Toolbox for recruiting professors

| Toolbox | How to reduce the impact of unconscious bias? | Best practices for recruitment based on equality of opportunity | Resources

Recruiting professors plays a key role in how UNIL operates. High-quality recruitment is fundamental for the institution’s reputation, as well as for the quality of research and teaching. Members of the selection panels thus offer an essential service, by investing their time and expertise to identify the best applicant for a particular post.

To support these efforts, UNIL provides those involved in the process of recruiting professors with a toolbox, containing research-based best practices in this area (see below).

UNIL also monitors appointment procedures for equality and is planning to implement a number of structural and regulatory reforms.



How to reduce the impact of unconscious bias?

Influence of unconscious biases and awareness-raising measures

Even if we are convinced of the importance of equal opportunities for women and men, our behaviour is influenced by unconscious gender biases. These biases have a negative impact on female applicants, but they are not inevitable. With awareness-raising and accountability measures and well-designed selection procedures, we can reduce their impact. UNIL encourages the members of the recruitment committees to:

Define and challenge the assessment criteria

  • Make sure you ask the same questions about each application.
  • Also, check that none of the pre-established criteria is prejudicial to a particular group of people.
  • Ensure you avoid relying on informal criteria to the advantage/disadvantage of a particular application.


Monitor the discussion

  • Make your colleagues aware if you think there could be bias in the assessment of applications or there is a reliance on stereotypes, which could unjustifiably put a particular application at a disadvantage.


Take time to make the decison

  • Take the time to examine the applications carefully.
  • Make sure you pay equal attention and spend the same amount of time on applications from both women and men.
  • Take a step back: slowing down the process allows you to move from unconscious stereotypes to rational reflection.

By applying these three principles and the good practices below, the members of the committee contribute to UNIL's objectives of promoting equal opportunities at all levels. 50% of PhD and post-doctoral students are women: the aim now is to guarantee the same access to the professorship for women and men.

Best practices for recruitment based on equality of opportunity

1. When planning for academic posts or when a vacancy arises


The professors of a faculty contribute to the quality, originality and competitiveness of the research and teaching provided at UNIL. A vacancy is an opportunity to recruit from a large pool of talent, to diversify the composition of the professorship and to strengthen and/or develop new lines of research or teaching. Academic planning is therefore one of the key moments to explicitly integrate reflections on equal opportunities and UNIL's objective to appoint more women to professorial positions.


What to do?

  • Discuss the faculty or department’s long-term strategy. Reflect on how a more diverse make-up, particularly with more female professors, could contribute to the quality and development of the academic community as a whole.
  • Inform members of the planning committee about the University and faculty’s aims in relation to equality. When a vacancy arises in the fa-culty, find out about the proportion of women at the various academic grades, particularly PhD students, post-docs and professors.
  • Include women in academic planning committees.
  • Be flexible about the level of the position, if you think this will help to attract excellent applications from women.
  • Define the post as openly as possible, while taking into account the needs of the department or faculty. Requirements should focus on essential rather than desirable elements, which could limit the pool of candidates (male and female) excessively.


What does the research say?

Greater diversity in committees, particularly in terms of the proportion of men and women, helps to reduce the "gate-keeping" phenomenon linked to the tendency we have to want to associate ourselves with "people like us". 

During the professorial recruitment procedures at UNIL, the committees receive too few female candidates. One of the important challenges is therefore to increase the number of excellent female candidates in the competitions.

As a minority among the professors, women are also in the planning commissions. Diversity of outlook must be guaranteed by including at least two women in the committee if possible.

2. Composition and information provided to members of the standing committee


The composition of the standing committee influences how the job profile is defined, so it is important to think about it in detail. In addition, it is essential to make the members of the committee aware of gender bias in recruitment processes. The members of the committee are experts in their field, but they may not have all the keys to identify mechanisms that can hinder a fair recruitment process. The composition of the committee is the moment when a good basis for collaboration can be laid, in particular by explaining the roles of each member and communicating about UNIL's equality policy.


