The University of Sheffield is trialling a radical new recruitment policy in which academics are hired on the basis of whether they will strengthen a team, rather than simply on their own individual merits.
As part of a pilot across 13 departments, Sheffield is asking senior academics and managers to think about not only who is the “best person for the job but what is the best team for the job”, Andrew Dodman, the university’s chief human resources and corporate officer, told Times Higher Education.
The pilot "approaches recruitment in different terms by recognising you need different types of people to have that creative abrasion that departments need”, said Mr Dodman.
The scheme, part of Sheffield’s People First strategy, follows concerns that some departments may be focusing too much on the research records of new staff at the expense of other qualities or attributes, he added.
That approach was likely to hinder Sheffield’s efforts to improve the racial, gender and age diversity of its staff body, Mr Dodman said.
“Diversity is a very nice idea, but when it came down to the job in hand, departments would say, ‘We need to pick the best person for the job or those with the best h-index,’” he continued. “There is a perception that you need to choose between institutional excellence and [broadening] equality, but we do not think this is necessarily the case – you can achieve both at the same time."
To introduce a more holistic approach to recruitment, departments were asked to work out a five-year plan and the different types of people they would need to achieve their goals.
“We asked them what kinds of skills they need to achieve these plans, rather than simply thinking about improving diversity,” Mr Dodman said.
Those in charge of recruitment were asked to assess CVs to see whether applicants demonstrated the skills that departments were looking for, rather than looking solely at an individual's research performance or publications, he explained.
Sheffield is now looking to involve other departments in the pilot, which began last summer, to help guard against unintentional bias in recruitment, said Mr Dodman, whose staff won the Outstanding Human Resources Team prize at the Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards in June.
“We have done a lot of work on gender equality through the Athena SWAN scheme, halving the gender representation gap on committees, but there is still a diversity deficit, despite all the good work of staff,” he added.
“Staff are not representative of the broader community or talent pool, and although we’ve made a lot of progress, we are not sure progress is happening quick enough.”