CERN, Ecsite and many others are supporting LGBT STEM day.

LGBT STEM day is an opportunity for all STEM organisations and institutions to give visibility to their LGBT+ communities. Taking part in the international day means affirming to be a safe and inclusive place to work that values people’s individuality. It creates an opportunity for thousands of people to find their role models, to feel less alone and to be supported and valued as LGBT+.

Spread the news within your organisation and join the initiative and its supporters. It’s one day that can change a lifetime.

An earlier version of this column appeared in Spokes, the magazine of Ecsite.

Prospect senior deputy general secretary, Sue Ferns said: “Diversity is at the heart of what we do as a union. Our STEM workforces thrive on the creativity and innovation that come from diverse ways of thinking.

“We support initiatives that promote diversity in STEM education and we stand up for diversity and inclusion in the workplace too, at every career stage.

“LGBT+ workers must feel secure to be themselves at work, for their own sakes and for their employers too. The diversity dividend kicks in when we value workers for their individuality.”

Prospect is encouraging members in STEM workplaces to get involved on 5 July: it doesn’t have to be big to make a difference. Something as simple as tweeting, and being ‘out’ about the day on social media can go a long way to support the LGBT+ community who works and studies in STEM.

For more ideas, see the Pride in STEM toolkit.

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