When I heard the first time about 500 Queer Scientists (@QueerSci, #QueerSTEM) I thought for myself ‘Why do we need to support STEM scientists based on their sexual orientation?’. This is how ignorant and clumsy I am. We got sensitized against antisemitism at school. We were not taught much about minorities. We joked about them. We bullied. Nobody stopped us. I had to leave my home country to become a minority. I see many Europeans experiencing the same. I know about discrimination against women in leader roles and against parents in academia because I have experienced it, but I did not know about discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. I assume the majority of us is as ignorant as I am. This is why I am writing this post – to inform you.
I needed to do my extra homework to learn about the history of discrimination against people based on their gender or sexual orientation. How is it possible that we still have states where it is legal to discriminate against people based on gender identity or sexual orientation (28 states of the US of A; Human Rights Campaign (2018))? One in eight transgenders has been physically attacked by a co-worker in the UK during the past year. The average life expectancy of trans women in the US is 32 years old. How barbaric are we?
Why does the molecular ecologist care?
Because we are biased. You are biased against mothers doing careers, minorities taking on leader roles, LGBTQ people being successful in STEM fields, and anyone else who is different from you. You might deny it. I took a test** two days ago and turned out slightly discriminatory although I am fighting against it every day. This is unconscious bias, and we all have it. The way you grew up and social situations you have experienced shape your views. The first step towards supporting minorities is to embrace and accept the fact that we all are implicitly biased. It will open our minds in order to understand it. A first step towards avoiding incorrect assumptions.
**Take the test:
(The test can be found at the ‘Project Implicit’ website. This is a collaborative effort that provides consulting services, lectures and workshops on implicit bias, diversity and inclusion, leadership, applying science to practice, and innovation.)
Why should we support minorities?
The STEM fields are open and achievable for all people. Socially diverse groups, including different ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations, are more innovative than homogenous groups. Interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, anticipate different viewpoints and expect that reaching consensus will take effort. Read more here.
Through the education of my daughter I am learning about my own misconceptions. Most schools in the Bay Area are doing an exceptional job of teaching children about respect, tolerance and inclusion. My daughter learned at the age of 5 about bullying and how to avoid it at school. Here in this highly urban area, children are exposed to a diversity of people from early on. Kids are encouraged to be the single one on the dance floor. The one who sticks out. The one who is different. Societies have the responsibility to not allow picking on each other. Our children make up the society of tomorrow and it is us parents who need to prepare them for it. Needless to say, sexist, racist, and LGBTQ jokes should be forbidden at any institution. Mentors who joke about it should be fired.
I would like to take this opportunity of being a TME blogger and tell you readers about the recent movement of Queer Scientists in STEM research fields. Go check out the website, contribute to the movement, share widely and become aware of your own unconscious biases. Try to be a good mentor and role model.
There are guidelines.
Many universities are setting up guidelines to combat biases during the hiring process. So whenever you are in a hiring committee or bringing in a graduate student, technician or postdoc, be aware of your biases and question yourself why you prefer some people over others. Is it because of their race, their gender, their country of origin? What assumptions are you making? Do you think somebody is more qualified because one dresses nicely, because of their name, because of their sexual orientation?
Please feel encouraged to leave more resources and experiences in the comments section. Most of us are ignorant and busy with research most of the time.