ALT, Antiracism, Conferences, Development & Training, Discrimination, HigherEd, Inclusivity, Recruitment

Stripping the recruitment exercises from my ALT Winter 2021 presentation

During my recent ALT Winter 2021 presentation on “We are committed to diversity and equality of opportunity”: an intersectional text analysis of job postings in learning technology“, I had created a Padlet space for some interactive exercises and reflections around the understanding of the recruitment and development and anti-racism.

While preparing the slides, I have been careful to not include any recent job vacancy for several reasons (read my post on “Preparing for ALT Winter conference“), which were also considered while setting up the live interaction exercises. Here are snippets of some of the exercises:

  1. At what stage does recruitment start?
  2. How many protected categories there are? List them.
  3. Examples of biases during application.
  4. The benefits of a diverse workforce are clear, and we have much work to do in this area at University X. In your presentation please outline how you would address this challenge, with particular reference to University X’s cultural and geographical position. Your thoughts.
  5. Can we talk about race during an interview. Your thoughts

During the presentation, I highlighted that there was no right or wrong answer since I wanted to provide a space for participants to learn. Nonetheless, the questions above do have parameters defining the answer – with the exception of Exercise 3. My observations below are based on responses from 15 participants.

For the first question “At what stage does recruitment start?“, I felt that the audience consisted of a mixed group of people with and without line managerial roles. However, since I had not specifically checked on the participants’ role beforehand, I would add that it will be alarming if there was a line manager who responded wrongly. Below are some of the examples of right and wrong thoughts around the recruitment process.

Correct/partially correct responses
Man showing thumbs up with green check mark.
Incorrect responses
Man showing thumbs up with green check mark.
A. When you have a staff vacancy, a role to fill or a project in planning.E. When work increases
B. When you are thinking of the resource(s) you needF. When discussing the vacancy requirements.
C. At the point where you realise you need someone to join the organisationG. When a post has been authorised to fill
D. It’s a permanent state… how the organisation is perceivedH. Rolling – always open to expressions of interest 
Table showing few responses from participants, with correct/partially correct versus incorrect perceptions around recruitment
  • Answer A – a staff vacancy may come up due to a need to expand the team, a role might need to be filled if someone goes on pregnancy and obviously then planning a project there must be adequate thought on whether additional human resoures are needed, so that existing staff are not burdened with an increased workload.
  • Answer B – Thinking of the resources you need is a cyclic exercise for all teams and department. There are always changing circumstances, such as, staff on unplanned medical leave, staff leaving suddenly or even as we have seen during this pandemic there are teams that have lost one or more staff to Covid.
  • Answer C – This is relevant to Answer A, but it is a space where we need to tread carefully. So when do we realise we need someone to join? Is it when staff have complained of unreasonable workload, maternity leaves not covered, or do we reflect on this as a continuous exercise as in Answer B?
  • Answer D – This is slightly similar to Answer B, but vague when it comes to the recruitment process being a permanent state, since recruitment within HE is tied up to budget availability.
  • Answer E – If you wait until work increases, it is more likely that someone is complaining. This shows poor planning and assessment of the dynamic nature of work, especially within the HE sector. This is one of the contributing factors to racism within our sector. Please read my blog post “The Anti-Racism & Learning Technology Community of Practice: Recruitment and Staff Development- Part 4 of 4“. Recruitment are often to cover short work around VLE administration/Learning Technologist/Designer roles for new courses. Such short term contracts are unfortunately not well thought through and have little to no development plan set in place for the staff recruited.
  • Answer F – Although discussing vacancy requirements is part of the recruitment process, it is not the initial stage of recruitment.
  • Answer G – At the stage where a post has been authorised to fill, much has already been decided about the role, in particular the salary grade, full time/part time, permanent/temporary, including responsibilities and sometimes even drafts of person specifications. This is a key stage where discrimination is often introduced, which then has a cascadening effect on the whole recruitment process. For example, if a post requires someone with a PhD, but the salary is quite low, it is most likely PhD holders will not apply and someone with less expertise may be recruited and be expected to complete the the same expected responsibilities. Any PhD holders who might apply are most potentially struggling for money and seekign a job asap, recruiting this applicant on a low salary may lead to overexploitation. Now consider a black female PhD holder applicant for the same post. As we look more and more into intersectionality, we notice that there is scope for more and more discrimination and exploitation to happen.
  • Answer H – This is mostly a scenario for recruitint PhD student, interns and early researchers on short projects but is practically inappropriate in other cases. Salary are paid from particular project pots or centrally, a role cannot be created simply because someone in particular has shown interest. In the context of racism and equity, if a hiring manager likes someone who has shown interest, a vacancy cannot be simply created. While this is very much present in the HE sector and even in industry, it is a non-ethical practice and is a root cause of inequity in HE in general.

