Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Diversity hiring - walking the walk

As as mentioned earlier, I like to keep my ear to the ground when it comes to jobs, both inside the academy and out. So reading various ads, I've become fascinated by their wording. The way things are phrased and formatted conveys a lot of information to me.

For example, when the ads says, "We expect candidates to have 18.5 years experience studying the effect of RF signals being used near the great barrier reef, and can teach advanced classes in fluid mechanics and 20th century literature," I think, inside job. The phrasing implies they have a particular candidate they wish to hire. I exaggerate here, and don't wish to call out any particular institutions, but, seriously? Why are they even advertising? I suppose laws / their institution requires them to advertise broadly, but this ad really excludes just about everyone, which completely defeats the purpose of those laws.

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.

When it's just written as a a token phrase, particularly if it's in a tiny tiny font at the bottom of the page, and particularly when I go to their webpage and see that all their employees/faculty look like this -

- I tend not to believe them.

So, job ad writers, if you truly want to recruit candidates who have disabilities, minorities, and women, and you want to make that picture more diverse, then bring it out in your language. Just as you would like applicants to explain in their cover letter how they are a good fit for your institution, make it sound like you want your institution to be a good fit for them. Otherwise I think people are probably less likely to apply. I know I would be.


  1. When I see shit like what you are seeing, which is 90% of my field, then instead of sending an application for a job that I am qualified for, I send an email to Human Resources telling them that I am interested in the position, but I do not want to work in the discriminatory environment of the hiring department. I copy and paste their diversity statement in my email, add the link to the faculty webpage, give them the rundown of diversity (3 women, 45 men in my most recent one) and tell them it's not acceptable.

  2. Baylor's ECS faculty job ad this year struck me as particularly odd, in that it includes the EOO/AA disclaimer but also specifically says "the department seeks to hire faculty with an active Christian faith". The mechanical engineering goes even further to say that "the successful applicant must have an active Christian faith."


    Surely that's not compatible with EOO? If it is, what does EOO even mean? You're absolutely right that looking at current faculty and recent hires is the best thing to do.

  3. Anon @3:51, At least within the US, I believe it is within the rights of a religious institution/organization to employ preferential hiring. And IIRC religious educational institutions have even additional protections. I don't think it's always 100% clear cut, (e.g., does a warehouse worker need to be Baptist,or just front line educators?), but I would imagine a place like Baylor is perfectly within its rights to word a job ad like that.

    But I'm a computer scientist, not an employment lawyer, so take what I say with a grain! ;)

  4. 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.

    You believe them? In my field, just about every ad has language that goes beyond "We are an equal opportunity employer." They all say "We value diversity and strongly encourage..." And, yet, most departments are what they are. It's just a wordier version of "We are an equal opportunity employer." And it's always in italics, along with all of the other legal boilerplate.

    Now, if they have specific, concrete facts (child care, an ADVANCE grant, a hiring track record, whatever) then it is more plausible that they mean it. However, that's different from a wordier version of "We are an equal opportunity employer."

    Why do they give the wordier version? My best guess is that if they only do the minimum then they're only doing the minimum, and that becomes evidence that they don't take it seriously. If they do more than the minimum, they can make a stronger argument in court. Which, in a way, means that "more than the minimum" is the new minimum. Which leads to even wordier statements to exceed the new minimum. I predict that in 10 years the diversity statement will be an entire paragraph. I also predict that the hiring track records won't be that much different.

    Interestingly, I occasionally see academic job ads from certain other parts of the world, and those ads generally have little/nothing on diversity. Academic science isn't all that much more diverse over there, but it isn't much less diverse either. I think the real reason for the ads is that we are a more litigious culture, so we use lawyer-approved disclaimers to pretend to solve problems.

  5. Nice post! As always, actions speak louder than words (especially printed words! :)
    Unfortunately, the affirmative action/equal opportunity initiative has primarily had the effect of people becoming increasingly "politically correct," i.e. very careful about what they say or write. Much less has changed in people's real attitudes and particularly actions... Sexism and other forms of Other-isms are alive and well. As ever, biased people with power will never do much to alleviate inequalities... It's just that they now make sure they don't actually tell us what they really think. Remember Larry Summers? I wasn't surprised that he's sexist, I was surprised that someone with his political prowess would be careless enough to tell us about it...

  6. Just a random point, but last year I saw some of those "fluid dynamics / RF / Beowolf expert / classical harp player" type ads and I thought they were inside jobs. Turned out the university in question simply could only get money to hire for a very, very specific field, not a very, very specific person. So now I'm trying not to assume that quite as much. If it's a great looking job, maybe one should just go for it.

  7. This is the standard form of hiring in my field (Theoretical Physics). There are still very few women being hired anywhere. I was impressed recently by the disclaimer on a Cambridge homepage, re diversity ... it said: please note that should anyone suffer what they consider discrimination while employed by Cambridge, they will be permitted to complain and the complaint will be dealt with ...

    I think that's the first Physics webpage disclaimer that I actually believed, so I applied for three jobs there! Fingers crossed ...

  8. Those sorts of statements are standard in ads in my field. I'm generally quite skeptical. My impression is that they are put in by Human Resources admins and have nothing to do with whether or not the people making the hiring decision actually care about such things.

  9. What Anon on 10/6 said. My dept has its most critical hole in field X. The university has made funds available to hire someone in field Y. While X and Y are not necessarily exclusive, they are not necessarily overlapping, either...and the eventual job ad will probably look like a very small niche.

  10. Great post, as usual! I meant to comment, but kept forgetting. I can also say that diversity cuts 2 ways--when I was deciding where to go (I was lucky and had 3 offers), I definitely looked at how many people in my potential departments were something other than white males. One place in particular was really eager, but the AVERAGE age of the department was 65 (not a typo) and there was only 1 much older women in the department (they had to dig up a few younger women from other departments to talk to me when I interviewed). This was a MAJOR turn off in my interest level.

  11. @prodigal academic: ageist!

  12. So-- let me get this straight; a university department that is seeking to increase its diversity has less chance to do so because you are only looking at departments with already diverse faculty? Do you not see the logical end result of this attitude??

  13. Anon@8/13/12 -- I'm not sure if you're replying to me or one of the earlier commenters, but from my perspective it's the difference between talking about diversity and actually implementing something. I think a department/university that explicitly discusses how they are cultivating a welcoming environment for women and others from underrepresented groups is a huge plus.

    Specific things I would look for for the student body is -- is there are SWE or ACM-W group on campus? Is there a NSBE group? Are there active recruiting efforts, such as summer REU programs, to encourage underrepresented students to participate in research? Are there "sister schools", such as HBCUs, which the university has partnered with to increase collaborative opportunities for students? etc.

    For the faculty, I would look for a clear (and generous) maternity leave policy, including a penalty-free tenure clock stop; a diverse range of research seminar speakers (women, people of color); a clear indication the department treats their junior faculty well through a low service load and a strong mentoring plan, etc.

    I think a race/gender homogeneous department that wants to increase its diversity should consider cluster hires which target women and people from underrepresented groups. If it's New_Person_A and New_Person_B, neither will feel isolated or feel like a "token". Having other diverse faculty members to work with, particularly at the junior level, is incredibly helpful in those first few years.