Sexual orientation and gender influence perceptions of disciplinary fit: Implications for sexual and gender diversity in STEM

Lindsay Palmer, Jes L. Matsick, Samantha M. Stevens, Emily Kuehrmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) represent a highly valued academic discipline and career path in the 21st century; yet some individuals are excluded or discouraged from pursuing STEM because of their social group membership. Despite decades of research on social identity and fit within STEM (e.g., by gender and race), the psychological literature on issues within STEM based on sexual orientation is scant. We draw on notions of false dichotomies (i.e., social versus technical, personal versus professional, and subjectivity and interpretivism versus objectivity and positivism) to theorize how gender and sexual orientation influence perceived congruity with STEM as well as the Humanities. In the current study, we randomly assigned heterosexual participants (N = 318, Mage = 40, 52% women, 74% White) to rate one of five target groups (lesbian women, gay men, heterosexual women, heterosexual men, scientists) in terms of their perceived overlap with STEM and Humanities. We also assessed differences between target groups in terms of being rated as communal, agentic, and scientific. Results indicated that participants perceived lesbian women and gay men as less close to STEM than heterosexual men because they perceived lesbian and gay people as less agentic. In contrast, participants perceived lesbian women and gay men as closer to the Humanities than heterosexual men because they perceived lesbian and gay people as more communal. Drawing from these findings, we emphasize the profound implications of academic exclusion for lesbian and gay individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAnalyses of Social Issues and Public Policy
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law

Cite this