NIH behind on LGBTQ data

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has an interest in promoting diversity among researchers it funds to increase the quality of scientific research and mitigate disadvantages and discrimination toward underrepresented groups. According to the “Notice of NIH's Interest in Diversity,” these groups include underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, people from low income backgrounds, people from educationally disadvantaged rural and urban communities, and women “at senior faculty levels in most biomedical-relevant disciplines.”

Although consideration of diversity by the NIH is critically important and should be extended to additional funding initiatives, we question the NIH’s exclusion of LGBTQ identified individuals in their “interest in diversity.” Numerous studies demonstrate discrimination toward LGBTQ individuals in scientific contexts, and several demonstrate underrepresentation:

This study finds that college students identifying as LGBTQ were 7% less likely than control students to remain in STEM majors after 4 years (n=4162).

This study of six STEM related federal agencies (including the NSF) finds that LGBTQ-identified workers report across-the-board lower levels of workplace satisfaction and perceived treatment (n=37,219).,761a7b37493b2d86,6fe4cda94f55abdf.html

This study of LGBT faculty members across disciplines (n=279) found that many experienced exclusionary behavior and harassment, and a majority of LGBT STEM faculty surveyed considered leaving their institution as a result.

This survey of LGBTQ workers in STEM found that many work in environments they see as hostile to their identity, and most could not recall a single openly LGBTQ faculty member during their training (n=1427).

This report summarizes a few surveys of the climate for LGBTQ physicists. It finds that their experiences are highly variable across different locations, and that transgender or gender-nonconforming physicists experienced higher levels of isolation and harassment.

The NIH interest in diversity cites studies of similar scope and findings for underrepresentation of other minority groups, although these studies are more abundant. We wrote to the NIH Division of Biomedical Research Workforce to ask why they do not recognize that LGBTQ individuals are underrepresented in scientific disciplines. Here is their response:

Individuals who are from sexual and gender minority (SGM) groups have not been identified as underrepresented populations by the NSF.  The revised Notice of Interest in Diversity does not address SGM groups. It is certainly an issue of which NIH is mindful.

I agree wholeheartedly about the need to collect sexual orientation data for NIH researchers because without those data it is impossible to highlight LGBTQ as an underrepresented group. Our office has begun discussions with the Sexual & Gender Minority Research Office at NIH . As you may be aware, NIH does not currently have the authority to collect sexual orientation and gender identity questions for applicants at this time.  OMB has convened the Federal Interagency Working Group on Measuring Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) to begin addressing concerns regarding the availability of data for sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations and the methodological issues in collecting such data.  The All of Us program is asking about sexual orientation but that is of study participants. The EPA and NIH have some pilot programs inquiring about employee sexual orientation to get at some of the SGM populations within federal workforce issue. As far as I’m aware, federal standards have not been developed regarding the collection of data regarding SGM populations.   I am hoping there is movement on this soon.

The working group cited (SOGI) completed their work in 2016, suggesting there is still no movement on even starting to collect the data that the NIH deems necessary to determine whether the LGBTQ community (or subsets within the community) are underrepresented in the NIH workforce. We feel that the NIH should not ignore peer-reviewed publications documenting discrimination against LGBTQ workers in the meantime.

The interest in diversity statement is also lacking in its treatment of intersectional minority groups, i.e. those who fall into two or more underrepresented groups. The statement mentions that women who have another minority status face additional challenges, but ignores other types of intersectionality. We feel the NIH is well behind current areas of diversity research and should work quickly to improve data collection and implementation of initiatives.