LGBTQ+ Representation: ‘Lack of Visibility’ in Science & Tech Fields
with Chris Wood of LGBT Tech
Homelessness, lack of family support, and visibility in science and tech professions present barriers for LGBTQ+ Americans to pursue careers in these fields. A new initiative aims to help LGBTQ+ individuals see the journey of others to inform their own career paths.
Host Tetiana Anderson and Chris Wood, Executive Director and Co-Founder of LGBT Tech, discuss PATHS, a program to inspire LGBTQ+ youth and young adults to explore careers in science and tech fields.
May 27, 2022
Anderson: The term STEM -- that's science, technology, engineering, and math -- was introduced in the early 2000s to describe educational fields in which the United States was seen as underperforming. Jobs in these areas are seen as critical to ensuring economic prosperity and are lucrative for workers. But STEM fields are also increasingly associated with their historic underrepresentation of black people, Hispanics, Native Americans, and women. And today, we'll focus on another underrepresented group in STEM fields, LGBT Americans. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. About 40% of LGBT STEM workers say they're not out to their colleagues and they report higher levels of professional devaluation than their non-LGBT peers. That culture has added to the problems for professionals in these industries. And joining me to talk about all of this is Christopher Wood, executive director and co-founder of LGBT Tech, a group that is working to reverse these trends in STEM fields. And, Chris, thanks for being here.
Wood: Thanks for having me.
Anderson: So, Chris, let's start with the barriers that have really kept people in the LGBT community from entering STEM-field jobs. I mean, what are some of these things?
Wood: I think there's three really main barriers for individuals, especially our youth, our younger individuals. First of all is a lack of familial support. Almost 40% of homeless youth in the United States identify as LGBTQ, and homeless meaning that they are sleeping on the streets and have been counted as such. That doesn't even include the individuals who are couch-surfing or have found friends or other family outside of that. That creates a rift for individuals, and STEM fields are some of the most expensive fields to get into, where you have to go through some of the longest parts of education all the way to a doctorate degree, depending on what field you're going into.
Another issue that we see is a pure lack of visibility, a pure lack of an individual being able to see themselves in a STEM field because there's no one there that looks like them. There's no one there that has revealed or is talking about, and openly, their gender identity or sexual orientation. Sure, we have some of the main leaders of some of the largest companies in the world, but where are the middle management? Where are the entry-level individuals talking about their journey into STEM fields? It's extremely important for individuals to be able to see themselves in the beginning, the middle, and the very end of that career. And so that's really, really key.
Another area is the digital divide, having access to the Internet, having access to resources to be able to get into some of these career fields. You have to have an education, a baseline education, when you leave high school to understand some of these STEM curriculums, to get into the colleges that are going to allow you to be successful in these fields. So it really starts at the very beginning of having access and access to information and access to resources to be able to get into these fields.
Anderson: So, your organization has consistently been working to change that, and you recently launched a program called PATHS to help make the LGBT community really feel more welcome to enter the world of tech. Tell us how it works.
Wood: So, the PATHS program really is about storytelling. It's a really simple concept allowing individuals that are currently in STEM fields to tell their story about how they got there. And we're not talking about the individuals at the top of a company or creating the technology. They may be an entry-level position. They may be a middle manager. And it's the -- Currently, we don't see a lot of those individuals who identify as LGBTQ. And so for an individual to be able to see their path, for a lack of better words, into those fields through the entry-level positions and the middle-manager positions and potentially an executive position -- being able to hear that story and that journey is really powerful, because they're able to connect with it. Not only that, but an individual may connect with one of our STEM professionals not on the basis of their LGBTQ identity, but it may be something very different. It may be the fact that their family emigrated here. It may be the fact that they grew up in rural Iowa or a rural part of this country. It could be a whole host of things. But the added additional layer is that the individual knows that it's a safe space to listen to and can identify with the fact that they also identify as LGBTQ, which is highly underrepresented in STEM fields.
Anderson: So, how important would you say these stories are, especially for younger folks in the community, to see?
Wood: It's extremely important. At this point, for an individual who may not necessarily have good access to Internet, maybe only through school, who may not have a family support system that is really supportive of their full LGBTQ identity, to see somebody who is working in a particular field, let's say A.I. robotics or neuroscience, to be able to see an LGBTQ, an out LGBTQ individual, talk about their profession and talk about their life in going into that profession gives someone hope and the ability that they can also pursue that field and they can be successful in it being their full and authentic selves. And that is really the importance of this PATHS program and being able to tell the stories and see themselves in those places.
Anderson: And how would you say PATHS has been working so far? I mean, is it doing what you hoped?
Wood: So far, it is. You know, we really just got through the pilot season, and it was an incredible bunch of interviews. But I think the most impactful thing that I've seen is actually the outreach from just a few pilot episodes. The outreach from not only STEM professionals, but also educators in this country, educators in middle school and high schools who understand, who are working with these young and bright minds every day, who understand and know that one of the best ways for an individual to get into STEM fields and see themselves there is to listen to someone else who has been through it, to listen to someone else who has taken that journey. Parker: My name's Rocky Parker. Markowitz: My name's Jared. Chien: My name is Ginger Chien. Balasubramanian: I'm Siddarth Balasubramanian. I go by Sid. ♪♪ Chien: I am a transgender woman in tech. Markowitz: Currently, I work for a company called Typeform. Parker: I consider myself a biologist, broadly. Balasubramanian: I run all the operations for the 5G products. Chien: Queer people are already very versed in living outside of boxes.
Wood: When we started receiving the calls about bringing in some of our STEM professionals about doing video calls, we recognized that we were on the right path, for a lack of better words. And we're really excited about Season 2 that's going to be coming out later this year. We have anywhere from A.I. robotics to neuroscience, UX designers, and from all different backgrounds of the LGBTQ community and all different marginalized communities. But all of them identify as LGBTQ in some way, shape, or form, and I'm just really excited to launch it.
Anderson: So, you're clearly making progress, but I know that you have a lot more to tackle in order for full equity and full inclusion in the world of tech to be achieved. What do you plan on focusing on next?
Wood: So, we're going to continue with our storytelling and our interviews. We're also hoping to do some live and in-person events where we will bring in some of these STEM professionals to talk about their experiences and allow individuals who are wanting to get into these fields to ask direct questions. We're also hoping, at some point, that we can actually create a mentor-mentee program within PATHS which will allow individuals who are currently STEM professionals to go ahead and connect with with mentees who might want to be in some of these STEM fields.
I can also see a time and place where we are working with companies, we are working within industries to go ahead and continue to help promote equitable inclusion and visibility for all marginalized communities, but especially LGBTQ individuals. So we've got a lot of work ahead of us. But, like I said, there's no magic wand that we can wave here. We really have to make systematic change, and that truly takes all of us, all organizations, all companies, and individuals to be able to see beyond themselves and see that equitable and equal access to these different platforms and these employment opportunities actually raises all ships. It creates an environment where everyone can be heard and everyone can have the opportunity to participate.
Anderson: And, Chris, if people want to find out more about your organization, what's the website? Where should they go?
Wood: LGBTtech.org/paths will take you to the PATHS program, and be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. It's @LGBTTech. And we'll be posting our upcoming season very soon.
Anderson: Christopher Wood of LGBT Tech, thank you so much for being here.
Wood: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure to see you.
Anderson: And thanks to you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, as always, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.