Posted by: lwagner10 | February 10, 2011

LGBT Diversity in Academia

There has been a great deal of public emphasis on diversity in business.  However diversity in our universities has not received much attention.  I know I felt that the universities were liberal bastions with diversity not as likely to be an issue. I learned that this was not the case.  I recently had the pleasure of presenting at the National Diversity Equity Workshop on the topic of LGBT (LGBTQIQ was their preferred acronym—I think addressing the college students) diversity.  This is an effort supported by the Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity (OXIDE) with the National Science Foundation as the primary sponsor.  The meeting brought together the 50 top Chemistry Departments in the country.  Representation was primarily department chairs with some faculty representatives.  This was the fourth workshop in the series.  The first focused on equity for women, the second on ethnic minorities, and the third on people with disabilities, probably associated with the Americans with Disabilities Act. LGBT diversity was a new topic for this workshop.   

This two day workshop was very informative.  I saw great similarities in the diversity efforts in business to this effort for Chemistry Departments.  However, it appears that the universities are lagging many businesses by several years.  An example of similarity is that businesses seem to have focused on women’s issues first and ethnic issues second.  The universities shared demographics through surveys which were presented.  Another is similarities in the statistical under-representation of minorities. The demographics for the universities showed a clear case for biases in university promotions. 

A focus of discussion was subtle biases which cut across several very interesting presentations by psychologists.  One significant concept was the “Accumulation of Advantage”.  The study showed that even a 1% edge in advantage led to very significant spreads in promotion and benefits over longer periods of time (this is why a casino works!!).   Another interesting concept was sorting fairness into three categories: procedural, reward and interaction.  Procedural fairness means that the rules for protection are in place.  This is what the HRC Corporate Equity Index measures.  Reward fairness is most obviously influenced by subtle biases and a major element in the accumulation of advantage.  Interaction fairness is more difficult to achieve, particularly in interactions with your boss.  

My talk on “LGBT Diversity in Business” was very well received.   I focused initially on the business case for diversity in general.  Recruiting and retaining the best possible employees requires an environment which respects diversity in all forms.   If one accepts this, the concept of respect for all forms of diversity is elevated since no one is safe from bias if everyone is not safe from bias.  This is a lesson which I learned well working with all of the affinity groups at my past employer. 

One of the unique issues with LGBT equity is the lack of demographics. This is a great problem in corporate America because even in companies with perfect HRC scores, people are not comfortable that they will not be discriminated against, at least subtly.  A very crude poll combined with a back of envelop calculation would tend indicate that something on the order of 10-20% of the LGBT population in the Chemistry Departments are out at work.  I suspect this is not very different from corporate America.  Another focus was looking at providing an environment where people are to work as the people they are, interaction fairness.  An environment where people can be out without fear is the ideal.  With the current business and university environment, LGBT demographics will be very difficult to obtain.  Another critical issue with people not being out is that without interaction with LGBT community members, stereotypes can never really be effectively broken down.    

In my talk, I noted that will the HRC Corporate Equity Index was focused on companies. I also noted that the criteria could easily be used to evaluate the procedural fairness of a non-profit organization or university department as well.  Private discussion indicated that recruiting of LGBT faculty members was made difficult by lack of domestic partner benefits, often in control of the state government and not the university.  It is also indicated that an environment where people are comfortable being out and people actually being out is a catch 22.



  1. There was an interesting article on 365gay which pertains to this issue.

    1 second ago

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