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I am applying for assistant professor positions in the U.S. and Canada, and I often have to fill in forms of voluntary self-identification disclosing my gender, race, veteran status, disabilities etc. I usually do that, even though I am not certain whether and how this information could affect my prospects of getting the job.

However, recently I have been asked to a fill in a form and choose whether I make this information available to the hiring committee:

Please indicate whether you

  • DO NOT wish to self-identify (in which case we request that you make no indications in Sections A through D below and simply return the form with your name and the date only);
  • Wish to self-identify FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY (in which case the information you provide below will be used only by the Equity Office and will not be shared with the Appointments Committee of the Unit to which you are applying); OR
  • Wish to self-identify FOR THE APPOINTMENTS PROCESS AND FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES (in which case the information you provide below may also be used in the Appointments process, in accordance with Article 24 of the Collective Agreement)

(boldface emphasis is mine).

What should I do to increase my chances of getting the job and avoid standing out in a bad way?

I guess that by choosing to make the information available,

  • a Male, Caucasian, Non-disabled person might lose an edge due to preference towards minority candidates; while
  • a Female, Black, Disabled person could gain an edge?

But it could also go the other way around if the hiring committee has preferences that do not quite align with the official policy of supporting minorities etc.

Two somewhat related but different questions are

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    Your last sentence seems to be a critical point. If you can't anticipate the priorities of the hiring committee on these matters then any attempt to "game" the process like this might be futile. – Ian_Fin Nov 15 '16 at 15:26
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    Maybe I'm a bit naive, but isn't academia a rather small world? Even though you have a common first name and a common surname, I don't think it would be extremely hard for the hiring committee to know exactly who you are, no? So if they really wanted to discriminate on this basis they could even without you providing any info, I guess... (Unless your name isn't available to them when they make a decision?) – user9646 Nov 15 '16 at 16:36
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    @NajibIdrissi, you might be right. However, when there are dozens of applicants, this might not be done in practice. I suppose in the first round it is the first impression that matters and no one has much time to dig into your profile too deeply. So when it comes to this first impression, does it pay to make the disclosure available? – Richard Hardy Nov 15 '16 at 16:39
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    What should I do to increase my chances of getting the job? One thing you should probably not do is post questions on Academia Stack Exchange, under your (presumably) real name, in which you freely admit to wishing to tilt the hiring playing field in your favor by strategic sharing or withholding of information about your race, ethnicity etc. I'm trying not to be too judgmental since I understand everyone wants a job, but I personally would be more impressed with your character if you expressed a desire to be judged solely for the quality of your work. Anyway, good luck! – Dan Romik Nov 15 '16 at 21:26
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    "I guess if I were Male, Caucasian, non-disabled etc I might lose an edge due to preference towards minority candidates; while if I were Female, Black, disabled etc I could gain an edge?" - The existence of these preferences is to counteract existing biases away from those groups. – Fomite Nov 16 '16 at 7:08
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I guess if I were Male, Caucasian, non-disabled etc I might lose an edge due to preference towards minority candidates; while if I were Female, Black, disabled etc I could gain an edge?

There are limits to how protected characteristics can be used in affirmative/positive action. By authorizing them to use this information, you can benefit from permitted affirmative/positive action if you qualify. If you do not authorize the use of the information, then you cannot benefit. In regards to permitted affirmative/positive action there is no benefit to withholding information.

There is also a possibility that this information would be used for un-permitted/illegal discrimination. In general, however, illegal affirmative action where minorities are given an advantage does not happen. Rather, there are all sorts of documented implicit and explicit biases that help white male applicants.

In my opinion, if you are not a minority (e.g., a heterosexual white christian male), there is no risk in making the information available. If you are a minority the choice is more difficult. You could benefit from affirmative/positive action, but you could also open yourself up to implicit and explicit biases.

  • Good points (+1). Now one extra question: to which extent can this matter in this early stage of the job market? Should I pay substantial attention when making the choice? – Richard Hardy Nov 15 '16 at 18:08
  • @RichardHardy as I said it depends on if you are a minority. – StrongBad Nov 15 '16 at 18:10
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    you may want to clarify the final paragraph. It's not obvious to me if you use the HWCM term as an example of a minority, or as an example of something that's NOT a minority. – Nzall Nov 15 '16 at 23:08
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Quite frankly, I would suggest to fill in the data and be done with it. I assume you are male, and I guess if there was something "interesting" to tell about you, you would have done so.

I assume that the final decision will not be based on that form alone, either, but will be found after they got to see/talk to you in person. Hence, everything you can fill in will then, finally, be revealed anyways.

If "gaming the system" is of interest to you, look no further than statistical data about the place you are applying to. Are there a high percentage of women/black/disabled people there? Do you clash against the description? Then you may want leave the data off. But you never know how they discriminate (speaking neutrally). The fact whether the data is hidden may even influence them, if not officially, then at least subliminally. Same with every other fact.

