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.