Revealing the queer-spectrum in STEM through robust demographic data collection in undergraduate engineering and computer science courses at four institutions

PLoS One. 2022 Mar 10;17(3):e0264267. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0264267. eCollection 2022.

Abstract

Queer identities are often ignored in diversity initiatives, yet there is a growing body of research that describes notable heterosexist and gender-normative expectations in STEM that lead to unsupportive and discriminatory environments and to the lower persistence of queer individuals. Research on the experiences of queer-spectrum individuals is limited by current demographic practices. In surveys that are queer-inclusive there is no consensus on best practices, and individuals with queer genders and queer sexual, romantic, and related orientations are often lumped together in a general category (e.g. LGBTQ+). We developed two queer-inclusive demographics questions and administered them as part of a larger study in undergraduate engineering and computer science classes (n = 3698), to determine which of three survey types for gender (conventional, queered, open-ended) provided the most robust data and compared responses to national data to determine if students with queer genders and/or queer sexual, romantic, and related orientations were underrepresented in engineering and computer science programs. The gender survey with queer-identity options provided the most robust data, as measured by higher response rates and relatively high rates of disclosing queer identities. The conventional survey (male, female, other) had significantly fewer students disclose queer identities, and the open-ended survey had a significantly higher non-response rate. Allowing for multiple responses on the survey was important: 78% of those with queer gender identities and 9% of those with queer sexual, romantic and related orientations selected multiple identities within the same survey question. Queer students in our study were underrepresented relative to national data. Students who disclosed queer gender identities were 7/100ths of the expected number, and those with queer orientations were under-represented by one-quarter. Further work developing a research-based queered demographics instrument is needed for larger-scale changes in demographics practices, which will help others identify and address barriers that queer-spectrum individuals face in STEM.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Computers
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities*
  • Students
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Grant support

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (https://nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=505082) under Grant Nos. 1726268, 1725880 and 1726088 (RAA). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.