What to do?

  • Include as much as possible female professors in the membership of the committee. External experts can be particularly helpful. Ideally, at least a third of the members of the standing committee should be women.
  • Ensure that the committee is made up of people with different perspectives and areas of expertise. Make sure it includes men who are aware of equality issues.
  • Ensure an equality officer is present, by making contact with the Equal Opportunities Office.
  • Inform members at the first meeting of the committee about the University’s and faculty’s objectives in relation to promoting equality in recruiting professors (show the video).
  • Ensure that different points of view are heard throughout the process, in a climate of trust, where everyone is invited to express their view, regardless of status. Produce a realistic timetable for the various stages of the procedure and ensure that everyone participates.


What does the research say?

Observational research in Sweden (Ahlqvist et al., 2015) has shown that the composition of selection committees influences the dynamics of working meetings, the speaking time and the relative weight given to the opinions of individuals and others.

The formalisation of recruitment procedures, in particular through the establishment of guidelines for their conduct and the clarification of the roles and responsibilities of each individual, allows for fairer processing of applications.

Increasing the number of women in a standing committee avoids the undesirable effects in group dynamics identified in many studies. For example, it will prevent the only woman on the committee from being perceived as embodying the "female perspective", from feeling responsible for adopting such a role or from being attributed gender stereotypes. Research in the Netherlands has, moreover, identified a significant association between the proportion of women on the standing committees and the number of women appointed as professors (van den Brink et al., 2006).

However, research shows that both women and men are subject to unconscious gender bias. For this reason, it is essential that all members of the committee, both women and men, are aware of this issue. Studies conducted in the United States to analyse the usefulness of awareness raising and training on gender bias for members of nominating committees suggest a positive association with the percentage of women nominees (Fine et al., 2014; Sheridan, Fine, Pribbenow, Handelsman, & Carnes, 2010).

3. Defining the job profile and assessment criteria


The definition of the job profile has a great impact on the pool of candidates. For example, restricting the profile to a particular specialisation instead of defining a broader field may unnecessarily reduce the number of applications, especially from women. Some selection criteria may also be gendered, i.e. they tend to disadvantage a particular group. It is important to write the profile and the evaluation criteria critically, taking these aspects into account.


What to do?

  • Produce a clear, concrete definition of the minimum level of qualifica-tions and experience required for a candidate (male or female) to be considered eligible for the post.
  • Discuss and define all the criteria against which the candidates will be assessed. Set out all these criteria in an assessment matrix and if necessary, specify their relative weight. The commission could consider the following criteria: scientific impact, quality of research, productivity, level of funding secured, supervision of PhD students, teaching, ability to work in a diverse environment, collaborative ventures, services to the scientific community, contribution to the working environment, contribution to society.
  • Make sure that none of the criteria selected automatically excludes certain candidates. Be aware of the fact that certain criteria, such as mobility or age, tend to put applications from women, in particular, but also from people who have taken a non-standard career path, at a disadvantage. As part of this reflection, remember that non-standard career paths can be just as excellent and that skills that might be useful for a university professor may, for example, have been acquired in a non-university setting.
  • Discuss the relevance of assessing candidates’ potential, not just their past achievements.
  • Take account of career breaks, for example for maternity leave or illness, when assessing the level of scientific production.


What does the research say?

Formalization of procedures and standardization of selection criteria allow for fairer procedures, especially for women. The definition of excellence is subjective and is based on a male representation and model. Because of gender stereotypes, male candidates are more likely to be considered excellent and to fit the leadership profile.

One study shows the tendency to retrospectively modify the selection criteria for a position so that they match the profile of the positively biased candidate selected (Uhlmann & Cohen, 2005). On the other hand, when the criteria deemed necessary for a position are clearly defined at the outset of the procedure, this phenomenon of rationalisation of choice a posteriori disappears.

