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Data scientist

3 minute read

Jo joined NPL about 7 months ago as a data scientist; they are LGBTQ+. In a previous organisation, Jo witnessed exclusionary behaviours so decided to hide their identity. While trying not to accidentally out themselves in everyday conversations, Jo struggled to build relationships with colleagues. Over time Jo became fatigued and anxious, and felt unsafe. Despite enjoying their job, they decided to leave. When applying for a new role, Jo was reassured to see that NPL had an active diversity and inclusion strategy, accreditations, and special interest groups for LGBTQ+. Jo was successful and was given information about these groups during induction and, within a few weeks, joined the LGBTQ+ Community group. While also finding peer to peer support, Jo has been on socials and hearing other colleagues’ experiences have supported them in being more open with their local team. 

Being able to deliver excellent science is a key part of my job, but where I did not always feel comfortable or even safe to be myself, I found that I was quiet and reserved in the office and in meetings, not wanting to draw attention to myself and wasn’t assertive in my role. You often feel you’re different and don’t always feel part of the group. When this happens it has a significant social impact that has implications for your career progression. You often feel isolated, making it challenging day to day, not just interpersonally but doing technical things too. 

As there were very few role models earlier in my career and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to progress and still be my genuine self. Having people that I could identify with, who could provide mentoring and peer support, was difficult to find and I think affected my route to this role, there are things I probably would have done differently or more effectively with the right advice. 

The biggest barrier I think is not knowing what environments are safe to come out in and which are not, there is always a bit of anxiety every time you do it and I often feel the need to protect myself. Even in the most welcoming team, experiences in the past have formed an anxiety that you can’t escape. In the past, I have had experiences which have led to me holding who I really am back to keep myself safe. I have at times spent so much energy creating the person I think people want to see, that I have lost myself and my sense of identity. 

While awareness and support of the LGBTQ+ community is growing, a lack of understanding and stereotyping continues to be an issue. Quite often you are exposed to small casual things, either directly or indirectly, where people just don’t realise what they have said/done and how it affects me. 

NPL in general is a great place for LGBTQ+ people, obviously everyone’s experience will be different but generally there is a lot of support available, and the Community Group is strong and thoughtful, with really good relationships in the People Team. They create a safe and supportive space to be yourself, meet others and feel seen. They have helped me build my confidence to come out or to at least be more open with others at work. 

I am still sometimes a little uncertain as to when it is safe to be out and when it isn’t. You find that you are constantly coming out at work or assessing whether you need to or not. As you work with a new team or group, you regularly go through these cycles of wondering how it will go, being relieved when it goes ok or trying to manage it when people get things wrong. At NPL there are a lot of things in place that aren’t aimed at the LGBTQ+ community specifically but make a difference, like the mental health first aiders who can provide advice or social activities like the Stanton Trophy that just help you meet people across the organisation and connect in a different way. 

My advice would be to use the support that’s available to you or at the very least be aware that it’s there so you can find it when you need it. Connect in with people, whether that’s LGBTQ+ groups or opportunities to build networks that help you feel more connected. Also do your research before you join an organisation, understand what their position is and what support they offer and look out for any accreditations that might reassure you. At NPL, there were many opportunities to ask questions, outside of the interview itself about what was available. 

Be present in your group meetings and try to contribute where you can, this will help ensure that you are known. Where I felt uncomfortable at a previous organisation, I stopped going to non-mandatory meetings and turned down coffees and things like that. As a result, I faded into the background a bit in the team and isolated myself, that only made me feel worse. Finally, when you do start sharing, don’t try to do everything all at once as it can quickly become overwhelming, start local, see how things go and build from there. 

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