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I am planning to hire a postdoc (in mathematics), and have never done this before. My department is far from diverse. I have read that a good way to achieve a diverse pool of candidates is by advertising widely, including circulating them to special interest groups.

I can definitely see the benefit of this. Members of underrepresented groups may tend to be less "well connected" in the community and, as a result, the advertisement might have a harder time reaching them. At least, this seems to be part of it.

I would love to advertise widely, and specifically to organizations which will help me reach underrepresented groups. However, I am finding it difficult to find viable options for doing this... Many sites charge hundreds of dollars for each job posting. While I would love to post it everywhere, it doesn't seem realistic. The main things that I have come up with are:

  • Mathjobs (https://www.mathjobs.org). I expect that this will reach the largest number of interested applicants (the job is in North America). But this is really just the standard place to post things.
  • Association for Women in Mathematics (https://awm-math.org/). This actually seems like a really great option.
  • Distributing the advertisement through mailing lists dedicated to my area of mathematics.
  • Some professional societies in mathematics allow members to post jobs (I think).
  • Advertising the job at the end of research talks (although, it doesn't seem to be that commonly done in my area, so it might be awkward...).
  • Advertise to colleagues and ask them to spread it by word of mouth.
  • Posting to social media? Although I am a bit wary of this.

Apart from the AWM, I don't really see how any of these will benefit members of underrepresented groups specifically, and, even the AWM is mainly targeting one group. Does anyone have any other ideas? Suggestions?

This post focused mostly on where to advertise the job, but I would also love to get input on all aspects of achieving a large and diverse pool of applicants! Please feel free to share any advice you have.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – cag51 Sep 11 at 3:27
  • I suspect you're attracting close-votes because you list things specific to math (MathJobs, AWM). I haven't voted to close, but if you generalized those, people might be less inclined to CV. – Azor Ahai -him- Sep 11 at 13:46
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    If the purpose of the hiring is, as in the title "to widen the diversity of applicants", does this mean that an applicant who is not part of the minority has zero chances of getting the position? If so (and legal in your jurisdiction) it might be ethical to signal it, to stop applicants with zero chances from wasting their time and effort. – vsz Sep 12 at 3:15
  • @vsz I think that you are misunderstanding my objective. How diversity should be treated at the selection stage is a separate question. My aim is to put out an advertisement that all of the best applicants will apply to. From what I have heard, making the right adjustments can dramatically increase the participation of candidates from underrepresented groups while not having much of an impact on the applications from qualified members of other groups. I believe that widening the pool is ideal for allowing me to select the absolute best candidate, regardless of what group(s) they belong to. – bob Sep 14 at 14:01
  • @AzorAhai--hehim apologies if I have not written the question very well. I am not an experienced poster! I wanted there to be a chance that someone would give math-specific advice. Maybe that means I should have posted to a math stackexchange. I did get one good suggestion (can't find the comment now) that was math specific (nam-math.org). So it served its purpose. – bob Sep 14 at 14:17
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Where to advertise is only a small part of the challenge in ensuring a diverse pool of applicants.

Checking the language used in the advert is extremely important. It is quite easy to build in words that exclude certain groups of applicants. For example, are you tempted to write that you are a “young dynamic team”? You’re likely to exclude older post docs. The best solution here seems to be to get a diverse group of people to review the advert and ask themselves if they would apply. Use their feedback.

There are also gender decoders that can spot gender-specific language. Try e.g. http://gender-decoder.katmatfield.com/. This spots more than just using he/she to refer to applicants.

You should think about whether to use “they” or “she” directly in the wording of the ad (s well as "he") to make it clear that gender diversity is desired. This may require legal input in some jurisdictions.

Furthermore you could be very explicit in the types of diversity that you welcome. Give examples of how you support parents, LGBTQ, underrepresented minorities (do you have employee resource groups?), and so on.

You could try to be effusive - not just the classic “we welcome applicants with diverse backgrounds“, but “we cherish and celebrate the differences that all of our colleagues bring to our team” (seen recently in an ad for a startup).

I have to stress that the language used here is purely for example, and you need to get a second opinion or possibly a legal review depending on where you are.

Good luck in getting your Postdoc!

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    This is amazing; thank you so much! I had never heard of a gender decoder before. I will absolutely use it. With regards to your suggestions on wording: wow, yes! I have been wondering how to do better than just inserting "boilerplate" statements. This type of wording is fantastic. Indeed, I will do my due diligence by getting people to read it, both to try spot any language that could be seen as exclusionary and to be safe regarding legal aspects. But this is awesome! Thanks! – bob Sep 10 at 7:25
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    Generally I find academic job adverts avoid the use of pronouns altogether (this isn't a new thing, it's unrelated to current discourse around gender). I think the idea of using "a successful applicant" or something similarly wordy is supposed to sound more professional. I'd advise if you do decide to use "she" that you include "he" at some point too, otherwise some male applicants will think it is reserved for a woman. But personally I'd just avoid any trouble and use "they", or just word it so there are no pronouns, it's usually quite easy to do unless you have a strict character limit. – Crazymoomin Sep 10 at 19:45
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    Good point - the "he" still needs to be in there. I made a small edit to include that. Feedback from colleagues has been that deliberate use of a mixture of “he”, “she”, and “they” in adverts is much more welcome than just referencing “the applicant”. As others have pointed out, being able to see yourself / read one’s self in an advert is very encouraging. – Andy Clifton Sep 10 at 21:23
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    I would suggest being careful of reading much into the Gender Decoder link. It counts things such as "Job Responsibilities" and "Must Support Faculty Research" as pluses (responsibilities, support) in the feminine category. So far all job postings I tried in it are considered "strongly feminine-coded" because of these (what I would consider) standard and neutral phrases. Granted, I'm not an expert on the topic, so I wouldn't read much into my statement either. – 001001 Sep 11 at 14:48
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    @thieupepijn It's not reasonable to say that native English speakers can't use features of English that have been around since Chaucer! Old-fashioned English has always used singular they. – curiousdannii Sep 11 at 22:54
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https://jobrxiv.org/ and twitter although I don't know how much math people use either. For my bio-related field they're pretty good.