Evaluation criteria are useful because they make it possible to objectify the qualities of candidates. By giving specific instructions as to which aspects are to be evaluated, the impact of gender bias on the evaluators is reduced. But the assessment criteria themselves are double-edged. Numerous studies have revealed that due to our unconscious gender biases, double standards of evaluation are very often applied, resulting in a stricter judgement of female candidates.

Finally, research shows that the conditions and resources that women researchers can rely on during their careers are less favourable than those for men researchers. For example, they are more likely to work part-time and to experience a family-related interruption. They are also more likely than men to have an academic partner, which hinders their mobility. These structural conditions should be taken into account when assessing applications. It should be noted that among current generations, when the influence of such factors is taken into account, scientific productivity is identical for men and women.

4. Job advertisement and cut-off period for applications


UNIL's equality monitoring shows that fewer women than men apply for professorships, even in faculties where the number of women in the middle ranks is over 40%. Through wide dissemination of the advertisement, the committee can communicate effectively about its needs for the position and its intentions to recruit a large pool of applications. The committee has a proactive role to play in ensuring that it receives many quality applications, particularly from women.


What to do?

  • Write the advertisement using neutral, gender-inclusive language.
  • Make an explicit distinction in the advertisement between essential and desirable qualifications. Avoid the use of superlatives (such as “exceptional”) and avoid describing qualifications in the form of a list, so that you do not discourage people from applying.
  • Use a sufficiently wide range of communication methods to guarantee an adequate number of applications, particularly from women. Make use of relevant academic and community institutions and networks, both nationally and internationally. Post the advertisement via e-mail distribution lists, websites and forums.
  • Identify female candidates who might apply and write to them personal-ly, to let them know a post is being advertised. Contact colleagues who are experts in the field, particularly women, to identify potential female candidates. Identify promising profiles from members of the editorial boards of academic journals, authors of academic articles in the area of specialisation you are looking for, and at conferences or symposia.
  • Extend the deadline for applications and intensify your communication efforts if a minimum number of female applicants has not been reached.


What does the research say?

Too often, the job profile and qualifications required in the advertisement are too closed and seem to target a particular candidate rather than attract a large pool of candidates. This is the finding of a study which analysed recruitment procedures in five institutions in Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Turkey (FESTA, 2015).

By being proactive, the institution can significantly increase the number of female applicants. The simple publication of a job advertisement is rarely sufficient to generate the desired pool of candidates. A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) showed that about two-thirds of racial minority staff applied following a personalised invitation (MIT, 2010). Direct contact with potential talent is also probably the most effective way to increase the pool of female applicants.


5. Examining the applications


The review of applications is a crucial step, as it is at this point that, due to unconscious gender bias, quality applications are at risk of being discarded.


What to do?

  • Clarify possible conflicts of interest between members of the committee and the candidates.
  • When assessing applications, take account of previous employment conditions (full-time or part-time, number of contracts, whether employment has been continuous or not).
  • Allow the same amount of time to read each application and assess them using the previously defined matrix of assessment criteria.
  • Approach the assessment of the applications systematically, starting with the applications from women. Ask the same questions about all the applications.
  • Assess each criterion based on concrete facts and avoiding inter-ference from informal evidence. As far as possible, try to disregard the candidate’s identity and gender, institutional affiliation and reputation, and any links you may have with their colleagues or superiors, and concentrate on assessing the qualities of the application and the candidate’s potential.
  • Be open to diversity: the profiles of excellent male and female researchers can be surprising in several ways, such as their original location and institutions, research subjects, how they have approached them, etc. Reflect on how profiles of this kind could enhance the faculty’s research and teaching.
  • Avoid taking the candidates’ family situation into account; do not assume, in principle, that a candidate will be unable or unwilling to move house.


What does the research say?

Because of gender bias, we tend to view women, both men and women, as less competent and less legitimate in leadership positions. Because of the double-standard assessment mechanism, women candidates' files are generally assessed more strictly than those of male candidates. The same criteria can be interpreted differently for men and women. Mothers, in particular, are devalued as professionals. The principles of homophilia and homosociality imply that we tend to prefer to work with people like us and to evaluate them more positively. This leads to a phenomenon of unconscious gate-keeping, where we tend to prefer candidates with whom we identify or have a connection.

