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Addressing LGBTQIA+ under representation in STEM - Reflect. Empower. Unite.

28 Jun 2024

Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith

Group People and Culture Director

We’re proud to mark Pride Month 2024. This year’s theme draws upon the history that ignited the movement for LGBTQIA+ rights. The theme encourages individuals, advocates, communities and allies to reflect on the challenges that have been overcome together. It also empowers us to act in shaping a better future. This year’s theme calls for unity within and throughout the LGBTQIA+ community and is a call to action for all allies, to demonstrate their alliance.

Reflecting, empowering and uniting also provides a pillar to ongoing efforts addressing the underrepresentation of LGBQTIA+ people in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and how safe they feel in being themselves at work within STEM industries. Indeed, while there has been growth recently in efforts to tackle female underrepresentation in the construction sector specifically, there remains little understanding of the experiences of LGBTQIA+ workers in the industry. Certainly, it’s a problem shared across all STEM professions with little research conducted and only a small amount of press attention. However, the reports which have emerged paint a concerning picture. Overall estimates suggest that LGBTQIA+ people make up less than 1% of STEM professions. Unfortunately, the exact figure for those working in construction who identify as LGBTQIA+ is unclear.

In 2018, Stonewall found that more than a third of LGBTQIA+ staff in Britain have hidden or disguised their identity at work because they are afraid of discrimination and 60 per cent of LGBTQIA+ employees have experienced homophobic and derogatory terms at work. In 2017, Construction News also carried out an LGBTQIA+ survey in which 54% of respondents stated they did not feel comfortable being open about their sexuality or gender on site. These findings were echoed in a 2020 report on LGBTQIA+ experiences in construction by the University of Loughborough's School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering. Parliamentary research has also shown that the UK is nearly twice as less likely to retain LGBTQIA+ people in the STEM sectors compared with heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. This reflects a number of exclusionary practices at play relating to the culture and governance of industries under the STEM umbrella that prevent LGBTQIA+ people from being able to bring their authentic selves to their place of work.

Like all diversity and inclusion efforts, simply knowing that LGBTQ+ people are under-represented but exist in STEM does not tell us what those specific problems and exclusionary systems are that they experience. It is vital to research and understand such experiences in specific workplaces to address underlying systems of oppression, as well as interventions that work to create positive change. Furthermore, it’s essential to keep pace with the challenges in identifying and addressing the LGBTQIA-spectrum individuals experience in the continually evolving terminology around gender and sexual, romantic, and related identities. A blog this month by Amanda Baillie, Project Manager at Pick Everard has been released to support this understanding: Pride 2024 - Pick Everard

The starting point for Pick Everard has been to begin to build up our employee diversity data to understand the makeup of our workforce. We’re using this data to track valuable insights to LGBTQIA+ experiences in work and to know where the key issues lie. We need to know the starting point better to assess what demographics we are attracting, hiring, promoting and rewarding. We’re also working to understand representation at different career levels in the business, needs and policies as well as learn more about how people experience key processes. Our aim is to create a stronger climate of inclusivity, better representation and higher levels of personal success and empowerment.

Whilst we’re on a drive for the data it’s not stopped us from taking immediate action. This has included embracing employee voice through our diversity champions forum. The network is run by staff and is sponsored by a Senior Director. The design of the forum is based on colleagues being able to determine their own agenda. Furthermore, all colleagues go through online and in-person inclusion training that includes unconscious bias and the use of inclusive language, which is supported by toolkits on coming out at work and being a strong ally in work. Pick Everard are also a member of Building Equality - an alliance of construction consultants, engineers, developers, contractors, and institutions who are passionate about working together and harnessing power to drive LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the construction, engineering and built environment industry. Our appetite to learn more and do more as an employer is outward looking to other sectors striving ahead in this area and considering the approach of recognised top inclusive organisations.

It’s clear that employers in STEM and Construction need to do more to both report on LGBTQIA+ data and work harder to change the workplace environment so more people feel comfortable being themselves at work. This month drives the opportunity for employers to reflect on their role in empowering and uniting colleagues, considering what they can do differently to attract, develop and retain top LGBTQIA+ talent, as well as provide better guidance and access to more inclusive organisational policy.