Friday, October 15, 2010

Diversity and hiring

FCS had an awesome post a week or so ago at her place about diversity in hiring. She pointed out that due to legal issues (EEO requirements, fear of lawsuits) and appearance issues (no one wants to think they are a bigot), most (all?) job ads have boilerplate text on this issue:

But even more than that, I am intrigued by how statements of diversity are phrased. According to institutions that are Equal Opportunity (EEO) and/or Affirmative Action (AA) employers, federal law says they must at the very least include this:
FooBar is an Equal Opportunity / Affirmative Action Employer.
But some institutions go beyond this, and actually craft wording into their ad which makes me believe they mean it. For example, when they say something like, "We are committed to building a diverse organization, and strongly encourage people from minority groups, women, and people with disabilities to apply," I am far more likely to believe them. And when they even go beyond that and explain what steps they've done to build a more inclusive workplace, such as on site childcare, a fully accessible campus, etc., I am even more likely to believe them.

FCS then goes on to make some suggestions as to how to really signal an interest in diversity. You should read the whole post, and also the comments which added to the discussion (and stayed civil).

I had two additional thoughts on the subject that later became post-length. First, it is not good enough to just write nicer text to improve diversity in a department (and this goes for academia or industry). Lip service is lip service, no matter how poetic. So what is a department to do when they realize that everyone on the faculty is white and male, but the world contains people of all colors of the rainbow and more than one gender? I am the type of person who thinks it is never too late to change, and in this job market the key issue is in expand diversity in the applicant pool. There are lots and lots of qualified candidates of all races and genders. So how to get them interested in the position?

1. Advertise the position in targeted scientific publications or websites (for example, groups like the Society of Women Engineers, the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, or the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science). There are many of these support/advocacy groups out there, and most will advertise jobs to their members. Taking the time/money to advertise with them sends a strong message that OldBoy U is really and truly interested in hiring someone different looking. It will also help broaden the applicant pool, since you have a much better chance of reaching qualified scientists from underrepresented groups.

2. Be inclusive at the interview (and this should be for EVERYONE). Don't have conversations at meals that the candidate can't possibly participate in! This is awkward for any candidate. It will particularly make the "otherness" stand out for someone who already will be the only one of their group in your department.

Diversity (or lack thereof) absolutely is noticeable to candidates! Quoting an earlier post of mine:

When I was interviewing for faculty positions, I noted the number of women and underrepresented minorities on the faculty and in the student body. Several departments had just one woman and no visible underrepresented minorities. This was hugely unattractive to me, especially after working in my diverse division at National Lab. My current department has almost 20% women and several underrepresented visible minorities on the faculty. This was an important secondary consideration (after research fit and startup package, and on par with location and salary). I definitely prefer to work in my department with many women at all ranks than to be alone or 1 of 2.

This is clearly a recruitment edge for my department. I do understand that by not wanting to be a pioneer, this just passes the burden to someone else, and I am grateful to the women who came before me for doing just that. But in this day and age, foresighted departments/workplaces/divisions should get to reap the benefit of their hard work to diversify in the past. The presence of women in positions of leadership in the department and at the university is an important signal...

I think that diversity recruiting can be a vicious or virtuous cycle, where groups that are all-male can have trouble recruiting female students due to the actual or feared lab culture, and groups that are more balanced are more attractive to women (as in the case for me when I was job searching). It would not surprise me if this were true for people from other underrepresented groups as well.


Female Computer Scientist said...

Thanks for the shout out, Prodigal!

It's funny you mention the job listings, as I as just thinking about that. One of my women-in-tech mailing lists has gotten maybe two academic job postings in the past few months. Also I subscribe to a "Diverse Jobs" feed, and for some reason it's nearly all secretarial stuff. Very few research/academic jobs are posted there, and those that are are at second-tier institutions. Seems very odd. (Perhaps it's not that good a website, but still, feels a bit insulting).

Dr.Girlfriend said...

Good point about the meal issue! We are all aware of providing non-drinkers with non-alcoholic options, but we forget about the food!

And it is very typical that a candidate is taken out for lunch. It is awkward enough for someone who does not eat meat, so I can only imagine the stress that it might cause for someone who is fasting.

This is especially significant when religious fasting, for the devout at least. is all about NOT drawing attention to your personal sacrifice.

An employer might want to be aware of the fasting periods of major religious groups, but also all needs to be aware that culture, skin color, and religion are not one and the same (some white people are Muslim, and some Middle Easterners are Atheist).

Hope said...

Just to play devil’s advocate, I’m not sure that advertising in pubs/websites for minorities significantly increases the diversity of the applicant pool. Aren’t members of underrepresented groups checking the sites targeted at everyone? I know I was when looking for a job! Personally, I tend to see those ads as just more lip service. When looking for a position, I look everywhere, and I make my mind up about diversity after the interview, based upon a number of factors that I consider much more important than where the organization took out an ad.

Female Computer Scientist said...

Actually, I gave at least one place a second look because they went to the effort to advertise on one of my women-in-tech mailing lists. To me that implies they are serious about really wanting women to apply, and not just giving it lip service.

prodigal academic said...

Thanks for the comments! And FCS, your blog is a must read for people interested in academic jobs, I think!

My experience from National Lab suggests that targeted ads can make a difference. We advertised a technician position at two different times. This first time, we ran the ad in our "normal" locations AND the Society for Black Engineers (same text). The second time, we just stuck to our "normal" places. We don't do AA cards or anything, but there were more applicants with degrees from HBCUs in the first pool than the second.

This could be chance, but in talking to others about how they approach job searching, I've encountered many people (of all backgrounds) who only apply when they perceive a "fit", rather than a more shotgun approach. Like for me, I am more like you describe--I applied for TT positions in 5 or 6 different departments, since I could make a good case that I fit in any of them. In contrast, my colleague said he almost didn't apply to Prodigal U because he didn't think he fit the ad description!

Anonymous said...

I think the general issue here is that institutions need to rethink the process of obtaining applicants for open positions. Many seem to advertise in two maybe three listings. Leaving out plenty of discipline relevant listings, never mind more targeted places.

I wouldn't assume that everyone believes there are plenty of qualified minority candidates out there. I've certainly talked with people who think that trying to hire minority candidates is a lost cause. The idea being that there aren't really any, and if there are a few then those are being recruited by every institution under the sun and are therefor less hireable.