Research shows that it is possible to counteract gender stereotypes. The first step is to become aware that, like everyone else, we have unconscious gender biases. We also know that it is easier to spot the influence of gender stereotypes in others than in our own words or decisions. It is therefore useful for everyone to make the other members of the commission attentive and responsive when gender bias distorts the objective assessment of cases.

Finally, research shows that, too often, the review of applications reproduces a definition of excellence based on a male, intensive, linear and uninterrupted career model. Challenging this definition of excellence avoids pre-empting in particular female candidates, who are more likely to have had interruptions for family reasons, to have worked part-time and/or on temporary contracts.

There is also a tendency to value mainly the research activities of candidates and to ignore other criteria, such as teaching and administrative management skills, tasks in which women are often involved. Furthermore, when comparing the potential of candidates and their scientific productivity (e.g. bibliometrics), it is useful to take into account the time and resources they have respectively had available for research. Research shows that when these elements are taken into account, productivity is similar for men and women.

6. When producing a shortlist


The shortlist must contain the profiles that best match the position being advertised according to the evaluation criteria defined beforehand. The definition of the shortlist is crucial, as it determines who will be able to participate in the final phase of recruitment, including how many women will be invited to the test lesson. The inclusion of female candidates in the shortlist is closely dependent on whether good practice has been followed in the previous stages and whether the committee is aware of any gender bias that may arise in the discussions.


What to do?

  • Produce two lists, of the same size, of applicants who could be invited to an interview. The first should consist of the best applications from women and the second of the best applications from men. The committee will then discuss the applications selected, starting with the ones submitted by women.
  • Try to explain the reasons for each decision in objective terms. Point out if the applications are being discussed according to different standards or if stereotypes have involuntarily crept into the discussions.
  • Try to maintain the same proportion of women as at the start and ensure that as many women as possible are auditioned. Avoid the “solo” effect as far as possible, by inviting at least two women to the trial lesson.
  • Two applications may look equivalent based on the overall criteria. In this case, prioritise the applications from women.


What does the research say?

Discussing in the committee how the evaluation grid is used and any problems encountered helps to reduce the differentiated treatment of applications. As in the previous stage of the examination of applications, the establishment of the shortlist is the privileged moment when, due to unconscious gender bias, male applications may be unfairly considered "excellent", while those of women will be considered "good". It is therefore essential that members remain critical during the discussions. As a reminder, mechanisms such as homophilia and homosociality imply that we tend to prefer to work with people like us and to favour them unintentionally.

When discussing the shortlist, it is important to avoid the "halo effect", whereby a positive overall impression or an outstanding performance on a particular criterion biases the candidate's overall assessment.

Several studies also show the negative effects of a "solo" situation, for example when there is only one shortlisted woman. Among other male candidates, the woman is then exposed to more criticism and is judged more according to stereotypes. Research still suggests that a candidate's performance in a solo situation may be affected compared to a situation where she is not the only woman present.

7. During interviews and trial lessons


The interview and trial lesson are critical moments in the process, as several factors can bias candidates' interactions and performance, including gender bias. In addition, the climate in which candidates are welcomed influences their performance. The trial lesson may in some cases be the first contact with UNIL, and is an opportunity to convey all relevant information about the working environment and the UNIL equality policy to the invited candidates.


What to do?

  • Set the date for the trial lessons to allow as many members of the department to participate as possible. Avoid times that conflict with family responsibilities. Avoid scheduling too many interviews/lessons on the same day, to ensure that all the candidates experience similar conditions.
  • Use the same protocol and allow the same amount of time for trial lessons and interviews for all the candidates. Produce a set of questions in advance to use in the same order with all candidates.
  • Ask work-related questions only. Do not ask the candidates about their family situation or family organisation (how they balance their work and family life).
  • As far as possible, avoid the assessment of the candidates’ performance being influenced by considerations related to their physical appearance, dress, voice or way of speaking.
  • Avoid expressing opinions during breaks and informal moments that might influence other members of the committee, particularly the junior members. Above all, keep your own views to meetings of the committe.


