As a queer student, I’ve often found that a choice has to be made between being visibly queer and being seen as the ideal employee. I describe it as a ‘Lad-ocracy’ because while I’m hardly going to be fired for painting my nails (not unless my boss has a yearning to attend an employment tribunal), I am very aware that if my workplace is dominated by straight, white men (lads) then I wouldn’t only be painting my nails; I’d be painting myself as different. And while difference is often celebrated in the creative industries, in STEM (where Lad-ocracy reigns supreme) this is not the case.
I’m not alone in this feeling. We recently conducted a series of in-depth interviews with LGBTQ+ students as part of an Early Careers Pulse Check, and one of our key findings was that this feeling that an ‘Old Boys Club’ persists in the eyes of a lot of queer students, especially in the more “traditional” industries. In fact, careers that were seen as STEM, “corporate”, or “traditional” all carried the impression for queer students of being less inclusive.
More specifically, the careers that need to fix up if they truly want to attract the buckets of untapped talent that is within the queer community are: civil and structural engineering; legal; construction and building services; science and research; and the armed forces. That’s at least half the village people out of a job!
I joke because our findings are damning and gallows humour is what’s needed to get me through reporting them. One of our students said that STEM careers can be the place where “there’s not a lot of understanding of people who are diverse and different to the white, male, straight cisgender person.” Another student went so far to say that “people that work in STEM related fields post-graduation went back into the closet.” The Lad-ocracy is no laughing matter.
For LGBTQ+ students, an industry dominated by straight, white men is innately less inclusive. Laura, a student at the University of Sussex said that they “would never feel comfortable coming out as a queer woman to a group full of men or an organisation filled with men.” One student at the University of Portsmouth connected their concerns in the workplace with the wider issues in society: “The country is basically being run by a boy’s club.” For queer students, politics and the workplace are inseparable; keep tuned in the coming weeks for a blog post from us on this very topic! These ethical considerations are probably why career paths such as charity work, teaching, and journalism were all pegged as the most inclusive by our students.
Other careers they felt to be most inclusive were those seen as creative: media and publishing; hospitality, leisure and travel; and marketing, advertising and PR. We’ve come a long way from the Don Draper days it seems! In the words of Susannah, a student at the University of Exeter: “When an industry is more creative it looks like it will be more inclusive.”
Ultimately, what is most notable about our findings is that some of the industries ranked by students as the least inclusive are also those industries that have invested the most into media campaigns to dispel that notion. As it turns out, fancy ad campaigns simply aren’t enough to deconstruct a working environment and culture hostile to queer people. When the foundations are rotten, a new coat of paint isn’t the solution. Not even if it’s pink.
We regularly talk to students about their most pressing issues, whether through our Pulse Checks or our The Issues series, which has covered students’ thoughts on work, Gen Z cynicism, money and more. If you’d like to find out more about out The Issues research pieces, Pulse Checks, or chat about all things student, please feel free to contact us.
Also, we’ll be hosting a workshop focused on driving niche audiences to virtual events. This will be a really practical session with plenty of tactics, tips and tricks to takeaway. We’ll share what we think “best practice” looks like in this area, but welcome conversation and debate and for employers to share their own personal experiences. You can read more and register here.