I had the dubious pleasure of sitting on my second faculty search committee this past term, the first term of my second year as an assistant professor. Last year, I detailed my experiences here at TSW (Part I) ; (Part II), focusing on the nuts and bolts. This time I’m going to talk about dynamics relating to racial minorities and particularly women. These groups are underrepresented and undervalued in academia, at least partially due to systematic discrimination.
First, some stats. Last year, no women made it to the second round (phone interviews, typically 8-11). This year, women did really well in our search, although we did not end up hiring a woman. About 22% of the applicants were female, but 37.5% of our phone interviewees and 50% of our campus interviewees were women. In contrast, minorities fared less well. 31% of our applicants were presumed minorities (based on name), whereas only 12.5% of our phone interviewees were such. Over half (54%) of the applicants in the ‘not qualified/why did they apply to this job?’ were minorities. Many minorities from other countries seemed well trained and qualified, but for completely different jobs than the one for which we were advertising.
Throughout this search, and those I was part of previously, I was on the lookout for both vocalized and unvocalized discrimination – in both myself, and other members of the committee. It has been shown that (at least in science) both women and men demonstrate gender bias in hiring1. We do not have a gender-blind search process, although such a process has been shown to be relatively feasible2. To attempt to do this for myself I set up my spreadsheet and all of my notes without first names. I was particularly concerned about gender bias from my colleagues, as I have heard sexist comments from some of them. Of course I have no idea if this affects their evaluating/ranking/hiring decisions – perhaps they are aware and take it in to account. But I can’t trust, given all the studies and evidence to the contrary, that we are all acting in an unbiased manner.
Gender dynamics played out in an interesting way in this search. The position we are hiring for requires maintenance of and teaching students to use some complex equipment. The candidates varied in training, personal experience, and teaching experience related to that part of the job. We required candidates and their references to discuss their ability to perform those job duties. Regardless of their actual abilities and capabilities, women and men presented themselves very differently when pressed with pointed questions, i.e.
- Man: “I don’t know how to work with that machine yet, but I am confident I can. I would need some time to get my hands dirty and figure it out”
- Woman: “I don’t know how to work with that machine yet, and that is a concern. I would contact tech support and have them come out and show me what to do”
In this case, the woman had presented herself as less competent than her male competitor, because she didn’t seem confident in her own abilities and she admitted she would need help. Overall, the committee (particularly the older, senior members of the committee) felt that she wasn’t competent. Women are less likely to exaggerate their abilities3, which comes off as a lack of confidence. This is a serious problem when trying to compare multiple candidates’ abilities in a search.
I took the opportunity to act as an advocate for this candidate, although it was an awkward experience. I brought up that women and men present themselves and their abilities differently, and that it was very likely that the female candidate was just as competent and would be just as good at the job as her male competitor. We shouldn’t disqualify her because she was a) possibly more honest b) more willing to ask for help or c) just not great at interviewing in this case. One of the committee members responded very favorably to my comment, and we discussed gender discrepancies briefly as a group. As Jones and Urban note in their report on conducting a gender-blind search, “Simply discussing unconscious bias heightened our sensitivity.” In this case, talking about differences between women and men helped me feel that our search was conducted fairly.
Have you ever been an advocate in a faculty (or other) search? How was that received?
1 Moss-Racusin, C.A. et al. 2012. Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students. PNAS 109(41):16474-16479. Link: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/41/16474
2 Jones, C. and M. Urban. 2012. Promises and Pitfalls of a Gender-Blind Faculty Search. BioScience 63(6):611-612. http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/63/8/611.full
3 Reuben, E. et al. 2012. The emergence of male leadership in competitive environments. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 83(1):111-117. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167268111001612