Alfredo Carpineti, founder of Pride in STEM, discusses how the visibility of presenting non-heteronormative educators as role models can ensure the future generations of STEM professionals.
With reduced numbers of LGBT+ professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, it is of increasing importance that STEM educators are representative of a workforce which truly reflects the diversity of the mass population, thus promoting an inclusive workforce for STEM going into the future. Pride in STEM operates as a charitable trust run by an independent group of LGBT+ scientists and engineers from across the globe. It aims to challenge public perception of STEM professionals
Pride in STEM champions diversity in all forms, as integral to the future of research, development and innovation across the world. Government Europa spoke to Alfredo Carpineti, founder of Pride in STEM, about the importance of presenting non-heteronormative educators as role models for the future generations of STEM professionals.
What elements of best practice and regulation should be implemented at a governmental level to ensure an equal and diverse workforce for the STEM sectors?
STEM subjects are being pushed to develop more innovative solutions to our national challenges and realise new technologies from cutting-edge science and engineering research. Building and maintaining a more diverse workforce is key to addressing these challenges. Therefore, more inclusive workplaces and working practices are essential. Inclusive and diverse STEM education is essential for developing a suitable workforce, not only for the STEM disciplines, but for those wishing to be innovative in other sectors too. As such, STEM must be representative of the diversity of the UK population and at all levels within organisations, from technicians to professors and from, researchers to the board.
Our area of expertise is promoting and supporting LGBT+ researchers in STEM subjects, so while best practices can extend to many different areas, we feel that there are certain approaches that are particularly important for us. The issue of engaging with STEM at an early age for people from poorer and non-traditional backgrounds still remains, and it could be helped by wider profiling of non-traditional careers in STEM. We also suffer from a lack of measuring, monitoring and benchmarking diversity and inclusion in STEM, often relying on the learned societies and their limited resources. The learned societies are working hard to support and deliver initiatives in diversity and inclusion, but we believe that if policies were enacted to help foster a more diverse environment in STEM, the results would appear in a shorter amount of time.
We are not qualified to dictate industrial strategies or funding approaches to government, but we know, and we are backed by peer-reviewed studies, that inclusive groups are more productive. It is not economically sound not to have diversity in mind when it comes to planning the future of STEM.
How important is it that future STEM practitioners are taught by non-heteronormative role models, projecting the inclusivity of STEM workforces?
To promote diversity in STEM, it is crucial that prominent role models are as diverse as possible. This doesn’t require that every teacher or educator fill a certain diversity quota, but instead requires the political will to approach the historical and pedagogical discussion of the sciences in a different way.
Science shouldn’t be taught as a dry list of formulas and facts to memorise. We need to value the:
- human element;
- historical figures; and
- contemporary educators in an earnest full-rounded manner.
Some science happens in a physical vacuum, but no science happens in a historical one.
Highlighting the contribution of women and people of colour has already had an impact in the UK. We can learn from this success by giving more visibility in schools to LGBT+ people in STEM. Indeed, to truly push forward an agenda of inclusivity we need to talk about how everyone, regardless of their gender, sexuality, race, disability, social background etc. – and indeed any combination of these – can be scientists.
How does the recruitment drive for those in education align with the objectives of Pride in STEM? What more can be done to lobby for diverse educators?
To have a diverse workforce, whether in industry, academia or education, you need to guarantee that the work environment allows them to be truly themselves. The right role models might get them into STEM but if the workplace maintains the prejudiced status quo, you won’t be able to keep those people. They will find something to do that doesn’t require them to be constantly fighting, or lying, to protect themselves. This point is not just about LGBT+ people. An often-discussed example is the poor work/life balance expected of senior staff in academia. If you expect people to work 60 hours a week, you are already excluding those with caring and parenting responsibilities at the very least.
How will the objectives of Pride in STEM evolve as society continues its transition towards greater equality for LGBT+ persons?
We need to hope and believe that one day soon, the work that Pride in STEM performs will become obsolete. There are two challenges that we currently face:
- We need more visible LGBT+ people in STEM; and
- We need LGBT+ people to feel safe to be out at work.
These two challenges are strongly interlinked, and they will require huge changes and brave people. We hope that our work in providing platforms for LGBT+ people in STEM addresses both challenges.
Pride in STEM