Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression is a significant workplace concern in part because it is related to the productivity of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) employees. As a result, lab managers need to be concerned with professional equity for GLBT employees as well as for other minority groups.

 

Barbara Belmont, laboratory manager at American Research and Testing, Inc., organized a symposium on”Gay and Transgender Chemists: The Case for Visibility and Diversity Inclusion” as part of the March 27 – 31 ACS national meeting in Anaheim, California. In May “Chemical & Engineering News” will publish an article on the experiences of gay and transgender chemical professionals.

 

Reduced commitment to the organization

 

In an era when laboratory professionals are urged to develop a satisfactory balance between their professional and personal lives, many lab professionals feel very uncomfortable discussing matters relating to their sexual orientation and hide their personal lives from coworkers. For a long time the former U.S. military policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was the response in the business world to issues of employee sexual orientation. This creates a psychological strain, often severe, on lab professionals who hide their sexual orientation from coworkers and employers. This can reduce GLBT employees’ commitment to the organization.

 

Some fear discrimination based on their sexual orientation and some actually experience it in their employers’ hiring and benefit practices, job security, and career advancement. They also fear an adverse effect on their personal workplace social environment.

 

Role of professional organizations

 

Professional organizations have been assuming a growing role in advocating and promoting the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender scientists, engineers and technicians in laboratory workplace. As a chemist and councilor for the American Chemical Society’s Division of Professional Relations (PROF), I am particularly aware of this group’s activities (http://prof.sites.acs.org/lgbtandallies.htm) in this area.  

 

Barbara Belmont, organizer of the symposium mentioned above, writes in the abstract of her own paper presented at the upcoming ACS national meeting, “energy and effort -- that could otherwise be applied to workplace productivity -- is consumed in evading discovery, avoiding workplace socializing, and suppressing personality.” She believes if lab managers and their employers create workplaces in which employees feel comfortable not hiding their sexual orientation, GLBT employees will be happier, more dedicated to their employer and more productive.

 

Industrial R&D is increasingly carried out by multidisciplinary project teams. Congenial personal relationships are necessary for members of these teams to work effectively together. Sensing or fearing hostility, for whatever reasons, can result in individuals spending metnal energy on these fears detracting from their workplace productivity.

 

Because of their perceived need to hide their lives, GLBT employees often are less actively involved in employer-sponsored social activities. For example, spouses are usually invited to company Christmas parties and picnics. Rather than attend with their partner or go alone, some GLBT employees will not attend increasing their social isolation in the workplace.

 

Professor James Nowick (Department of Chemistry, University of California, Irvine) notes that one result of hiding their sexual orientation is that GLBT lack role models in the sciences. As a result these students are less likely to major in science and graduate with bachelor or graduate science degrees. This impacts the size of the candidate pool from which lab managers select new employees. Dr. Nowick also presented a paper at the ACS symposium.

 

Progress

 

Some large employers of chemists, other scientists, engineers and laboratory technicians have promoted establishment of employee affinity groups for members of various minorities to discuss workplace issues important to them. These companies include firms in the chemical, pharmaceutical, petroleum and high tech industries. While I worked at Shell Oil an affinity group for GLBT employees was formed. I saw firsthand the group’s positive effect on the attitudes of many employees towards their GLBT coworkers and their concerns.   

 

Dave Hughes of http://glbtworkplace.com/ offers a list of questions managers commonly ask on how to deal with GLBT workplace issues. A Google search reveals many websites and articles addressing GLBT issues. While a lot of statistics are available, I could find none relating specifically to the laboratory or R&D.