CVs and interviews axed as universities ‘de-bias’ recruitment

Recruiter and ex-Sussex chair Simon Fanshawe aims to tackle biases around gender, ethnicity and university background

January 30, 2019
piles-of-papers
Source: Getty

CVs and interviews are being removed from university hiring processes under a new approach to “de-bias” academic recruitment being pioneered in the UK.

The “Recruiting for Difference” approach, billed as an attempt to address biases around gender, ethnicity and university background, is led by the recruitment firm Diversity by Design, co-founded by the writer and broadcaster Simon Fanshawe, former chair of council at the University of Sussex.

Mr Fanshawe, a founder of the LGBT equality charity Stonewall, said the aim was to “de-bias” to the greatest extent possible, explaining that, under this approach, “what you don’t use in the shortlisting process at all is CVs”. He argued that stripping out CVs allowed universities to see the true qualities of the people they were considering for jobs.

The application process allows applicants to state which journals they have published in and the roles they played in these papers. But candidates’ names do not figure in the shortlisting process – thus their gender and ethnicity are not revealed – and at no stage of the hiring process is it disclosed at which universities candidates have worked or studied.

Mr Fanshawe asked: “Why do [those hiring] want to know what university [applicants] went to?” One explanation is that those doing the hiring “are simply biased and…think if people went to Cambridge, they are better,” he added. “Well, that’s not a good reason for knowing which university they went to because it may not be true.”

So far, the approach has been used to recruit to two posts in the University of Nottingham’s Faculty of Engineering, both of which were taken by women. Fifteen per cent of applicants and 35 per cent of those shortlisted were women.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has awarded a grant to a project led by Nottingham, on which Diversity by Design is a partner. This will include the development of “software, training and accreditation” for the de-biasing recruitment approach, said Mr Fanshawe.

Nottingham initiated another innovation, Mr Fanshawe said – removing traditional interviews from the hiring process. Interviews do not reflect what academics do in their jobs, which is “teach”, “present their research” and “discuss their research with their peers at a high level”, he added. The interview has been replaced by three “simulations” of these aspects.

While there are “tons of initiatives” on diversity in higher education, these are not tackling “one of the big roots of the problem – which is the…level of supposition, or bias, or preference, or whatever you want to call it, which is built into the way in which…academics…are recruited”, he said.

Asked how universities would benefit from more diverse recruitment, Mr Fanshawe said that in teaching and research, it would lead to “new areas of enquiry”, with combinations of “different insights” bringing “higher quality results”.

Universities are also teaching to a “much more diverse group of students”, and lecturers can “fuel ambition” for students by serving as role models, he said.

Mr Fanshawe – whose firm is currently working with Newcastle University to recruit an engineering materials professor, cited the research of Iris Bohnet, the Harvard University behavioural economist, as a key influence on the approach. Her research showed that diversity training and work to address unconscious bias “doesn’t do it”, Mr Fanshawe said. “We can’t train ourselves out of these habits. We have to design the processes to enable us to make better decisions.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

Please login or register to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Related articles

Reader's comments (13)

