Being LGBTQ+ in science and tech – Alfredo Carpineti
In this video from Computer Weekly’s annual diversity and inclusion in tech event, in partnership with Spinks, Alfredo Carpineti, founder of charitable trust Pride in STEM, talks about some of the difficulties faced by people from the LGBTQ+ community in the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sectors, and highlights some small things we can all do to act as allies for others.
Stating diversity in the STEM sectors is “quite bleak”, Carpineti shares research from Royal Society which found only 39.6% of people in science in the UK are women, 60.4% are men, with no mention of those who are non-binary.
Carpineti also calls out the research for “lumping” people from different ethnic backgrounds under one term – BAME, standing for black, Asian and minority ethic – “which is not useful to understanding the systemic barriers that exist for people of colour”.
Figures from the Institute of Physics found 1.4% of people in the field identify as non-binary, but when asked about sexuality 83.5% identified as heterosexual, 5.2% identified as Bi, 3.4% identified as gay and 2.5% identified as “other”, with 4.5% entirely unaccounted for.
Research has also found in the past a third of LGBTQ+ people in tech believe there is a wage gap between themselves and their heterosexual counterparts, and 30% of young people choose to swerve the STEM sectors altogether through fear of discrimination.
Inclusive Tech Alliance figures found 19% of people in tech are women, 81% are men, and again there are no figures for non-binary people. Many datasets don’t have intersectional data – for example what percentage of women working in tech are also black, bi, or gay?
Carpineti states: “If you don’t have the data you cannot understand what’s going on.”
If the numbers already shared look dire, Carpineti goes on to say “it just gets worse in senior leaders”, with Inclusive Tech Alliance finding women only make up 12.6% of board members and 16.6% of senior executives in tech firms, and only 8.5% of senior leaders in tech are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.
When it comes to being LGBTQ+ in the STEM fields, Carpineti explains many people are more inclined to be open with friends and family about their sexuality rather than those in the workplace – less than 60% of LGBTQ+ people in STEM are out - many physicists in the US have experienced harassment in the workplace, co-workers lack awareness of LGBTQ+ issues and employees in are expected not to act “too gay”.
“Employees are expected to not act too gay, as a physicist this is mind blowing to me,” Carpineti says.
“If a senior physicist is telling you ‘employees are expected to not act too gay’ it means that there is some sort of scale of gayness that you can measure from zero to Elton John, where [on the scale] should a good physicist end up?”
Carpineti says the idea that a “good scientist, or a good person in tech, is a white straight male architype” is “absolutely absurd”.
With these figures in mind, Carpineti says the STEM sector needs a “rethink” to change the way these fields report and challenge discrimination and harassment in the workplace because the current state of play “cannot stand”.
Pointing out those who feel more comfortable to be themselves are generally more productive at work, Carpineti highlights some of the ways people can be allies to underrepresented groups in STEM on an individual level, including putting pronouns in email signatures to signal you are an ally who is learning about LGBTQ+ issues, being a proactive ally to others, and taking part in mentorship and awareness training.
He says: “I believe we need an inclusive and intersectional revolution, making sure that we don’t just include people, [but] that they belong in an organisation at every level and they can prosper, and they want to stay there, and if they have an issue that the issue is taken seriously and not dismissed.”