Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Becoming an LGBTQ+ Ally and Showing PRIDE in Civil Engineering

    Posted 06-22-2021 05:52 PM

    We had a fantastic Thursdays @ 3 discussion about Becoming an LGBTQ+ Ally and Showing PRIDE in Civil Engineering. You can access the recording here. Thank you to @Guillermo Diaz-Fanas for organizing and moderating the session! We had some questions that panelists were not able to answer so I wanted to share them here with responses from Tricia Clayton, Ph.D., A.M.ASCE (she/her/hers), Associate Professor, University of Texas at Austin, Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering. @Patricia Clayton

    Please use this thread to continue the discussion on this important topic! 


    What are some of the programs/activities within your company that support the LGBTQIA+ community? I asked HR if we can include pronouns in our signature template (and they were super supportive which was awesome), but I wish I could do more.
    Answer from Tricia: Create Employee Resource Groups for a variety of different marginalized identities (including an LGBTQ+ group), which really works best if you have a large enough company to have multiple people from said marginalized groups. Invite all employees to participant in the groups, either as someone who identifies with that group or as an ally, so it is inclusive and open to all people regardless of identity or how "out" they are.

    How do you recommend approaching your VERY conservative company to be more inclusive?

    Answer from Tricia: Don't wait for more conservative company leadership to make changes first. Model personal actions you can do to create a more inclusive work environment (sharing pronouns, putting rainbow flags up at your desk if that suits you, speaking out when someone makes a heteronormative assumption or homo/transphobic comment, etc.). You will be able to tell from the reactions you get who will be your allies in advocating for more substantial change, and some people might adopt these practice on their own after seeing your example. Find some folks in higher levels of the company who might be able to support you in your activism at the company-level (e.g. advocating for gender inclusive bathrooms, changing HR forms to allow for self-described genders, gender inclusive parental leave, transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits, etc.).

    I am bisexual, and am currently dating a cis male. However, I want myself and others to feel comfortable bringing their LGBTQ+ partner to company functions.  

    Answer from Tricia: I hear ya! I still get anxiety when bringing my wife to work functions that I know will be made up of predominately cisgender, heterosexual, white men. It's like I have to come out all over again every time we attend a work social function. I don't have any tips and tricks other than just do it and keep doing it (if both you and your partner feel safe in doing so). It will only get normalized and more comfortable as you and others do it more.


    Tirza Austin
    Manager, Online Community
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    1801 Alexander Bell Drive
    Reston, VA 20191

  • 2.  RE: Becoming an LGBTQ+ Ally and Showing PRIDE in Civil Engineering

    Posted 06-23-2021 10:35 PM
    Could anxiety when bringing a same-gender spouse to groups 'made up of predominantly cisgender, heterosexual, white men' be considered unconscious bias?  It's basically assuming they will react a certain way solely because of their gender, sexual preference, and/or race.

    "Unconscious Bias: Unconscious biases, also known as implicit biases, are the underlying attitudes and stereotypes that people unconsciously attribute to another person or group of people that affect how they understand and engage with a person or group."

    Food for thought.


    Greg Thein, PE
    Cleveland, OH

  • 3.  RE: Becoming an LGBTQ+ Ally and Showing PRIDE in Civil Engineering

    Posted 06-24-2021 10:04 AM
    @Gregory Thein You are 100% correct. This IS an example of unconscious, or implicit, bias. Implicit bias is something that EVERYONE has. It is an evolutionary tactic that is our unconscious response that takes over before or while we are collecting more information about a situation. For example, that nervous feeling you may get when you see a lion in front of you, that's an unconscious response based on millennia of lessons learned from early humans needing to protect themselves against predators. But, then you start to gather more information (for example, are you and that lion separated by a strong metal fence?) and the conscious takes over to decide how you will respond in that situation. The same thing goes for implicit bias​es we ALL have. As I mentioned in the panel, my unconscious physiological response when entering an unknown group of mostly cis-het white men with my same-sex partner is an anxious feeling in my gut (and this is based on prior experience that have happened to me and other LGBTQ+ people in society, including but not limited to name calling, harassment, and even as far as death threats).

    Implicit/unconscious bias is not inherently bad, it is what you do with it that matters!  First is to recognize when it occurs (with practice you can recognize these in yourself, or you may have others point them out to you), then interrogate why those implicit biases are occurring (are they coming from a place of self-protective "survival" or are they based on unjust or unfair messages in society?), then decide how you will consciously respond to it (for example, I recognize that anxious feeling I have, but I am consciously choosing to push through it to participate in the work gathering and talk with and learn more about the people there). All the while, as I am consciously pushing through that anxious feeling to put myself in this situation, I'm collecting contextual clues to determine how safe I feel being "out" in that environment. For example, are the other people making derogatory remarks about other marginalized groups, are they using inclusive language, are they acknowledging my partner and treating them with respect, etc.

    My experience of unconscious bias described here about people in the "majority" group is one example, but the same steps should apply when we encounter unconscious bias about people in a marginalized group (e.g. when reviewing resumes, when meeting new people, etc.): (1) recognize that the implicit bias exists (and it may take having some external people help point that out to you before you get good at recognizing it yourself); (2) interrogate where that implicit bias is coming from; (3) make a conscious decision on how to respond to that implicit bias; and (4) collect more data and context clues about the person/people beyond the first thing that initiated that unconscious response to make a fair assessment of the person/people.

    Patricia Clayton Ph.D., A.M.ASCE
    Assistant Professor
    Austin TX