An alternative to this would be to have transparency in hiring. The UK interview process model of recruiting is well and truly outdated. Behind all the rules and supposed fairness is a system that is outdated and inefficient, has no checks and balances - hence can be abused to hire mates and those you are comfortable with and know - and treats candidates like they are applying to janitorial positions. I remember first being involved in a UK interview when I was interviewed in the 1990s and flew from the US. The US process is to do preinterviews at conferences, create a short list and invite them to campus to meet with dozens of academic staff, students and give a presentation (You normally also meet the candidate at the airport). Normally a visit lasts 2-3 days and a whole month goes into the process. Candidates go to breakfast, lunch and dinner with members of the staff and there is usually a 1/2 day with a realtor to show them property and address issues like schooling, etc. The hiring group (not a closed door committee) then decides the rank order of candidates and who gets an offer (normally we would all sit down together and have a discussion and do a ranking ordering and decide who was and was not preferred). It is all completely open. One university I worked at even had a 'posting of the bands' where each group indicated who they were hiring so there was a chance for those who disagreed to voice an opinion to the dean. This forced the processes to be open so that you had to show your candidates widely (i.e., outside your main area of interest in the faculty). When I showed up for my 'interview' at the UK, I had to schlep from Heathrow to my hotel on the outskirts of another city and was pretty much on my own having been told to come to a room at a certain time and discovered that I had entered something like a school disciplinary board with me at one end of the table and the others lined up. Only three people at the table knew anything about my field with the chairperson being from Physics (not my field) plus an administrator from HR asking questions about UK regulatory structures that made no difference to whether I was actually going to be a respected academic. I came away amazed that they could hire anyone of quality using that model. Other than what they saw on paper, the fact that I knew one person (and only one person) at that School, was all they knew about me. They didn't offer me the job but it didn't matter because I would not have taken it since I also knew nothing about them. The point is that the system being proposed is a terrible idea. To think that you can hire staff who spent years building up their resume and creating an image of themselves and their work by actually removing the most valuable pieces of information all for the sake of supposed bias will simply lead to more bias. Why not just play bingo and pick people? The solution is not to remove information but to shine the light of day on the hiring process and allow people with talent to show it. Studies show that even with biases academics value talent and ability very highly. Removing the candidates ability to show that talent and ability by interacting with more people over a longer period of time is a far better solution. Learn from what the rest of the world does, particularly that part of the world that pretty much as a monopoly on the best academic talent.
Agreed. There is an arrogance that there is little to no contact with the candidate. Business schools here in the UK pay half of the salary that is paid in the U.S. for lecturer and senior lecturer. They for one can't really afford to be this cold.
An alternative to this would be to have transparency in hiring. The UK interview process model of recruiting is well and truly outdated. Behind all the rules and supposed fairness is a system that is outdated and inefficient, has no checks and balances - hence can be abused to hire mates and those you are comfortable with and know - and treats candidates like they are applying to janitorial positions. I remember first being involved in a UK interview when I was interviewed in the 1990s and flew from the US. The US process is to do preinterviews at conferences, create a short list and invite them to campus to meet with dozens of academic staff, students and give a presentation (You normally also meet the candidate at the airport). Normally a visit lasts 2-3 days and a whole month goes into the process. Candidates go to breakfast, lunch and dinner with members of the staff and there is usually a 1/2 day with a realtor to show them property and address issues like schooling, etc. The hiring group (not a closed door committee) then decides the rank order of candidates and who gets an offer (normally we would all sit down together and have a discussion and do a ranking ordering and decide who was and was not preferred). It is all completely open. One university I worked at even had a 'posting of the bands' where each group indicated who they were hiring so there was a chance for those who disagreed to voice an opinion to the dean. This forced the processes to be open so that you had to show your candidates widely (i.e., outside your main area of interest in the faculty). When I showed up for my 'interview' at the UK, I had to schlep from Heathrow to my hotel on the outskirts of another city and was pretty much on my own having been told to come to a room at a certain time and discovered that I had entered something like a school disciplinary board with me at one end of the table and the others lined up. Only three people at the table knew anything about my field with the chairperson being from Physics (not my field) plus an administrator from HR asking questions about UK regulatory structures that made no difference to whether I was actually going to be a respected academic. I came away amazed that they could hire anyone of quality using that model. Other than what they saw on paper, the fact that I knew one person (and only one person) at that School, was all they knew about me. They didn't offer me the job but it didn't matter because I would not have taken it since I also knew nothing about them. The point is that the system being proposed is a terrible idea. To think that you can hire staff who spent years building up their resume and creating an image of themselves and their work by actually removing the most valuable pieces of information all for the sake of supposed bias will simply lead to more bias. Why not just play bingo and pick people? The solution is not to remove information but to shine the light of day on the hiring process and allow people with talent to show it. Studies show that even with biases academics value talent and ability very highly. Removing the candidates ability to show that talent and ability by interacting with more people over a longer period of time is a far better solution. Learn from what the rest of the world does, particularly that part of the world that pretty much as a monopoly on the best academic talent.
