As it affects us all, everyone, no matter their identity, should feel that they can be part of a team within the field. Sadly this has not often been the case. People from under-represented groups can feel that the tech industry is not a welcoming environment for them, or even face some obstacles given the same level of abilities. Educators might not have a massive role to play in changing the tech work culture, but they do have the opportunity to play a large role in bringing up the next generation of tech workers. And this much-needed change in outlook needs to happen from the get-go, starting with computing and STEM education.
“Tech for me in school was simply about IT and there never was a reference to any behind-the-scene development. It was more a case of how to successfully navigate Word without waking up The Paperclip.” James Brumpton, a senior test engineer working at BBC News said.
“Something that I found interesting when I studied language in my adult life is being taught about the culture, which clearly influences how languages mature. In terms of computer science, this would be teaching not just ‘what to do’, but also why and how. And teach who is responsible. As such, it allows us to celebrate people from all backgrounds that contributed to the field.”
A safe space
I always advocate thinking about diversity, inclusion,and belonging, because without creating this sense of belonging, a community of sorts, your efforts in diversity and inclusion won’t have a long-term impact. One simple step educators can implement is a safe environment. Imagine being out in school, university, or even a workplace and the fear for personal safety that sometimes brings. To foster true inclusion, helping students to meet allies cannot be passive: it must be active. If you’re able to create a safe space and a sense of belonging in your classroom, it will support every under-represented group, including LGBTQ+.
Visibility and role modelling is often praised as an approach for people trying to challenge the status quo of tech. We can repeat over and over that the field is for everyone but, until we show solid and unquestionable examples, then the words are just words.
“I would have liked to see more people who fit more than one category and/or defied categories, e.g. an advocate from the disability community and LGBTQIA+ community. A lot of us who do it identify with more than one community, and visibility is really important so we don’t feel as if we can only champion one part of our identity, or have to downplay a part of ourselves to be accepted,” comedian, podcaster, and researcher Dr Cerys Bradley said of their experience in tech education.
There is a lack of LGBTQ+ role models, which make this approach challenging to implement. Many groups that work in the overlap between science and activism have been trying to remedy this. A recent study highlighted how sexual minority students (Hughes, Science Advances 2018) are seven percent less likely than heterosexuals to persist in STEM after four years in the field. One crucial factor was the feeling of not belonging. Role models are critical to challenging those assumptions. Initiatives like LGBTQ STEM, 500 Queer Scientists, and Unique Scientists, provide a library of lived experiences of being LGBTQ+ in STEM. It’s a useful and excellent resource to share with your students.
If you want to learn more about the issues discussed in this article, then there are a number of organisations and initiatives designed to help you create an inclusive learning environment. Celebrating International Day of LGBTQ+ people in STEM is a great way to get started. If you’re looking for role models, then groups such as Intertech, InterEngineering, and Pride in STEM provide a way for members of our community to become more visible.
Pride in STEM is a leading charitable trust working to showcase and support LGBTQ+ people in STEM. Our flagship series of events, called Out Thinkers, provides a place where members of the community can talk about their experiences and their work. It is our hope that not only will our work help LGBTQ+ people in tech and in STEM fields in general, but that it will help to truly break down the barriers that under-represented groups still face in the world. We need wider efforts from allies, educators, companies, and institutions. And this is why we need you! Help us stand up for acceptance.