AERA, AAAS, and Expert Scientists Urge NSF to Include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Measures in Surveys
AERA, AAAS, and Expert Scientists Urge NSF to Include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Measures in Surveys

June  2020

In a jointly signed June 29 letter, AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine; Sudip S. Parikh, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; New York University professor Jonathan B. Freeman; and Laura E. Durso, executive director of the Whitman-Walker Institute, urged  the National Science Foundation to include sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) measures in the 2021 National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG) and other future surveys conducted by NSF’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES).

The letter was submitted in response to a call for public comment on the 2021 NSCG, which was published in the Federal Register on April 28. 

“Studies estimate that LGBTQ people are 17-21 percent less represented in the STEM workforce than statistically expected,” wrote Levine and her colleagues. “With a U.S. STEM workforce size of 7 million people, these findings suggest that the U.S. may have lost approximately 54,000 to 121,000 LGBTQ people who would currently otherwise be in STEM. Adding SOGI measures to NCSES surveys is critically needed to track LGBTQ people from U.S. undergraduate and graduate programs through to the STEM workforce, and to understand and address the challenges they face along the way.”

The letter noted that non-supportive STEM environments and harmful biases and stereotypes appear to be partly responsible for these disparities.

“The absence of SOGI data presents a gap in our ability to understand diverse and under-represented groups’ participation in STEM education and the STEM workforce,” said Levine. “This vital data would substantially expand and enhance the value of NSF reports for not only researchers but also policymakers at all levels.”  

“Without NSF data, evidence suggests LGBTQ people are facing educational and career barriers in STEM fields, and the U.S. may have lost an estimated 121,000 LGBTQ people who would otherwise currently be in the STEM workforce,” Freeman said. “That's an unfortunate waste of talent, as LGBTQ scientists have pioneered major advances, from the CPU, synthetic biology, to AI research. We can't reduce disparities if we do not measure them.”

In 2018, AERA joined several organizations on a comment letter to NSF highlighting the need to include sexual orientation and gender identity indicators on the NSCG to understand the outcomes of LGBTQ respondents in the STEM workforce. The NSCG provides data on relationships between college education and career opportunities and between degree field and occupation. Data from the NSCG also are used in the development of the NSF biennial report Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities in Science and Engineering and the National Science Board biennial report Science and Engineering Indicators.

In fall 2018, NSF reported that NCSES was planning to conduct internal methodological piloting of SOGI measures for NCSES surveys, which was expected to begin with the NSCG and produce preliminary results by early 2019. 

“We hope that the piloting was a success and that SOGI measures will be added to the 2021 NSCG and other future NCSES surveys,” said the June 29 letter. “We write now to reaffirm the importance, feasibility, and precedent of including SOGI measures in NCSES surveys.” 

The letter concluded: 

In short, we cannot reduce disparities if we do not measure them. It has become clear that LGBTQ people – who comprise an estimated 4.5 percent of the U.S. population (and 8.2 percent among early-career age individuals) – are facing educational and career barriers in STEM fields. However, the lack of SOGI measures in NCSES surveys is hindering our ability to understand and address these barriers. Including SOGI measures in the 2021 NSCG and future NCSES surveys is paramount to resolving the challenges faced by the U.S. STEM workforce, while also highly feasible and with clear precedent in other federal agencies.

In addition to the NSCG, NCSES administers the Survey of Doctorate Recipients and the Survey of Earned Doctorates.