Working as Project Manager for Evidence Base has presented me with many opportunities to learn and grow. One such opportunity presented itself to me in September 2019 when my line manager suggested I take a meeting with a PhD student, Matthew Sinton, who was looking for additional funding/other forms of support to develop something called The STEM Village. It was an initiative designed to raise visibility of LGBTQ+ people in STEM and they were planning to run a conference in 2020.
Matthew and I eventually met at the end of October 2019, by which point he had successfully secured funding from the Physiological Society to run the conference. We discussed plans for the conference, with a particular focus on inclusion and accessibility to attendees and speakers. Given my experience with Evidence Base and work reviewing and developing codes of conduct and conference guidance, it seemed like a natural fit to offer my support to collaborate with The STEM Village. Our conversation really provoked something I had not considered before and that was the invisibility of LGBTQ+ scientists. Our Evidence Base project was initially focused on gender and has since expanded to consider other protected characteristics, but I had not really thought much about how sexuality is not really visible unless someone chooses to make it so. Sometimes people may demonstrate what can be referred to as ‘queer coding’, hairstyles and clothing choices that may be stereotypically associated with LGBTQ+ people, but these are still just stereotypes and not really the same kind of visibility, or invisibility that we see for gender and race in STEM.
What followed was a really rewarding collaboration. In light of the pandemic the in-person conference originally slated for Spring 2020 was moved to an entirely online delivery in August 2020. This enabled speakers and attendees to participate world-wide and we had people registered from all continents except antarctica. The importance of visibility came up again in the action of doing the conference. We had attendees joining from countries where it is not legal or safe for them to be out as LGBTQ+, some of whom contacted us to say how important it was for them to see LGBTQ+ scientists like them giving talks and being open about their sexuality.
Following the conference, which threw up many stimulating conversations both about the science being presented and the notions of how scientific rigour is inherently associated with the notion of heteronormativity and the impact this has on LGBTQ+ people in STEM, the STEM Village organisers and I wrote a comment article that was recently published in The Lancet. We took this as an opportunity to make constructive suggestions regarding interventions that could be taken to increase LGBTQ+ visibility in STEM (summarised in the panel).
The STEM Village ethos is ‘It takes a Village’, meaning you cannot do something entirely alone. You need support, role models, encouragement and community in order to thrive. I would never have found this opportunity to work with STEM Village without the village of support I have as part of Evidence Base. I hope that the recommendations that have come out of this collaboration and the future system-wide recommendations that Evidence Base are working on will help to make the village of STEM academia a kinder, collaborative and more supportive one.