"As a queer woman in STEM, one thing that I believe is that LGBTQIA+ people should not need to change themselves so that they can benefit from careers in STEM. Instead, we need to change the culture of STEM careers so that we can benefit from more people from all walks of life. Everyone should feel safe, respected, and valued as their authentic selves, in the path that they would like to pursue." Dr. Niamh Kavanagh (She/Her), IEEE Photonics Society Diversity Oversight Committee Chair and Co-Founder of the IEEE Pride in Photonics initiative.

The IEEE Photonics Society is a global, technical community of academic and professional scientists and engineers who advance lasers, optoelectronics, photonics, and breakthroughs in quantum physics into devices, systems, and products that revolutionize daily lives around the world. Furthermore, the Society is deeply committed to providing equal opportunity to scientists and engineers, regardless of ethnicity, race, nationality, disability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religion, gender, age, and/or personal identity.

In support of this commitment, the IEEE Photonics Society’s Diversity Oversight Committee launched an inclusive IEEE Pride in Photonics initiative, in conjunction with The Optical Society in 2018, with the goal of showcasing scientific impact and celebrating the contributions of LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, + sexual and/or gender minority identities) people in STEM, especially in the fields of photonics, optics, physics, and engineering.

Why is Pride in Photonics needed?

The IEEE Pride in Photonics initiative seeks to celebrate the work of LGBTQIA+ people in STEM, create a space to openly share personal experiences, and increase acceptance of inclusion best practices.

"LGBTQIA+ discrimination is still present in the STEM field, leading us to closets, career difficulties, and sometimes to dropping out entirely. These adversities greatly intensify for trans researchers. Things are luckily changing, but we need to facilitate this change through education in the workplace, updated administration policies, and visible role models.” Aitor Villafranca Velasco (He/Him), IEEE Photonics Society Associate Vice-President for Equity & Inclusion and current lead of the IEEE Pride in Photonics initiative.

A significant fraction of LGBTQIA+ physicists have experienced or observed exclusionary behavior in STEM. A report, “Exploring the Workplace for LGBT+ Physical Scientists,” conducted by the Institute of Physics, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Society of Chemistry, shows that LGBTQIA+ students are less likely to follow an academic career, half of transgender/GNC physicists were harassed in academia, and one-third of out American physicists have been told to stay in the closet in the workplace.

In order to build a more inclusive community, the IEEE Photonics Society leads with the understanding that identity and its impact on individuals and institutions can improve equity in education and the workplace. For example, LGBTQIA+ people in STEM often experience difficulty identifying allies and mentors to help mitigate isolation, exclusion, or marginalization. In turn, the initiative’s in-person and virtual events seek to create a welcoming atmosphere for LGBTQIA+ scientists to be their authentic selves, in the company of allies, as well as inspire collaboration, invite open conversation, create educational opportunities, and network through technical dissemination.

Pride partnerships and future activities

In 2020, the virtual Pride in Photonics: LGBTQIA+ series reached 917 participants. This year, the IEEE Photonics Society is scheduled to serve the LGBTQIA+ community with more live and on-demand events, such as Wiki Edit-athons, Mentor Match Programs, Unconscious Bias Trainings, and “industry Inspires Diversity” events. Visit the Society’s website for regular updates.

● Currently, to honor Pride Month 2021, the IEEE Photonics Society is deploying virtual learning solutions and recruiting speakers from the LGBTQIA+ community who are advancing research in optics or photonics and/or would like to publicly share equity, diversity, and inclusion professional-development topics they are passionate about. Learn more.

● The IEEE Photonics Society is a sponsor of PRISMA, a leading association for sexual and gender diversity in science, and its annual bilingual conference for members of the LGBTQIA+ community in STEM, the first of its kind. In November 2020, the conference attracted more than 200 attendees and highlighted the achievements of queer people in knowledge-generating lines of work, offering a space for the exchange of knowledge and experiences and providing opportunities to create support networks.

● To better facilitate a safe-space environment and learning, a Code of Conduct has also been devised and outlines the initiative's expectations for all those who participate and/or view Pride in Photonics content. It was designed to encourage productive collaboration and facilitate a positive experience for everyone. Specific recommendations focus on avoiding micro-aggressions, i.e., small, subtle, often subconscious actions that marginalize people or minimize their experiences; making a conscious effort to use appropriate and preferred pronouns; and encouraging all participants to recognize and reflect on the relationship between their actions and the effects they may have.

Pride in Photonics resources and best practices

Diversity & InclusionBringing Your Full Self to Work
Talk addresses what it is like being diverse and/or LGBT in engineering and STEM. Discussions are held on the importance of mental health, mentorship, and how inclusion practices can increase confidence and belonging.
The Role of Social Networks: Building Community
The need for community in STEM organizations, what community might look like for individuals from diverse backgrounds, and how to build diverse communities and best practices from the community that the Photonics Society has built.
How to Speak Up & Step Up: Advocate for Diversity
Tips and recommended best practices for advocating for equality and inclusion as either a member of the LGBTQIA+ community or as an ally.

Visit the IEEE Photonics Society’s Pride in Photonics Initiative and its ancillary programs to learn more.

Additional resources can be found within the IEEE Photonics Society’s Change Champions Program, which was established in 2019 to showcase leaders and volunteers facilitating positive change and empowering others in the photonics and optics community.