For the second question “How many protected categories there are? List them.“, it is difficult to say if everyone knew all the 9 protected categories according to the Equality Act 2010. For anyone struggling with the list, here is a short explanation of the protected categories.

The third exercise “Examples of biases during application.” is an emotionally provocative exercise, it is the sort of exercise that usually gets the audience to participate most, as can be seen below with 17 responses. Snippets of some of the answers are:

  • "It is a worry for applicants if they should declare requirements before the interview, or after they are offered the job"
  • "Expectations that they need to be 'overly flexible’ - as if small children don't exist “
  • “Hiring for the finished product, perfectionist tendencies.”
  • “Expectations regarding travel, out of hours and weekend working often discriminate against people with caring responsibilities.”
  • "People like me"
  • "Class"
  • “People still stereotype fairly immediately, despite all of the training and so on. ”
  • “Making assumptions from someone’s educational background e.g. low ranked institutions means they are not as well educated”
  • “I didn't like the fact the candidate didn't bring an umbrella, it's raining today, she won't be a planner! :) (truth is stranger than fiction). “
  • “Requiring a degree for jobs that don't really require a degree with further answer "The requirement for a non relevant degree" + "Requiring a PhD for non-research roles".
  • "Assumptions of character based on characteristics ”
  • “Older women in technical roles ”
  • “Working in an EdTech role in another country, but doesn't understand the context of the UK, so not employing. “
  • "When the word 'recent' is used with regards to required experience, '3 years recent exp': can exclude those out due to maternity or caring periods for example. "
  • “She's got the qualifications, but not enough experience, despite being in a similar post, so, ignore (women mainly, seen an ex-colleague do this).
  • “What is seen as confidence in men is often seen as over-confidence or aggression in women. “
  • “I was at an interview panel once where the senior manager didn't like the applicant's tie”

The responses above clearly show the lack of professionalism and ethics of the interviewing panel. One of the reasons for this is that organisations focus on performative alone as a solution to biases in the recruitment process. Please watch out for my post on “Hiring managers, getting your interview panels right” to learn more about why we have such problems and what can be done to resolve them efficiently [to be published in Feb 2022].

I knew beforehand that it was difficult to cover all of these live exercises in 30 minutes, along with creating awareness on intersectionality. So during the session, only the first 3 were done. There was, however, 1 response for the last question, but no one attempted to respond to the fourth one. I am not surprised though, that nobody attempted the fourth question, it is one of those examples which have hidden messages and not obvious to everyone. Since I would like to encourage reflection on practices, I have chosen to not discuss Exercises 4 & 5 in this post and shall do so after another workshop as it is important to capture participants’ perspectives in order to provide the best follow up actions.

Since you have reached the bottom of this blog post, I would recommend you go through the following as well, there is much more than what I just wrote in this blog. Happy reading below 🔻

Post edit: I have published a blog where I cut through a few live job advert blurbs, I would recommend reading through it.

Equity analysis of 6 job blurbs – podcast for TalkingHE“. The podcast was recorded on 22nd Dec 2021, at the time of the recording, all the job adverts discussed in this podcast were live, with closing dates set in the future.

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