The demand for employees within the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the United States has boomed since 1990 growing from 9.7 million jobs to 17.3 million.1 However, the influx of STEM employment is not absent of disparities, specifically, disparities pertaining to diversity. In 1980, Congress passed an act mandating the National Science Foundation to not only include but track the progression of cis-gender women and racial and ethnic minorities in STEM.2 Cis-gender women now make up ~50% of the STEM workforce but lack representation and/or leadership opportunities across all STEM sectors, while only 9% of STEM employees identify as Black and/or 7% Hispanic.1 Although the 1980 Act was a step towards progress, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) were excluded from any prioritization resulting from this act and still today, remain virtually invisible in STEM.3 As of 2020, the United States is facing a dual dilemma. Younger generations of workers (20–25-year-olds) are identifying as LGBTQ at higher rates than prior generations (15.9% in 2020)4 and the need for workers in STEM is continuing to rise.1 Research shows, however, that individuals who identify as LGBTQ are avoiding if not resigning from STEM-focused jobs.3 This dilemma has one resolution; to improve the sectors of the academy that focus on STEM in a manner that prioritizes the inclusion of LGBTQ students.
Three strategies to improve LGBTQ students’ recruitment, retention, and graduation rates include: 1) Creating an LGBTQ inclusive campus climate,5,6 2) Developing LGBTQ specific spaces,7 and 3) Connecting LGBTQ students to gainful employment within STEM fields.8 A model that provides support for the efficacy of these three strategies is the Culturally Engaging Campus Environments Model (CECE Model).9 The CECE Model describes the duality of students individually having a significant impact on their own college success through their sense of belonging, academic dispositions (e.g., self-efficacy, motivation, intent to persist), and academic performance, while also recognizing the impact that the culture of a campus has on both the individual student directly and their college success outcomes such as gainful employment. The CECE Model describes two dimensions that go into developing a campus culture–a campus providing culturally relevant experiences for students and a campus being culturally responsive. Cultural relevance in practice means recognizing students may have been victims of systemic oppression due to their social status, and providing students access to faculty who share their similar histories. Cultural responsiveness is a campus’s response to the cultural needs of their students and in practice can be creating an environment of collaboration and providing access to multiple culturally relevant supports. Both of these responses need to be implemented within campus climates in order to address inequities and promote inclusion.
In conclusion, inequities within STEM-focused disciplines will remain without concerted efforts to address the lack of representation of sexual orientation and gender-diverse populations within these fields. An important component of addressing changes within STEM-focused disciplines is assessing the experiences of LGBTQ faculty within these departments. Specifically, changes need to be met to cultivate safe environments for faculty of diverse backgrounds. University policy must support infrastructure-related and policy changes to embrace LGBTQ folks within their institutions. As leaders in the science of behavioral medicine, we are called to make LGBTQ students in STEM a priority today to help empower the future of STEM for tomorrow.