How to ‘institutionalise’ good staff recruitment practices in Universities

I occasionally write blog posts on how we want to recruit new colleagues. The approach is based on four things that go beyond formal advertisements:

  • Thinking about the social background of your likely pool of recruitment (some fields are more heavily dominated by white men than others)
  • Designing the ‘further particulars’ and ‘essential criteria’ to not exclude people unintentionally.
  • Signalling that you have thought about your current position (such as a white-male-heavy department) and don’t want to discourage women and people of colour from applying.
  • Providing information that only a few people (with good networks and, therefore, the confidence to make contact) would get otherwise, via informal discussion.

Of course, there is always the risk that you look, to some, like you are engaging in some form of discrimination. I get the occasional question along the lines of, ‘should white men even bother applying?’ and I suspect I’d get more criticism if I weren’t a white male Professor, even though I’m just trying jump a fairly low bar, to say ‘please don’t be as discouraged as usual’ to some underrepresented groups.

However, for me at least, the potential benefits outweigh such risks, and I’ve seen some encouraging signs of impact in terms of applications (sometimes, male/ female applications are about 50/50, although I accept that I am applying optimism bias to small numbers).

This approach is now, in principle, part of our Athena SWAN commitment, although it won’t happen overnight. You can also find pockets of good practice in many Universities based, I reckon, on unusually high enthusiasm among key individuals (which is crucial to do something reasonably new).

However, here are some reasons why I think it won’t necessarily take off as an approach:

  1. It’s hard to integrate a relatively informal and personal discussion with formal HR requirements and procedures.
  2. If it’s not a routine part of the recruitment process, maybe no-one will ask for the blog post.
  3. Even if it becomes semi-routine, and someone asks for the post, it may not be forthcoming since we have enough to do, and some tasks seem less important or fall through the cracks.
  4. The payoff is difficult to measure, and help offset the cost.

So, it may stay (for some time) as something done by individuals who have a particular enthusiasm for this kind of communication. I’m not sure what would change this context – maybe a signal from some professional associations, or Athena SWAN guidance, that it’s a good thing, or maybe a groundswell of enthusiasm from an informal network of enthusiastic individuals.

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