Bias, lack of support contributing to a sexual orientation gap in STEM: Study
The sexual orientation gap for men was three times greater than the gap between white and Black men but smaller than the gender gap, which sits at 21 per cent.
LGBQ men of all races are less likely to hold a STEM degree than heterosexual men of all races, according to a new study published in PLOS One. The paper — which analyzes data on more than 140,000 people in same-sex relationships and 11 million people in heterosexual relationships — found men in same-sex relationships were “12 percentage points less likely” to have completed a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field.
The sexual orientation gap for men was three times greater than the gap between white and Black men but smaller than the gender gap, which sits at 21 per cent. Researchers did not identify a gap for women in same-sex couples when compared to other couples.
The study did not include information on transgender men “due to data limitations,” the authors say.
The findings underscore a large body of evidence that the sciences aren’t welcoming for some members of the LGBTQ community. The data is echoed in the results of a July 2019 survey of scientists in the UK, in which one-third of the LGBTQ participants said they have considered quitting their job due to discrimination.
“These patterns are highly suggestive that the mechanisms underlying the very large gender gap in STEM fields such as heteropatriarchy, implicit and explicit bias, sexual harassment, unequal access to funding and fewer speaking invitations are related to the factors driving the gap in STEM fields between gay men and heterosexual men,” Dario Sansone, a co-author of the PLOS One paper, told The Guardian.
The study also points to biased gender assumptions as a STEM barrier.
“Perceptions that gay men are relatively feminine and that lesbian women are relatively masculine may contribute in part to the underrepresentation of gay men compared to heterosexual men in STEM,” reads an excerpt from the paper.
“The patterns also suggest that policies to improve representation of women in STEM fields (e.g., reducing toxic masculinity) may have the associated benefit of increasing representation of gay men in STEM fields.”
This isn’t the first study to argue the sexual orientation gap in STEM disproportionately affects gay men. A 2018 paper in Science Advances found gay men may be subjected to unique forms of discrimination that other members of the LGBTQ community may not experience.
The paper — which examines the results of a 2015 survey given to 4,162 college seniors at 78 U.S. institutions, with about 8 per cent of the participants identifying as LGBQ — found that heterosexual men were 17 per cent more likely to remain in STEM studies than their LGBQ male classmates, after controlling for factors like high school grades and participation in undergrad research.
But LGBQ women were 18 per cent more likely to remain in STEM when compared to heterosexual women.
While speaking with The Guardian, Sansone said there are many benefits to prioritizing the inclusion of everyone in STEM, particularly LGBQ men.
“Addressing these gaps could increase efficiency by improving group decision-making, company performance, and the quality of scientific work.”
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