Friday, March 16, 2007

Is Academia more tolerant of LGBTQ employees than corporatia?

Over at Cosmic Variance, Julianne asked about the academic climate for LGBTQ scientists. Here's my response.

Is academia really more tolerant than corporatia?

A figure of merit for “tolerance” is policy, e.g: Is the same health coverage offered to domestic partners as to spouses? For the top institutions, the answer’s yes: 80% of the Fortune 50 companies have DP coverage, and 92% of the US News top 25 colleges. More broadly, only 51% of the Fortune 500, and only 64% of the US News 100 colleges offer DP benefits. Larger lists drop the percentages more. In addition, US government labs and observatories do not offer DP benefits. So from this measure, academia doesn’t clearly lead the corporate world. (Stats from 2005 HRC State of the Workplace.)

(People often assume their institution has more progressive policies than it actually does. Readers can check & compare their institution’s equality policies here.)

DP benefits are equal-pay-for-equal-work. If my straight colleague gets health coverage for his wife, and I can’t for my wife, then I’m getting paid less for the same work. Not to mention the financial & health insecurity of not having coverage. The lack of DP coverage makes it significantly harder for queer scientists to balance work & family.

Aside from policy, there’s “environment”. Personally, I’ve had a very positive experience as an out astrophysicist. Most of my colleagues have been swell. We talk about our families at morning coffee. They’ve written letters to city & university leaders, arguing for DP benefits. At the AAS meeting, we LGBTQ folks assemble for a big curry dinner. Aside from a few faggot & dyke jokes, the environment has been great.

What’s caused difficulty has been institutional policy. Right now, I have DP benefits (yay!) Took some legwork, but what a tremendous boon! -- The Wif had health care while job-hunting after our move. My previous institutions had NO DP benefits, despite decades of activism by faculty & staff.

What's interesting is the number of straight (or bi, i suppose) faculty candidates who've asked about DP benefits. They seem to view it as a bellweather -- has an institution caught up with the times?

1 comment:

cf said...

Hm. When I had an MI Bunting Science Scholars Postdoctoral Fellowship Award at Harvard -- I was the only person in the Geology/Geophysics department to not be offered health insurance. I was also the only woman. When I asked them why, they told me it was because I should be getting that through my husband. Problem was, his appointment was only part-time, so he didn't even qualify for benefits for himself, much less myself.

I thought that both their practices and their explanation for their practices were discriminatory, and I told them so, in writing.