Sunday, September 20, 2020
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Homosexuals under-represented in science?

An opinion writer in the New York Times recently pointed out what he believes to be the fact that fewer scientists and engineers than one would expect are homosexual.


Why do you suppose scientists are more rarely homosexual than the general population?

“My partner, a civil engineer, recalls meeting just two other gay engineers professionally, in a 35-year career,” writes Manil Suri, a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

I can’t quite understand the concern, but apparently, Mr Suri believes the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) aren’t friendly to the LGBT community.

The flaw in his analysis is that scientists and engineers tend to focus on tasks at work more than the general population does. A lower proportion of STEM professionals may be homosexual than non-STEM professionals, of course, but it’s more likely, I believe, that STEM professionals just don’t talk about their personal lives while they’re at the office of in the lab. They don’t want to hear about anybody else’s personal life, either, since they probably consider it none of their business.

Being a scientist by training, I’m exactly the same way. I’m often confused when people spend so much time in the office talking about personal lives, and I sometimes think it detracts from the finding of efficient solutions to the problems we’re trying to solve.

In professional settings, there are two types of leadership: task-oriented and relationship-oriented. Scientists and engineers probably tend to develop a task-oriented leadership style, while others are more relationship-oriented in leadership roles.

Relationship-oriented leaders are those who build productivity through positive work environments that motivate people. They’re much more likely to talk about personal matters with colleagues, including sexual preferences.

Mathematicians and scientists just don’t tend to be relationship-oriented leaders. The study of math or science trains us that there’s a right answer, a goal. Sometimes the focus on that goal makes it seem as if task-oriented leaders don’t care about the well-being of fellow employees. This isn’t true deep down, but on the surface, it can certainly seem like it’s the case.

When I look at co-workers, I see them doing tasks, finding solutions, completing work. I don’t think of them as having sexual preferences or even having a personal life. It doesn’t mean I think they don’t have sexual preferences or personal lives; it just means when I’m working and they’re working, I’m thinking about work.

Maybe Professor Suri has confused the fact that scientists and engineers at UMBC have simply kept their sexual preferences private at a rate higher than the general population. That would explain the discrepancy as well any other theory.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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