By Alison Murphy (they/them) and Dwaipayan Roy (he/him)
There are several challenges faced by LGBTQIA+1
individuals in academia that are different from those faced by other underrepresented groups. These include an increased likelihood of encountering negative events at academic conferences due to their gender identity or sexual orientation, experiencing adverse mental health issues due to being in uncomfortable work spaces, and managing unconscious bias from academic peers and superiors (Finlay-Jones et al. 2021). As part of the inaugural group of the INFORMS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Ambassadors Program, we undertook a project to understand the demographics of INFORMS members, particularly with respect to LGBTQIA+ identity and the intersection of other identities (e.g., age, ethnicity, educational background etc.). Our project also attempted to understand the distinctive support needs of LGBTQIA+ INFORMS members and their allies. This project was motivated by our own unique life experiences, interactions with the broader INFORMS community and most importantly, a perceived need to provide greater community building opportunities, and inclusive resources and practices for the LGBTQIA+ INFORMS members.
We conducted an anonymous survey of INFORMS members, with an objective of understanding their demographics and support needs, particularly with regard to LGBTQIA+ identity and the intersection of other marginalized groups. The survey instrument was reviewed by an outside expert with extensive experience in LGBTQIA+ research. The survey was advertised via INFORMS connect, annual meeting digests, and INFORMS eNews. Participants were compensated with an opportunity to enter a random drawing for a $50 gift card. The survey was open for 8 weeks from November 13, 2020 through January 8, 2021. There were 175 potential participants who initiated the survey, of whom 146 (83%) completed it. The survey was composed of four sections. The first section focused on participant demographics (e.g., age, gender identity, sexual orientation, educational background etc.). The second section was related to experiences of the survey participants at INFORMS conferences (e.g., any instance of negative experiences related to sexual orientation or gender identity that participants experienced or were aware of at INFORMS conferences). The third section addressed participant awareness and use of existing DEI related resources within INFORMS and their own organizations. The last section addressed interest in additional resources or practices that could be developed or implemented by INFORMS to foster an inclusive community for its LGBTQIA+ members.
Key Findings and Recommendations Resources and Practices to create a more Inclusive Environment for LGBTQIA+ INFORMS Members
First, our survey identified several resources and practices that INFORMS can consider for building a supportive community for its LGBTQIA+ identifying members. Below, we discuss the top three practices that were identified by our survey respondents:
- More Gender Identity Options: At present, while registering as an INFORMS member, an individual can identify only as a male or as a female. Taking note of this existing feature of the registration process, a substantive percentage of our survey respondents indicated that INFORMS can provide more gender identity options (man, woman, nonbinary, etc) during the membership registration process (or during registration for INFORMS conferences). This can be an important first step towards going beyond the binary nature of gender identity and welcoming LGBTQIA+ individuals to INFORMS.
- Preferred Gender Pronouns: Our survey respondents highlighted that encouraging authors to indicate their preferred gender pronouns in INFORMS articles can be another important step towards making INFORMS more inclusive of transgender, gender nonconforming, and gender non-binary individuals.2
- Inclusive Teaching Practices and Intersectional Identity Resources: The adoption of teaching practices that are tailored to support LGBTQIA+ students within the operations research (OR) and management science (MS) disciplines, and increasing the availability of intersectional identity resources for faculty and students were viewed as two important enablers for creating an inclusive space for LGBTQIA+ INFORMS members. Future Ambassador Program projects could explore the specific nature of teaching practices and what type of intersectional identity resources can help INFORMS to accomplish this goal.
LGBTQIA+ Representation within INFORMS
The representation of self-identifying LGBTQIA+ individuals in our survey (~17%) is almost three times higher than the U.S. national average (5.6%)3
, though this percentage is likely influenced by self-selection of survey respondents. LGBTQIA+ individuals have substantive representation across all academic areas within INFORMS (e.g., supply chain and operations, industrial systems and engineering, information systems etc.) and occupy a variety of industry and academic positions. Self-selection could be attributed to more LGBTQIA+ INFORMS members choosing to take the survey or more LGBTQIA+ individuals choosing to acquire advanced educational qualifications in OR/MS disciplines, thereby becoming INFORMS members. Younger respondents (i.e., below 40 years of age) were more likely to self-identify as LGBTQIA+ individuals, a finding that is consistent with prior surveys on LGBTQIA+ demographics.4
Furthermore, 50% of the LGBTQIA+ respondents in our survey are immigrants i.e., their country of origin is different from their current country of residence.
Experiences of LGBTQIA+ INFORMS members at Conferences
Our survey indicated that LGBTQIA+ respondents were 15.6 times more likely (in comparison to a straight respondent) to have experienced a negative event due to their sexual orientation (p < 0.01) at an INFORMS conference. Similarly, LGBTQIA+ respondents were 7.5 times more likely to have observed a negative event due to someone’s sexual orientation (p < 0.01), and 5.1 times more likely to be aware of a negative event that occurred (p < 0.05) at an INFORMS conference.
Attitude Towards Transgender Community
While the general tone of the survey respondents towards DEI-related initiatives in INFORMS was very positive, it was a little disheartening to see signs of apathy towards LGBTQIA+ inclusivity efforts, specifically towards the transgender community. For example, one of the respondents said, “I get lesbian, gay, and bisexual. But the whole trans thing seems made up to me.” With only 1 out of 146 respondents self-identifying as a transgender individual, future Ambassador Program projects could be geared towards developing a better understanding of the representation of transgender individuals in OR/MS disciplines. Furthermore, it maybe worthwhile to explore the distinctive challenges faced by transgender individuals in academia, which are potentially different and unique compared to those faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals.
While we made sincere efforts to promote the survey among INFORMS members (e.g., reaching out through INFORMS connect, annual meeting digests, INFORMS e-news), we realize that the number of completed survey responses may not fully represent the broader INFORMS community. Moreover, the lack of information about intersectional identities in some areas (e.g., only one black woman respondent, no black or hispanic LGBTQIA+ respondent) limits our ability to identify the distinctive support needs of these marginalized demographic groups. Future DEI Ambassador Program projects could potentially close these gaps through systematic literature reviews, focus group discussions and interviews. Nonetheless, our project is an important step towards highlighting the significant presence of LGBTQIA+ individuals within INFORMS and for providing insights useful in building an inclusive and safe environment for these individuals within the broader OR/MS academic community.
We are grateful to the INFORMS DEI Ambassador Program for providing us with generous funding to support this study. We thank Anahita Khojandi, Beril Toktay, Gina Lloyd, Jeffrey Cohen and Susan Martonosi for their support in promoting this survey within INFORMS and for their thoughtful insights on this blogpost. We also thank Clare Forstie (Education Program Specialist, Center for Educational Innovation, University of Minnesota Twin Cities) for her insightful comments on developing the survey instrument. Finally, we are grateful to the faculty and PhD students of the supply chain and operations department at Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, for their unending support throughout the duration of this project.
Finlay-Jones A, Strauss P, Perry Y, Waters Z, Gilbey D, Windred MA, ... & Lin A (2021) Group mindful self-compassion training to improve mental health outcomes for LGBTQIA+ young adults: Rationale and protocol for a randomised controlled trial. Contemporary clinical trials, 102, 106268.1
A common abbreviation for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Transgender, Genderqueer, Queer, Intersex, Agender, Asexual and other queer-identifying community.2Pronouns: A Resource, GLSEN
(Accessed April 2021)3Americans are identifying as LGBTQ more than ever, poll finds
(Accessed April 2021)4LGBTQ Data and Demographics
, UCLA School of Law Williams Institute (Accessed April 2021)