In general, I would assume - from a pure psychological viewpoint, and some first-hand experience - that very few to zero deciders are truly and utterly free of prejudices or bias with regards to at least some aspects on that form. Your problem lies in the fact that you cannot know where the bias lies, again assuming that you do not know the people who will read your resume/form. I'm not talking about obvious things like "we cannot decide based on skin colour" or "we need one more disabled to fulfill our quota", but deep-rooted opinions, maybe unconscious ones.

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In many countries, it is actually illegal to make this kind of data available to the hiring committee, and there is a whole class of questions which are forbidden in interviews.

This is explicitly to prevent any (conscious or unconscious) bias on the interviewer side to cloud their judgement. Generally, most people will tend to select applicants who are most like them, but this is obviously not desirable because it leads to "mono-culture".

I don't know the laws in the US or Canada, but generally, I would not recommend disclosing this data to the hiring committee. This means that the HR department will not show the information to whoever decides to invite you for an interview or not, and makes it most likely that you will be judged on your merits rather than any other traits. In some places (the really good ones), HR will not even tell your name, age, gender, or show a picture of your face(*) to the person making the decision. Especially with disabilities, there's always a financial incentive not to hire someone because it may mean you'd need to have a disabled-friendly toilet, step-free access to all facilities or something like that. In most decent places, such information is withheld (as far as possible) from the hiring committee, and HR has a separate fund to deal with any resulting costs, after the hiring decision was made.

==> I would be very reluctant to make this information available to the hiring committee. These are not criteria anyone should be selected for, and the only way to ensure that is if the decision is made without access to this information.

The statistical data, on the other side is used to test, after the fact, if every group of the population is given equal chances: Do men/women/PoC/disabled people with equal qualification have an even chance of being invited for interviews, and of actually landing a job? Especially in larger organisations, is often easy to spot if you have e.g. some racist person making hiring decisions. For any single job, it's often easy to explain why you preferred this person to that one, but if success rates for one group in your place are significantly above/below their success rates in the next department, that's a pretty good indicator...

Some universities in the UK actually publish the demographics of student admission (for example), but I'm not sure if you'll find this for academic hiring in the US ... you may have to dig a little, and you're probably more likely to find news reports about the numbers than a simple PDF. Comparing this data across countries and universities, though, can give you some good information about the realities of discrimination of minorities in the academic world today, as well as how a prospective future employer treats minorities.

(*) attractiveness has subconscious effect, as you might imagine... though not always in the way you'd imagine

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    I don't think it's outright illegal to know this information as a member of the hiring committee in the US, but it's very much not done because the only thing it can do is open you to accusations of bias and potentially lawsuits. The easiest way to deflect, e.g., accusations that you refuse to hire transgender people is to make sure that no one involved in the hiring process knows if the applicants are transgender. I have heard that some companies have policies to reject all candidates where accidental information leakage of this type occurs, as an additional safeguard. – Stella Biderman Jul 30 '18 at 18:15
  • I think knowing anything is never really illegal but asking for it may be. I know e.g. in Germany it is illegal to ask female applicants about family plans. There are still people who will ask the question, and women who will answer because they're afraid they might be disadvantaged otherwise. But since the question is not allowed, it's perfectly legal to lie in response -- although it'd be much better if that wasn't necessary. – Zak Jul 31 '18 at 11:11
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A 2015 study demonstrated that women that faculty members from biology, engineering, and psychology departments prefer female applicants over male applicants:

Men and women faculty members from all four fields preferred female applicants 2:1 over identically qualified males with matching lifestyles (single, married, divorced), with the exception of male economists, who showed no gender preference. Comparing different lifestyles revealed that women preferred divorced mothers to married fathers and that men preferred mothers who took parental leaves to mothers who did not. Our findings, supported by real-world academic hiring data, suggest advantages for women launching academic science careers.

We also know that African Americans and Hispanics are typically favored over European-Americans & Asian-Americans in college admissions:

In court papers, Arlington, Virginia-based Students for Fair Admissions said an Asian-American male applicant with a 25 percent chance of admission would have a 35 percent chance if he was white, 75 percent if he were Hispanic and a 95 percent chance if he were black.

Also, there are numerous campaigns worldwide to increase the number of women or minorities in STEM, offering scholarships, and other opportunities to women or minorities that are not offered to white men. There are even some academic jobs where only women are allowed to apply, like this Assistant Professor Position for the Vienna University of Technology or these three senior positions at the university of Melbourne.

Therefore, as a white male, I would be inclined to not mention race or gender on my applications for tenure track job applications, especially with respect to positions in a STEM field.

For the same reason, I would be inclined to mention my gender as a woman or my race if I were black of Hispanic.

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