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Román Ramos Báez co-authors opinion piece in Scientific American on collecting gender data

Friday, October 8, 2021 - 06:30

Román Ramos Báez, UW Biology graduate student, was among a team of non-binary scientists to author an opinion piece in Scientific American on changing how scientific funding agencies collect gender data. 

Every year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) send a series of surveys to students and researchers around the country. The surveys are used to monitor changing demographics and track levels of financial support for scientific research, and filling them out is required for anyone who receives NSF funding. There are limited gender options in these surveys: male, female and, on some surveys, “do not wish to disclose.”

As scientists who exist outside the gender binary, many of us do wish to disclose our gender, but are unable to do so because these terms do not reflect our identities. Nonbinary scientists and other scientists outside the gender binary experience gender beyond the typical man-and-woman dichotomy, and often identify as transgender. Being unable to accurately report our gender precludes accurate data collection for these organizations, and further marginalizes nonbinary scientists. Nonbinary identities are increasingly common; most nonbinary people are under the age of 29, and members of Gen Z are more than twice as likely to identify as nonbinary, genderfluid or nonconforming than older generations. A recent study in Pittsburgh even found that nearly one in 10 young people self-identified as gender diverse. It is time for the NSF and the NCSES to update their policies and language to better quantify and support this growing transgender and gender diverse population.

The lack of information on transgender and gender diverse scientists is both a symptom and cause of exclusion from science at large. By not collecting accurate gender data, the NSF limits our ability to understand and quantify representation, funding disparities and retention, and ultimately stops us from assessing and addressing any gaps. The STEM Inclusion Study found that LGBTQ+ scientists have fewer resources and career opportunities, experience more harassment and exclusion at work and are more likely to consider leaving their current job positions than their heterosexual, cisgender peers. Further, we know from our involvement in communities like the International Society of Nonbinary Scientists that nonbinary researchers face barriers in gender segregated environments like dorms, conference accommodations and field work. Accurate data from annual NSF surveys will allow us to better understand and advocate for our transgender and gender diverse scientific community.

Read the full piece in Scientific American.

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