Pre-APA advice to Hiring Committees

As we’ve noted before, there’s a lot of evidence suggesting that nearly everyone is subject to unconscious or implicit bias, and that these biases can have an inappropriate impact on hiring decisions. For example (one among many),

In a national study, 238 academic psychologists (118 male, 120 female) evaluated a curriculum vitae randomly assigned a male or a female name. Both male and female participants gave the male applicant better evaluations for teaching, research, and service experience and were more likely to hire the male than the female applicant

So if you’re hiring this year, you may want to think about how to keep this from happening to you. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Learn about and discuss research on biases and assumptions and consciously strive to minimize their influence on your evaluation. Experimental studies show that greater awareness of discrepancies between the ideals of impartiality and actual performance, together with strong internal motivations to respond without prejudice, effectively reduces prejudicial behavior.

2. Develop evaluation criteria prior to evaluating candidates and apply them consistently to all applicants. Research shows that different standards may be used to evaluate male and female applicants and that when criteria are not clearly articulated before reviewing candidates evaluators may shift or emphasize criteria that favor candidates from well-represented demographic groups.

3. Spend sufficient time (at least 20 minutes) evaluating each applicant. Evaluators who were busy, distracted by other tasks, and under time pressure gave women lower ratings than men for the same written evaluation of job performance. Sex bias decreased when they were able to give all their time and attention totheir judgments, which rarely occurs in actual work settings.

4. Be able to defend every decision for eliminating or advancing a candidate. Research shows that holding evaluators to high standards of accountability for the fairness of their evaluation reduces the influence of bias and assumptions.

5. Periodically evaluate your judgments, determine whether qualified women and underrepresented minorities are included in your pool, and consider whether evaluation biases and assumptions are influencing your decisions by asking yourself the following questions:

a. Are women and minority candidates subject to different expectations in areas such as numbers of publications, name recognition, or personal acquaintance with a committee member?
b. Have the accomplishments, ideas, and findings of women or minority candidates been undervalued or unfairly attributed to a research director or collaborators despite contrary evidence in publications or letters of reference?
c. Are assumptions about possible family responsibilities and their effect on a candidate’s career path negatively influencing evaluation of a candidate’s merit, despite evidence of productivity?

All of the above suggestions are taken from an excellent brochure that Alphafeminist called to our attention, which can be found in its very excellent entirety here. (And there are many more suggestions, and a lot more data, there.)

I think most departments genuinely do want to increase their hiring of women and minorities. But I also think that implicit bias may be impeding these efforts. If I’m right about the former, then departments might want to entertain the possibility that implicit bias is playing this role. And they should be glad to have some suggestions about how to take action against it. With that in mind, I urge you to pass some of this information on to friends and colleagues involved in hiring even if you’re not involved yourself.
Update: As AZ notes in comments, departments should also be careful about weighting pedigree too heavily. If someone comes from a less prestigious pedigree, and has held less research-friendly jobs, but has *nonetheless* managed to get a damned good publication record, surely this is a sign that they will do even better in a more salubrious environment. Such candidates should be viewed as potentially especially promising, rather than getting passed over.

8 thoughts on “Pre-APA advice to Hiring Committees

  1. It is also interesting to watch out for hidden assumptions in the ways that departments talk about recruiting and hiring. One friend of mine reported that when her department chair found out that they had a line to fill, he told the faculty to be “on the look out at conferences for excellent scholars and women” who they could encourage to apply.

    Now I know that sentence does not strictly logically imply that excellent scholars and women are members of mutually exclusive categories. But the natural reading of the sentence is pretty clear.

    It is also important to note that the chair in question has goodwill and he was indeed keen on getting more women into the hiring pool.

  2. Might I also add that it would be nice for hiring committees to think about pedigree? The rationale I’ve heard bandied about for giving weight to pedigree is that it is evidence for future productivity. Okay, but if someone came from nowheresville and _has_ produced well under bad circumstances, I’d think that this would trump pedigree if that was the rationale. Safe bets aren’t good bets when put up against sure things. This thought is apparently lost on hiring committees, however, because in spite of having a damn good run in terms of publications and recognition for teaching some of us have no interviews seem to be forthcoming.

  3. Amazing example, Alphafeminist– fascinating! AZ: Excellent point. I decided I didn’t want the post to get too long, so I didn’t point that one out. But you’ve made the point beautifully.

  4. Jordan: There’s lots of evidence that it would be good– as there’s lots of evidence having a female name, or a stereotypically black name, or a foreign name– significantly lowers the evaluations that are made of one. However, it would be really tricky practically speaking, given the use of letters of reference, etc.

  5. My advice to any candidate is to do whatever it takes to get through the process as sanely as possible. For me, the most important thing would be getting away from the APA hotel and all the other nervous candidates as much humanly possible. What else do people suggest?

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