presumably candidates should not mention any research published in say the Nigerian Journal of Surgical Research. Whereas anything in say Nature wold mean a shoe in for a candidate, no matter how poor their interpersonal skills.
Or, indeed, reveal any references. At least not as early career fellows where former tutors are likely to still be on the list.
Doesn't the publications criteria also assume that the journal publication and review process is without bias? A scan through recent issues of "top" academic journals in the US or UK rankings will tell you all you need to know about diversity and the chances of broadening the candidate pool. And what about early career staff who won't have many publications yet? As others have said, additional transparency would be a good first step.
I find the continued assumption of unconscious bias quite offensive when everyone is bending over backwards to be unbiased. It's also counterproductive: there's a temptation to view candidates of a gender/ethnicity different to one's own in a more generous light to avoid any inkling of bias instead of being equally rigorous to each candidate. I quite like the sound of the US model described by the first commentator above, as it always must be remembered that a job interview is a two-way process. The candidate needs to decide if they actually want to work there and with the people already there every bit as much as the institution and faculty need to decide if they want them there. We currently get candidates to deliver a research talk during their visit, which both lets us see the quality of their work AND how good they are at explaining it (i.e. can they teach?), but we could do better. More transparency is good.
We certainly do need to tackle the extensive bias in HE recruitment. If someone is not openly and vociferously leftwing they face little chance of getting or keeping a job. If someone voted Leave in the Brexit referendum they too need to be protected from the inevitable prejudice they will face. Ordinary white males also face an enormous bias against them in hiring and promotion since, due to no fault of their own, they seen as undesirable and fundamentally suspect. All these attitudes I have witnessed numerous times, particularly from those who will scream that they are not biased in any way but that someone who once read the Daily Mail should be sacked, pilloried and abused as much as possible. There is plenty of prejudice and bias in HE, just not the sort people admit to.
Let's concentrate on the Nottingham case study, in two parts. 1. So 15% of applicants were women, with a shortlist of 35% women, 'proving' the worth of this new approach. Having advertised countless posts in the past in Engineering, these statistics tell me what I already know. In very broad terms, women are more hesitant than men in applying for a job if they don't think their CV matches all the criteria. In other words, I receive a lot of speculative, inappropriate applications, largely from men. And so did Nottingham (and everyone else). 2. With 35% of shortlisted candidates as female, two women were selected for the post. The chances of this happening randomly are 35% x 35%, i.e.12.25%, or around 1 in 8. Not exactly the odds of being hit by lightning. It could - easily - be explained as nothing more than coincidence. I would question if there is any breakthrough news here.
"The application process allows applicants to state which journals they have published in " This would not be possible for any university that had signed the DORA agreement. It is surely universally agreed by now that journal impact factors are not a measure of the quality of individuals.
So much to be said against this. I agree with all the comments above: if you are critical, male, white and over 50 with a string of acclaimed books to your name you have no chance. Recruitment agents who know nothing of HE will destroy its core values if permitted. This idea is not worth much time and energy debating. The man is crackers and clearly knows little of what really happens. His policy will enable the post-92s particularly to continue appointing below an acceptable standard. Best to drop the pretence and just hire the cheapest. I'd teach hairdressing for a very low rate, although my web design might cost you more; my brain surgery though will be below current market rates. My sociology is priceless at the moment.
Sounds like Simon Fanshawe is just cashing in on the latest trend regardless of whether there is any common sense. whether a former comedian is really the best arbiter of what goes on in UK university recruitment is an open questions.
"Best to drop the pretence and just hire the cheapest. I'd teach hairdressing for a very low rate, although my web design might cost you more; my brain surgery though will be below current market rates. My sociology is priceless at the moment." Hahahhahhahahaaaaaaaahahahhahahhahhaa! *breathes in* hahhhhhahahhahahahaaaaaaa! Gosh, I wish I could take this out of context and share it, but I fear it is one of those "you had to be there" humor moments. By Jove, I believe you've nailed it. I agree with the comments above discussing the need for transparency, which is far more agreeable a solution than “designing a process to help us make better decisions.” Egad. Has it really come to this? I have worked in higher education in the U.S. on and off since 1995. Granted, my direct experience is with smaller, regional universities (6,700 or so students, which involves different challenges than those of larger or private institutions), thus potentially placing not only cultural differences in play in my reactions about this idea, but also the bias of my own personal experience at a smaller institution. That being said, I feel it is logical that an academic institution would benefit from knowing the academic background of professors who will be teaching others how to think critically and potentially engage in foundational research that will define our global future. How could knowing the strength and dynamic of different academic programs at different institutions where prospective faculty may have learned or earned degrees NOT be relevant information in assessing whether or not a faculty member would be a good fit for any HE institution? I am trying to find the sense here, really listening and trying to understand, but the threads all lead to the same dead end. I am realizing this “short comment” is likely going to be a long-winded swirly flow of ideas and that I appear to be standing on a soapbox. Please bear with me. We spend so much time and energy trying to fix symptoms instead of addressing the core issues that cause the symptoms. A problem with addressing the real issues is that the deeper the issue is, the harder it is to explain to people who just want to fix the symptom and call it a day. Getting support for solving the real issues, in a large machine like higher education seems