What does the research say?

Asking the same questions, in the same order, to all candidates helps to minimize gender bias in interviews and facilitates performance comparisons. The "solo" effect is also relevant in the context of the interview with the committee: if there are a good number of women in the committee, the candidate's performance will not be biased.

Research shows that gender stereotyping refers to beliefs about behaviours or characteristics that are associated with women (e.g. kindness) and men (e.g. self-confidence). These stereotypes are known to disadvantage women in academia in particular, as they are less associated with the exact sciences, excellence and leadership than men. On the other hand, when a woman displays a typically male type of leadership, she transgresses gender norms and exposes herself to criticism: she is judged more negatively and is seen as unpleasant or aggressive. These results suggest that whatever attitude and style a female candidate has, she is likely to be judged more harshly. It is therefore important to step back from personal assessments of style and the impression made by candidates.

Research shows that first impressions count: the general atmosphere during the interview and the information provided about equality and work-life balance are key elements in making the university attractive to candidates.

8. When the appointment is made and the committee’s report produced


The selection and ranking of applications is the result of the work of the committee. It is therefore essential that the discussion and the final decision be based on the criteria defined beforehand. Gender bias can occur at this final stage and tip the balance without the committee being fully aware of it. Hence the importance of taking a step back in the selection and ranking of candidates, which results in the committee's report summarising, inter alia, the efforts made to attract female candidates.


What to do?

  • Allow enough time for each member of the committee to express their opinion before the final vote is taken.
  • Make sure that gender bias and personal impressions that are not relevant to the post do not influence the discussion. Refer to the assessment criteria and assessments of the trial lesson and the interview with the candidates.
  • The committee’s report should include a passage that analyses how equality of opportunity has been taken into account in the selection process, in particular by including the statistics on applications from women and men, and all the measures taken to attract a variety of applications, notably from women.


What does the research say?

As in the previous stages, the appointment is the crucial moment when, because of unconscious gender bias, a male candidate may be unfairly considered "excellent", while a female candidate will be seen as somewhat inferior. It is therefore essential that members remain critical during the discussions.

As a reminder, several unconscious mechanisms may bias the decision and work against a female candidate. The double standard of evaluation implies that one tends to be more demanding of someone one thinks is less capable. The mechanism of homophilia involves unwittingly favouring people with whom one identifies. The "halo effect" implies that one risks being blinded by a very positive impression linked to someone's reputation or a unique dimension, for example, one's publication record.

9. Finaliser l’engagement et partir sur de bonnes bases


La finalisation de la procédure est importante, puisque les conditions d’engagement de la personne sélectionnée influenceront d’une part l’issue immédiate de l’engagement, mais également la suite de sa carrière. Des négociations transparentes et honnêtes permettront à la lauréate ou au lauréat de disposer de toutes les informations nécessaires, d’être satisfait·e de son poste et de s’y investir sur le long terme.


Que faire ?

  • Informer la personne nominée quant aux conditions de travail et de soutien aux nouvelles collaboratrices et collaborateurs, telles que : salaire, équipement et espace de laboratoire, assistanat de recherche, soutien administratif, frais de déménagement, assistance pour le/la partenaire (couples à double carrière), possibilités d’enseignement, frais de déplacement. Voir à ce propos le site du Service RH et du Welcome Centre.
  • Présenter également les opportunités de mentoring et de formation continue proposées par l’UNIL (Cf. 


Que dit la recherche ?

Les stéréotypes de genre impliquent que négocier les conditions d’emploi soit considéré comme un trait plutôt masculin. Les femmes ont donc tendance à moins négocier leurs conditions d’engagement, par crainte de transgresser ces normes de genre. En informant directement le ou la lauréat·e des aspects potentiels à négocier, les femmes se sentiront plus légitimes dans ce rôle.

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