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How Do We Promote Diversity And Inclusion During The Hiring Process?

Though the discussion is intended to promote the inclusion of under-represented groups in physics, many of the general suggestions can usefully, productively be applied to majority faculty as well.

Preparing for a Hire
The major physics societies have adopted statements dealing with the importance of creating a more inclusive, more diverse physics community. A new hire provides a department a rare opportunity to reflect on its expectations of its faculty and students and the community that it has generated.

A useful first step is for the department to reflect on and discuss such questions as …

What is our mission?

What do we expect of a colleague? What can a colleague expect of us?

What can we do to make a more open, more inclusive environment for our students? for a faculty colleague?

What kind of community do we have for each other? for our students? Who would be comfortable here? Are we doing something that might mistakenly make some people uncomfortable?

What do we mean by diversity?

Serious consideration of these questions and others can help a department understand the extent they are willing to pursue a more open, inclusive physics community. These discussions may even help expand the role that diversity may play in your job search. Some departments become so committed to helping change the community of physics that they commit to not hiring a permanent member who is not from an under-represented group.

But becoming aware of the community within the department and of the schools is an important first step.

One of the most important questions for the department is the one on the meaning of diversity.

Racial and cultural minorities (specifically,  African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans) continue to be severely under-represented in the physics community at both the student and faculty levels. Alarmingly these numbers have not changed significantly.

Women of all races and cultures are also under-represented in the physics community though they have been making small but measurable gains in the last few decades.

Though international faculty do provide a measure of diversity these faculty do not contribute to helping solve the problem of American under-represented groups in any significant way. American students from under-represented groups do not always identify with international faculty and expecting these faculty to take on the task of mentoring students from a different culture is rarely successful.

Additional ideas for preparing for a new hire can be found in Tips for Hiring and Recruiting Minorities and Women for Faculty Positions from APS.

There are also a number of books and other resources that offer comprehensive guidelines on recruiting and hiring practices that promote an inclusive process, e.g.,

Searching in all the Right Places
Since the number of faculty from under-represented groups is small a department will need to cast its job search net widely.

Placing an ad in the primary physics job boards (AIP Physics Career, Chronicle of Higher Education, …) is the first step. But if funding is available there are additional steps available to ensure a comprehensive search. Both the National Society of Black Physicists and the National Society of Hispanic Physicists run job boards or circulate job announcements, as does SACNAS.

The Annual Conference for SACNAS is the early fall (typically the first or second week of October).

Of course it is not necessary to do all of these attempts. But the more you can factor into your search the greater the yield of applications from under-represented groups.

Opening Your Expectations
But the most significant action that can help ensure helping increase the diversity of the physics community is to revisit and broaden your (the departments’) expectations of what a colleague should be like … of what the CV of a colleague should be like.

Though there are many candidates from under-represented groups that will have followed the standard development – undergraduate school, undergraduate research, graduate school, independent research, post-doc …

But there are also many qualified candidates who may have unusual patterns in their development.

Starting in a community college is not uncommon for many students from under-represented groups. And taking longer than 4 years to finish an undergraduate degree may be a reflection of economic hardship rather than a lack of talent.

Similar factors may cause curious gaps in the employment history of a viable candidate.

Though financial difficulties and family obligations are not the sole pervue of under-represented groups the way people respond to these factors varies tremendously both within a culture and from culture to culture.

In addition, the level of preparation available to all students varies widely. Some students may have need additional time to develop fully. But this should not be interpreted as a measure of the lack of promise in a candidate.

And this flexibility must extend to the schools attended by the candidate. Many students from under-represented groups make decision about which school to attend based only partially on the academic level or the research available at a graduate school.

So if a potential candidate has evidence of an unusual trajectory or some non-standard development do not be too quick to remove this person from consideration. Take the time and effort (and it does take extra time and effort) to pursue the matter a bit more.