Shelly Peyton: Featured LGBTQ+ ChemE Professional

11/13   in the series Featured LGBTQ ChemEs & Allies

AIChE presents the most recent post in this series featuring LGBTQ+ engineers and their allies as part of an ongoing effort to share stories of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Other related efforts include the LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Engineering (Workshop & Panel), held at the 2019 Annual Meeting, leadership receptions for LGBTQ+ members and allies, as well as Safe Zone LGBTQ+ Ally Training workshops. 

All aforementioned initiatives are supported by the AIChE Foundation's Doing a World of Good Campaign. In this installment of our series, we interviewed Shelly Peyton, who shared her story as an LGBTQIA+ STEM professional working at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Where did you complete your chemical engineering education?

I received my B.S. from Northwestern in 2002 and a PhD from the University of California Irvine in 2007.

How many years have you been a member of AIChE?

Since 2003 I think...so 17 years.

Tell us a bit about your job and your job responsibilities. What’s a typical day at work?

As a faculty member, a typical day for me is full of student mentorship, reading the latest research papers in my area, perhaps working on some grant and/or paper writing, and teaching.

Right now during the COVID-19 pandemic, I am spending my entire day on Zoom!

Tell us a bit about your experience as an out LGBTQIA+ professional working in engineering.

My experience has been fantastic. I have been blessed to have amazing, supportive, and collaborative colleagues. I'm also lucky to live in a very liberal area of the US.

When I was looking for tenure-track jobs, being able to work at an excellent institution while also living in a welcoming area was very important to me. This was a primary factor when I chose to accept my offer at UMass.

I have found everyone here to be supportive of LGBTQIA+ issues across the board: from faculty to staff to students and beyond.

...We all need to serve as advocates for other members of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as for members of other underrepresented and underserved groups. Be as active as you can in LGBTQIA+ groups in your professional societies, but also be an advocate for groups you may not be a member of... You don’t have to identify as a member of a community to advocate for them.

What are the most important issues that LGBTQIA+ engineers deal with in the workplace today? 

In my opinion it’s recognizing and alerting oneself and each other to implicit bias. Throughout or lives, we all have unique experiences that shape our perspective in the world. This is neither good nor bad, but it does lead each of us to bias when we form new relationships, evaluate each other, and even evaluate science.

We can’t necessarily eliminate all biases, but we can be aware of our own bias and try to adjust for that when we make decisions.

I would add that we all need to serve as advocates for other members of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as for members of other underrepresented and underserved groups.

Be as active as you can in LGBTQIA+ groups in your professional societies, but also be an advocate for groups you may not be a member of, such as those serving folks in underreresented-minority groups, or if you identify as male, for women in science groups. You don’t have to identify as a member of a community to advocate for them.

Do you know others in the profession who struggle with being out in today's workplace?

Not at UMass, but I do know plenty of folks through my professional societies who are either not out or struggle with being out, yes. Since others have struggled more than I (I have been very lucky), and struggle more than others, it is paramount to be an advocate.

How can peers who are allies, and members of management and leadership who are allies, help foster a more inclusive environment for LGBTQIA+ chemical engineers?

Acknowledge bias, as I talked about above, and be an advocate for folks within and outside your circles! Be outspoken if you feel safe to do so!

Does your organization do anything to foster inclusivity for LGBTQIA+ people? If so, please describe?

We have a very active oSTEM community here for students. For faculty, that’s not as visible, but the student community is strong.

Tell us a bit about your personal life.

I live in Amherst, MA, and I married my wife in 2016. We met playing competitive ultimate frisbee in Boston, and we’ve been together for 11 years.

We sometimes still play frisbee with friends but just for fun now. We enjoy eating fresh eggs from our chickens, hiking, board games, traveling (not now!), cooking, and exploring craft beers in New England.

Do you have a coming out story you'd like to share?

I called my parents on National Coming Out Day when I was a first-year graduate student. They already knew…. But it felt great to say it out loud!

Do you have a story about an effective or inspirational professional ally you’d like to share?

Naomi Chesler has been an amazing professional ally. She is a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin, and she encouraged me to start the LGBTQIA+ session at the Biomedical Engineering Society national meeting. I was very nervous to do this as an untenured faculty member, but I’m so thankful she encouraged me to do it. I’m so happy to have this professional community and have her to thank for that!

Gaydar: Does it exist?

Sometimes! Pay attention to whether they’re wearing comfortable shoes!

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This community is open to professional AIChE members who are LGBTQ+ and allies. Topics of discussion will include the ongoing development of LGBTQ+ initiatives at AIChE, plus issues concerning, and opportunities for, LGBTQ+ chemical engineering professionals.

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Interested in helping?

Are you an LGBTQ+ chemical engineer and AIChE member interested in sharing your story to help create awareness around diversity and inclusion? Are you an LGBTQ+ ally interested in helping with diversity and inclusion efforts? Send us a note at chenected@aiche.org with the subject "Diversity and Inclusion."