IEEE Pride in Photonics Initiative: Addressing Persistent Struggles & Member Experiences to Raise Awareness
Contribution By: Niamh Kavanagh, Diversity Oversight Chair, IEEE Photonics Society
“It is established by several studies all over the world that diversity and inclusion lead to growth and innovation. And as a developing country, we need to exhaust the strategies to achieve this growth and innovation. It is my strong conviction that empowering marginalized communities that are a source of creativity, discovery and valuable inputs such as the queer community in STEM will enable us to take a leap forward to that goal.” – JanMell Dugenio
The IEEE Pride in Photonics initiative seeks to celebrate the work of LGBTQIA+ people in STEM, create a space to openly share personal experiences, and increase acceptance of inclusion best practices. In a 2019 survey of more than 1,000 UK-based physical scientists, nearly 30% of LGBTQIA+ scientists and half of transgender scientists said that they had considered leaving their workplace because of an unfriendly or hostile climate or because of discrimination. And, nearly 20% of LGBTQIA+ chemists and 32% of transgender and non-binary scientists across all disciplines had experienced exclusionary, offensive or harassing behavior at work in the previous year. About half of the respondents agree that there is an overall lack of awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues in the workplace. And a 2016 study found that LGBTQIA+ undergraduate students are 7% less likely to be retained in STEM fields than are their non-LGBTQIA+ counterparts. [source: nature.com, “How LGBTQIA+ scientists would like to be included and welcomed in STEM workplaces”]
In 2021, in honor of Pride Month – June, the IEEE Photonics Society deployed virtual learning solutions to create a welcoming atmosphere for LGBTQIA+ scientists to be their authentic selves, in the company of allies, as well
as inspire collaboration, invite open conversation, create educational opportunities, and network through technical dissemination. As part of this initiative, we were proud to host a talk by JanMell Dugenio entitled “The persistent struggle for pride in the Philippines: A case study of the status of queer people in STEM in a developing country.” JanMell is a Ph.D. student under the Centre for Doctoral Training in the Advanced Characterisation of Materials based in Imperial College London, University College London, and Trinity College Dublin.
As a trans woman in STEM, JanMell bravely shared her experience as a queer scientist, engineer and researcher in the
Philippines. According to a summary of the report of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) to the 13th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2012, “Transgender people are one of the most marginalized and neglected sectors in the Philippines in terms of human rights protection, promotion and fulfillment.” JanMell spoke about the discrimination, harassment and exclusion she had faced in the Philippines, leading her to explore career paths abroad and bringing her to Trinity College Dublin where her research is focused on applying advanced microscopy and other characterization techniques in the development of high-entropy alloys.
JanMell spoke about the importance of inclusion and peer support, as she received great support from groups such as Trans In STEM: “You are not alone. Reach out to queer scientists you know and ask for help as I did. For some, they may not know other queer scientists, and this is why visibility is important. We need to know who else out there is like us, knows our struggles and help us convince ourselves that we can make it, just like them.”
In our day-to-day lives, there are many ways people can be more supportive of trans people. Here are some ideas:
1) Pronouns are a great way to start. Having pronouns in your email signature or asking for/including pronouns in introduction rounds, as cisgender people not only make this a “normal” process in workspaces, but it takes the pressure away from people who are trans who might get misgendered to feel like they are “outing” themselves by being the only one introducing themselves with their pronouns.
2) If someone uses the wrong pronoun or misgenders a coworker or friend in another way, correct that person. It
can be a relief to have someone else do that work of correcting for you.
3) Don’t assume someone’s gender when you first meet them. Ask for pronouns.
4) Start using gender neutral language when addressing groups (for example, instead of ladies and gentlemen, use “everybody,” or if it feels right, “folks” is lovely and less of a mouthful).
5) Don’t say things such as, “Well, Annie ‘identifies’ as a woman.” Annie is a woman. Or, “Nik ‘identifies’ as non-binary.” Nik is non-binary.
6) Explore if there are gender neutral washrooms at your workplace—if not, is there a way to change signage or
layouts to make one?
7) Please don’t ask people personal invasive questions such as, “Well, what were you born as?” I was born non-binary, I just didn’t realize it yet. Or, “Have you had a surgery?” Or, “But what do you have, you know, down there?” It doesn’t matter.
JanMell’s talk is a powerful call to action and I would encourage everyone to take 15 minutes out of their day to watch it. As she says, “Tolerance is still a challenge, acceptance is a demand and empowerment seems a long way to go. But we can always begin.” The talk can be found on our IEEE Photonics Society Pride in Photonics page (https://www.photonicssociety.org/who-weare/commitment-to-diversity/pride-in-photonics), along with previous virtual learning talks from LGBTQ+ leaders and allies.