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LGBT Professionals’ Workplace Experiences in STEM-Related Federal Agencies

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Research on Diversification & Inclusion

Tagged Divisions

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering, Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, Women in Engineering, New Engineering Educators, and Student

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1094.1 - 26.1094.10



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Paper Authors

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Erin A. Cech Rice University

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Workplace Experiences for LGBT Professionals in STEMM and Non-STEMM-related FederalAgenciesEvidence is mounting that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in U.S. workplacesoften face disadvantages in pay, promotion, and workplace experiences. Recent scholarship on theexperiences of LGBT students and professionals suggests that these disadvantages may be particularlypernicious within science and engineering-related fields, given the patterns of heteronormativity andheterosexism documented therein. However, no research has yet examined whether science andengineering-related organizations really are more disadvantageous for LGBT professionals than otherorganizations. Using representative data of over 270,000 federal employees, over 8000 of whomidentify as LGBT, I compare the workplace experiences of LGBT professionals within science, math,engineering, technology and military (STEMM)-related federal agencies to the experiences of LGBTprofessionals in non-STEMM agencies.Using OLS regression models, I examine whether LGBT professionals in STEMM-related federal agenciesreport significantly worse workplace experiences along three broad categories: their treatment asemployees (e.g. whether their success is fostered, whether they feel they have adequate resources,whether they feel able to whistleblow), the perceived fairness and integrity of their organizationalleaders (e.g. whether their work unit is meritocratic, whether their organization leader has integrity),and their work satisfaction (e.g. whether they are satisfied with their working conditions, whetheremployees are empowered). I find that LGBT professionals in STEMM-related agencies reportsignificantly more negative outcomes on 12 of the 19 workplace experience measures across thesethree categories, compared to LGBT professionals in non-STEMM-related agencies. I also find that LGBTprofessionals are under-represented in these STEMM agencies, compared to their representation inother agencies.Federal agencies are a useful sector of the US labor force in which to conduct this analysis because theyare, in many ways, best case scenarios for the treatment of LGBT employees: LGBT federal employeesare the only group of workers in the U.S. who are protected by formal anti-discrimination legislation,and the formalized advancement structures within federal agencies are generally more effective atpromoting diversity and inclusion than flatter, more informal advancement structures in other labormarket sectors. As such, although organizations in the private, non-profit and education sectors varywidely in their treatment of LGBT professionals (e.g. Google versus Exxon-Mobile), the differentialexperiences of LGBT professionals in STEMM agencies documented here may be equally if not moreextreme in other employment sectors.These results have important implications for science and engineering-related workplaces and forscience and engineering education. Even if LGBT students make it through the heteronormativity andheterosexism within science and engineering education documented in previous research, they mayencounter similar if not more hostility in the workplace. It is the responsibility of engineering andscience educators to set up their students—LGBT and non-LGBT alike—to expect and demandworkplaces where subtle and overt heteronormativity and heterosexism are not tolerated, and where allemployees, regardless of sexual identity and gender orientation, are respected.

Cech, E. A. (2015, June), LGBT Professionals’ Workplace Experiences in STEM-Related Federal Agencies Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24431

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