Wednesday 3 July 2019 10:55 am

LGBT and stem professionals: The battle is far from won

Earlier this year, BBC viewers voted computer scientist pioneer Alan Turing as the ultimate icon of the twentieth century.

In a live speech which moved many in the audience, Wildlife presenter Chris Packham spoke of Turing: “A genius. A saviour. But he was also autistic and gay, so we betrayed him and drove him to suicide. His death, an unforgivable tattoo on humanity’s conscience. While he was punished for being different, his work celebrated diversity. Under the circumstances, that makes him truly iconic.”

Since the scientist’s tragic suicide, there have been phenomenal strides in LGBT+ rights all across the world in many fabrics of society.

But as we approach LGBT+ Stem Day on 5 July, is the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics also keeping pace with embracing LGBT+ diversity?

Despite the circumstances surrounding Alan Turing, there has been relatively little research into LGBT+ professionals in STEM.

A recent report on the LGBT+ climate published by the Institute of Physics, Royal Astronomical Society, and Royal Society of Chemistry, highlighted that the overall climate in which physical scientists worked could be highly variable.

Almost one in three respondents stated that they had considered leaving the workplace because of discrimination, and a similar number had witnessed exclusionary behaviour.

The report recognised that comfort levels are on the increase, yet almost 50 per cent agreed there was a lack of overall awareness of LGBT+ issues in the workplace.

A previous report from the US Center for Talent Innovation stated: “Companies that harness both innate diversity in their workforce and acquired diversity in leadership are measurably more innovative than companies that fail to harness these drivers”.

It is clear that the sector and broader workplace need to continue to encourage a culture where people can bring their “whole selves” to work and embrace the spectrum of diversity and work towards a more equal, diverse and inclusive approach.

As part of the UK’s mission to create the best possible environment in which ideas can flourish, a new body was set up in April last year called UK Research and Innovation, which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government.

Celebrating its one-year anniversary, it published its future delivery plans highlighting that diversity “is integral to excellence in research and innovation, letting us access the best talent and benefit from the broadest range of ideas”.

The opinion that scientific logic can only come from a certain type of person, a certain gender, a certain background is outdated. Such rigid expectations of what a scientist, an engineer, or mathematician should be is pushing a stereotype that can stop sectors from reaching their true potential.

Solving these problems requires a continued revolution in how we do science, talk about science, and what we expect from science.

For now, we will be celebrating LGBT Stem Day on Friday, which is a celebration of how far we’ve come and a stark reminder that the battle is far from won.