next to impossible. So, what happens is that we, as an institution (or society, etc.) put up with small incongruencies (for a myriad of reasons, some benign, some personal, some systemic) and over time those incongruencies are covered with layers. Those layers are covered with other layers. And eventually, what was once a small incongruent item, convenient to overlook at the time, becomes a foundational problem that NO ONE understands, let alone can figure out a way to resolve. It seems that people who try to address the deeper problems are largely ignored, vilified even, by those who choose to operate in the symptom realm. Fixing symptoms is sexy. Popular. Easier in the short term. And I wager, creation of these solutions can look really good on a resume {insert a no-longer-using-CVs-joke here, ha ha she's so witty}. The thing is … the problem is not the inequality of hiring practices and such. It's not even racism or sexism or ageism or whatever is the "ism" of the hour that shapes the perceived bias. Those things are all well seated in “the symptom of the problem” realm. I still hold on to hope that we are choosing to address the symptoms because the underlying problem seems insurmountable (little victories?), not so we can continue to build our Tower of Babel toward the heavens. Who is looking at fixing the real, core, systematic issues that are causing those symptoms? Why aren’t these clearly brilliant people at our institutions of higher education looking at the deeper issues instead of adding layers on top of the buried incongruencies? I don’t believe this discourse is absent because most people are ignorant, but maybe because ignorance is leveled based both on measurable intellect and life experiences that cannot be standardized, leaving a broad range for (mis)interpretation? But I don’t know if either apply. I think anyone who is a parent can likely attest to this conundrum. It doesn't matter how many books you read, or classes you take, or TED Talks you watch about parenting. It doesn't even matter what your kid did 30 times in a row that gives you an idea that this particular behavior may be expected. Because you know what happens? Kids do what kids do. They are all different in how they think, how they respond and how they approach challenges. And that 31st time of your very predictable child’s behavior will bite you in the bum if you fail to realize that each choice or reaction is based on whatever is going on in that young one’s noggin at that particular time (which involves complex interaction with the sum of their own experiences, even at a very young age!). It stands to reason applying that premise to a larger community (whether it be HE centric or other) will lead to a lot of varying “solutions” for symptoms. Like, for instance, this solution, which seems to be removing common sense in an effort to remove bias. (?!) It’s counterproductive at best. I propose that when we, as a society, even as a global community, attempt to address the issues that cause these symptoms. How do we absorb our hubris in order to help future generations to achieve real solutions? Perceived necessity to "force equality" would likely dissipate proportionally with higher levels of understanding and respect in how we treat each other as human beings. Make no mistake; respect and tolerance are not the same thing. Tolerance is a surface buzzword that doesn’t mean anything on its own. Tolerating someone’s varying views or culture (or whatever) is empty when kindness and respect are absent. Understanding (or in the case of some, accepting) that we are not deities and are not omnipotent leads to the knowledge that our understanding of other’s behaviors is based on our personal emotional/cognitive paradigm. Hence, the perception of symptoms related to human behavior (backed up by whatever statistics we include) will never be truly standardized, as human beings and empirical results related the nature of individual emotional/cognitive constructs is not an exact science. I think the hardest thing for me to swallow about this is that we have higher education faculty … learners. Thinkers. The great minds of our generations who love research and learning and choose to make a career out of research and learning and sharing this love for learning with the world through their work in higher education … there is limitless potential in these people! Yet we have HE scholars who think this is a solution? Maybe we are having the wrong conversations. It seems like the space between the proposed solutions for a recognized symptom and any potential solutions which actually address the core issues is an abyss. These core issues are not limited to HE. I want these brilliant minds to be talking about the causes of these symptoms, the behaviors that seem to be eating humanity up from the inside out. I strongly believe any solution in this realm should actively support the growth of the psyche of man in the direction of critical thought, respect for ideas outside of each individual’s own ideas, kindness, and empathy. Please note this is not a request to discard common sense in lieu of kindness. True kindness and empathy involves transparency, courage and integrity. Transparency, courage and integrity will trump bias every. Single. Time. Of course, as I remove my disheveled rose-colored glasses with a big, dramatic sigh, and try to be realistic about this, I still wholeheartedly disagree with the premise of removing the personal responsibility of critical thought and transparency about the hiring process in higher education by “building it into the process.” I understand if this proposal is discarded, as I believe it should be, we are still left with the symptoms and the systemic societal flaws which have created and ultimately support the symptoms at hand. Fanshaw said Bohnet’s research shows that diversity training doesn’t work and “we can’t train ourselves out of these habits.” Of couse it doesn't work, because diversity training is just the shallow action equivalent of the shallow tolerance buzzword to address a symptom. It’s a checkbox that shows everyone how inclusivity matters to us (look how inclusive and tolerant we are!) whilst glossing over the source of the symptom. If anything, taking the thought and choice (and personal accountability in making that choice!) component out of the hiring process will inevitably create the need for further “intervention,” which in turn, will create more “symptoms” stemming from the deeper issues still not being addressed. Downward spiral, defined. I guess the point I’m trying to make, short form, is that not only does this appear to be a poor solution, I believe the discourse surrounding the bias in academic recruitment needs to be far more holistic in nature if that is even an option – to encompass the deeper incongruencies, not just the grasping-at-straws solutions to surface symptoms.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most commented

Sponsored

Featured jobs