Intersectionality in STEMM: Gender and sexual minorities

Other than transgender people, who have a special focus within Athena SWAN, gender and sexual minorities are addressed under the 10th Principle of Athena SWAN, and within the Bronze Award application under the concept of intersectionality. Intersectionality describes how gender equity is impacted by race and other socio-economic factors, such as culture, religion, sexuality, disability, age, class, location and more.

For the purposes of Athena SWAN, institutions are required to evaluate whether existing gender equity and diversity policies, programs and practices adequately support the learning and career needs of gender and sexual minorities, including people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people (LGBTQIA).

At a minimum, the impact of gender equity on gender and sexual minorities should be considered through the intersections of gender, race and sexuality.

Considerations for transgender people are discussed in more depth in the section “Supporting Transgender People.” The resource below covers other gender and sexual minorities.

What do we mean by gender & sexual minorities?
Gender minorities include transgender people, intersex people,* and people who identify as genderfluid, genderqueer, non-binary gender, and agender. Note this is is different from sexual minorities, which includes people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and asexual.

Gender and sexual minorities in STEMM

LGBTQIA identity can compound gender-based harassment. A 2016 study by the American Physical Society finds that up to two-thirds of LGBT physicists surveyed in the USA have observed workplace harassment. According to one physicist:

“Things I have personally experienced within my physics department: Sexual harassment, sexist jokes directed at me (e.g. being told that I would not be using experimental apparatus in a lab except for personal grooming), sexist assumptions directed at me (e.g. being told that I only received the position due to my gender), sexualisation and tokenisation of my orientation (e.g. male physicists showing pictures of conventionally attractive females to me, because they think that ‘lesbians are hot’)… The examples within the entirety of my campus are too numerous to list.”

Around half of respondents in this study felt there was pressure to stay closeted in STEMM, with transgender and gender non-conforming staff being subject to the most overt hostility. Most respondents had trouble identifying allies within their organisations (well-trained advocates and supporters). Over one third of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender physicists have considered leaving their workplace or school in the past year due to harassment or discrimination.

The effects of gender inequity are especially compounded for Indigenous women or those from other disadvantaged groups who identify as LGBTQIA.

Analysis of intersectionality for the Athena SWAN Bronze Award

Current policy and practice

The Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional application asks institutions to review whether existing gender equity policies support issues of intersectionality. 

Gender and sexual minority staff in STEMM workplaces often face pressure to be guarded about their personal lives and identities from colleagues and managers. Research suggests that this may be particularly pronounced in workplaces with low gender parity. LGBTQIA staff in STEMM report feeling unsafe and afraid to come forward to seek support because of the potential impact on their research and teaching careers.

Gender and sexual minority staff in STEMM may also not be aware of the support available to them, and may not know whether workplace policies and programs, such as family benefits or anti-harassment policies, apply to them.

A 2016 survey from the USA suggested that 38% of LGBTQA staff in STEMM did not know what benefits or support their employers provided for LGBTQA-specific needs. A further 27% felt that employers provided little or no support. Only 35% of respondents believed their employers provided support and benefits as good as those provided to straight employees.

Staff in work environments perceived as supportive were significantly more likely to be open about their identities and feel comfortable and welcome in their workplace.

For Athena SWAN, institutions might consider how they will review the effectiveness of their policies.

How to get started



The Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional application requires the development of methods that an institution will use to measure and enhance the experiences of under-represented groups. With respect to gender and sexual minorities, this means addressing isolation, harassment or discrimination as a result of the intersections of gender with sexuality, race and other issues.

Workplaces that are proactive about inclusion can better ensure that gender and sexual minorities experience increased job satisfaction, improved mental heath and well being, and reduced feelings of marginalisation. Workplaces that value, encourage and recognise gender and sexual diversity increase productivity and research effectiveness.

How to get started


Further work

Athena SWAN requires an evaluation of how institutions will boost the career and leadership opportunities of minorities.

Many gender and sexual minorities have experienced disruptions in their schooling or work histories due to social and mental health issues related to discrimination and unwelcoming workplace and school environments. This can affect productivity and in some cases can lead to career gaps, which can disadvantage gender and sexual minorities and limit their opportunities to move into senior roles.

Addressing gender equity and diversity in workplace culture diversifies leadership, enhancing problem solving and innovation.

How to get started
Athena SWAN Australia - how to address gender equity and diversity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people
Intersectionality in STEMM: Gender & Sexual Minorities


Australian studies
International studies


* While transgender people and intersex people are grouped as gender minorities, the gender identities of these groups are diverse. This might include people who identify as women and men, as well as those who identify beyond this gender binary. Awareness and inclusion of intersex people is often referred to as supporting bodily diversity.