Study Finds 1 in 3 Lesbian Engineers Stay Closeted at Work

Study Finds 1 in 3 Lesbian Engineers Stay Closeted at Work

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Kristopher Radder/U.S. Navy
Kristopher Radder/U.S. Navy

According to the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) magazine, 1 in 3 gay and lesbian engineers don’t tell their colleagues about their sexuality. The survey was taken by 356 engineers in June 2014.

According to the survey, 45 percent of LGBT workers are out at their job, 34.4 percent are not.

One respondent said after hinting at their sexuality, colleagues laughed. Another had heard homophobic remarks from managers and others said their sexuality isn’t relevant to their jobs.

Almost 8 percent of respondents felt discriminated against by colleagues.

“My colleagues make homophobic comments,” one respondent said. “Because I am not ‘out’ I feel safe challenging them.”

A few gay women felt they were being discriminated against for not only their sexuality, but their gender as well.

Seventeen percent of the respondents said they felt once people knew of their sexuality, they were excluded from moving up in their field.

“I was overlooked for promotions,” one person said. “Hence my departure at managerial level.”

Another felt they were overlooked because they didn’t fit the traditional engineer perception of “a straight man, married to a wife who is happy to look after the children while you travel,” a respondent said.

Because engineering is a global industry, some think their sexuality hinders job opportunities in other countries like Africa, where homosexuality is illegal.

“My company has a lot of overseas opportunities; some of these are in countries where I wouldn’t be comfortable being a gay person,” one person said. “This barrier to taking opportunities could potentially hinder my career progression.”

Though discrimination against sexuality is an issue, 34 percent of lesbian respondents thought gender discrimination is a much bigger issue.

“I don’t necessarily feel there is an explicit discrimination in terms of being lesbian,” she said. “I think there are far more issues/discrimination purely related to being a woman.”

Seventeen transgender people took the survey and many felt it would be inappropriate to come out.

“If I come out at work, what will that do to my prospects?” One person said. “I hear the sexist remarks from senior management. How much more will that affect a transgendered person who they have seen as male but wants to identify as female.”

One even left work because of the comments.

“People struggling with me being transgender have made it impossible for me to return to my previous occupation since I came out.”

Though nearly 8 percent felt they had been subjected to “slurs” and “homophobia,” almost 77 percent had never experienced any homophobic or gender discrimination from their colleagues.

“The LGBT survey, which was run through IET magazine, is an example for our commitment to promoting diversity within engineering,” IET Editor-in-Chief Dickon Ross said. “If we can understand to what, if any extent discrimination on the grounds of sexuality takes place in the engineering community, we will be in a stronger position to address any issues.”

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