As an undergraduate and then PhD student, I have to confess that I never really noticed any issues surrounding equality – perhaps I was too busy studying, doing my bench research, or maybe I spent too much time in the pub. However, in more recent times, and as I have advanced through my career, my eyes have been opened to inequality, either through personal experience, or by witnessing the unequal treatment of others.
As a mixed-race, gay, female I have been subjected to what I can only describe as bias (unconscious and conscious) and discrimination, which has left me feeling demoralised, sad, angry, and embarrassed, to name just a few of the range of emotions that I’ve experienced. I’m not going to divulge details but I would describe some of this behaviour as homophobic, some of it as mildly racist, while some of it has been plain old misogyny, although rarely has there has been a mix of all three at once – lucky me! But of course, this has shaped who I am today and I am not ashamed to say that I am unequivocally for equality – whether about gender, sexuality, race, or disability etc – I work to improve equality and encourage others to be inclusive and support diverse individuals, in all of the organisations I am linked to.
This is why I am particularly proud of the fact that SfAM have equality, diversity and inclusion as core values that we uphold and encourage, to ensure that we can support all microbiologists. To this end, we sit on the Royal Society of Biology’s Diversity and Inclusion working group, we are the first biological learned society to sponsor the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity and Inclusion in STEM, (https://www.britishscienceassociation.org/appg), and I am particularly proud of the fact that we are supporting the first ever #LGBTSTEMDAY (https://prideinstem.org/lgbtstemday/).
It is perhaps sad to reflect on the fact that we need to have days of recognition to raise awareness of the inequalities faced by certain groups of people, but if we can put a name to it, and show our support, perhaps we can help people to feel safe to be themselves.
These days I am lucky; in my role as General Secretary, I have the privilege of working with brilliant people at SfAM – both staff and trustees – and not once have I felt uncomfortable being myself. In fact, I am taking my partner, Caroline, along to our upcoming annual conference next week as a guest, and I will look forward to introducing her to friends, colleagues and members of the Society. But others are not so fortunate and we know that discrimination means that we are losing LGBT people from STEM disciplines (http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2018/03/stem-losing-male-lgbq-undergrads) or that LGBT people are avoiding STEM careers to avoid discrimination (https://www.theiet.org/policy/media/press-releases/smashstereotypestobits.cfm). This is simply a depressing waste of talent. And while it is my hope that one day we won’t need #LGBTSTEMDAY, current evidence suggests otherwise.
So I hope that you will spend a moment or two to reflect today, and think about what it must be like for those that need to conceal a part of themselves on a daily basis. SfAM is proud to play our part for equality in STEM, are you?
Dr Clare Taylor, SfAM General Secretary.
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