You'll probably get plenty of diversity in your applicant pool but you'll end up removing most of it when you filter for prestige PhD institutions and advisors. You should try to remember that URMs from second tier PhD institutions are just as smart in aggregate as the population from Stanford or whatever, but are likely to publish worse and have fewer opportunities. Evaluate them based on who's outperformed for their grad environment and in general you'll probably have a bunch of applicants you wouldn't have otherwise considered. (This is also useful for identifying the halfwits from Harvard who have underperformed despite every possible advantage - don't hire them).

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    Would upvote this twice if I could – Morgan Rodgers Sep 8 at 19:29
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    This is exactly the sort of thing that could easily end up being a "blind spot" when sorting through applications. I will be sure to take this into consideration now that you mention it. Thank you. – bob Sep 9 at 0:11
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    "You'll probably get plenty of diversity in your applicant pool" - this has not been my experience (I was doing something else and not a postdoc search, but we were still advertising through MathJobs). Looking at gender diversity in particular - without advertising directly to female grad students, we weren't even getting close to the base rate (the gender distribution among math grad students) in our applications. – Misha Lavrov Sep 9 at 21:22
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    @MishaLavrov I agree - that was unclear. If advertised well to diverse groups on twitter/jobrxiv/mathjobs/etc you'll get plenty of diversity in your applicant pool (and the second part of the answer applies). – user128815 Sep 11 at 19:09
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The typical advise is that men tend to apply even if they are not a perfect fit for the position, while women tend to only apply if they feel they satisfy all the conditions. Thus, do not exaggerate the requirements in the job posting.

If your university/department/faculty website has lots of pictures of smiling students, make sure the pictures show diversity. According to some research (not public), this is not noticed by the majority but elicits positive attention from some minorities.

An illustrative link of how typical the typical advice is: https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified

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Avoid tight deadlines

I am not in your field and not even in the same country, but one piece of advice I would give is to ensure that there is a reasonable span of time between the advertisement and the deadline. It can often take some time for advertisements to actually get noticed, because most people do not check a job site every day, and many people will have very large volumes of electronic mail (hence, it may take a while for them to actually see an advert posted to a mailing-list). Given that you mention a desire to recruit from a diverse pool, it is worth keeping in mind that people with poor health and/or caring responsibilities may find it harder to check for job advertisements regularly and assemble an application in a timely manner.

Basically, you want to avoid situations such as:

I would love to apply for this, but the deadline is 5pm TODAY. If only I had seen the advert last week, I might have been able to apply.

Oh, this job looks fascinating, but it will take a lot of effort to reformat my CV to show me in the best light. Oh, and the deadline is 9am on Monday. More weekend working. Oh, and I had better contact Prof. Domingo to ask for a reference. He never answers electronic mail on the weekend, so I will have to 'phone him and hope he will not mind.

Ah, this would be a dream job. But the deadline is less than 48 hours away, and I promised to take the kids to the beach tomorrow. Would I be a bad mother if I reneged on my promise? I cannot even blame the weather forecast this time! Or maybe, I can take the laptop with me, and be very careful not to get any sand or seawater in it.

Why do I always have to get ill at the wrong time? The mailing-list had an advertisement for this great job a week ago, but by the time I got out of hospital and went through my mailbox properly, I had missed the deadline.

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  • This is really great, thank you. This is another great example of a potential blind spot. I hadn't thought of the deadline as being something that can exclude people, but everything you are saying makes complete sense. – bob Sep 10 at 7:29
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In mathematics, essentially all jobs in North America are advertised at MathJobs.org, so getting more people to see the advertisement will be difficult difficult. Indeed, what is allowed and expected when posting a job opening is very much country dependent.

The candidates will likely be very concerned with the atmosphere in your research group. There are two obvious places possible candidates will look if they are trying to decide to apply or not.

One is the on-line CV that you and other potential supervisors have on your websites. If you did some mentoring be sure you mention that. All those ``synergistic activities'' in your biosketch are things you might want on your website on on an accessible CV.

Before anyone looks at your CV or website, they will be looking at the advertisement. To whom is the advertisement appealing? What campus resources did you decide to mention?

I am not sure about social media as my idea of social media is MathOverflow. I have heard positions mentioned briefly at the end of a talk, so why not do that?

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  • Thank you for this. I think that you are right. The way that we present ourselves and the advertisement is, actually, equally (or even more) important than where we publicize it. – bob Sep 9 at 0:13
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I was recently at a diversity forum, and a Google rep gave a talk that included some of their research on this. They found that in their own job advertisements, there was almost a step function in the number women who applied vs the number of words in the job advertisement. Once the number of words passed a certain threshold, the number of women applicants fell suddenly. (ETA: The theory was this was related to the length of the description of necessary/desirable qualifications)

Also including the boilerplate tagline along the lines of "We welcome diverse applicants of any race/gender/ability..." has been shown to increase diversity in the applicant pool too.

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  • A reference to the effectiveness of the boilerplate would improve this answer. – Tommi Sep 14 at 7:39

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