05 July, 2019
Today marks the second annual International LGBT+ STEM Day, a day designed to bring visibility to LGBT+ scientists, their achievements and the unique issues they face. It’s disappointing that in 2019 academics are actively pushing back against creating inclusive environments but heartening that thousands more are proudly showing their support, and you can still add your name to the list.
Last year we talked about why LGBT+ STEM Day is important. This year, if you want to take your support of LGBT+ people in the workplace even further, here are my suggestions for creating a welcoming and inclusive place to work.
Learn. When you first start learning about the LGBT+ community the amount of information can be overwhelming. Just the amount of new terminology is daunting, never mind the fact that there isn’t a complete consensus within the LGBT+ community and people can have very strong opinions. Educating yourself is still the best way to understand more about the history and concerns of the LGBT+ community. Remember not to treat your LGBT+ friends or colleagues as walking encyclopaedias, it isn’t their responsibility to teach you and you can find loads of resources yourself.
Be visible. Scientists are generally a liberal and tolerant lot who are accepting of LGBT+ people but we don’t tend to talk about it. But remember: the absence of discrimination isn’t the same as evidence of support. If you aren’t visibly supportive, don’t assume everyone knows you’re welcoming. An LGBT+ person might not want to take the risk of working in an environment when they can’t tell how they will be treated. So show your support in tangible ways: get a rainbow lanyard, put a safe space poster in your office, go to Pride or other LGBT+ events, and talk about inclusion at work.
Challenge discrimination. Challenging discriminatory behaviour or ‘harmless’ banter can feel intimidating but being willing to stand up helps create an inclusive culture by showing any kind of anti-LGBT+ bias is unacceptable. An ‘outsider’ voice can be powerful and lends a lot of credibility. It will also make your LGBT+ colleagues feel like you have their backs. Here are some practical suggestions:
Of course you need to make sure you feel comfortable and safe in the situation, you aren’t obligated to put yourself in danger (not that this should happen in the workplace hopefully!)
Talk about pronouns. Sharing your pronouns is a really simple way to make a more inclusive environment for trans, non-binary and gender nonconforming people as well as encouraging people not to make assumptions about gender. It shows that you’re aware of gender issues and that you’re supportive of people expressing themselves however they choose. Why not start by putting yours in your email signature or writing it on your conference badge?
Listen. This is the most important thing. When it comes down to it, all LGBT+ people are individuals who will have their own stories, opinions, and concerns. The best way to support your colleagues is to listen to what they have to say. This goes for LGBT+ people too: a white trans woman and gay Asian man will have very different experiences and can learn a lot from each other and support each other.
I hope you’ll find these tips give you ideas of practical changes you can make to help create LGBT+ inclusive environments. When writing this I tried to come up with science and lab specific suggestions but came up empty so if you have ideas I’d love to hear from you!
05 July 2019
By Elizabeth Wynn