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I am searching for a job at a small liberal arts college in the United States, and I was recently interviewed via Skype by a search committee. One of the questions I asked was "What things are your institution experiencing/initiating with regard to recent trends in the STEM fields?"

The interviewers covered a variety of topics in their detailed response, and one in particular stood out to me: "We are really trying to hire from underrepresented demographic groups in our discipline, for instance, someone that is X, Y, or Z."

That statement led me to the following questions, which I would like to pose to academia.se:

  1. While I wholeheartedly agree with the principle behind their statement and I realize that most departments have this objective, is it considered appropriate for an interviewer to be so explicit about that preference?

  2. Given that I was doing a Skype interview, it was fairly obvious that I did not fall into any of the categories named by the interviewer. What would be the best way for me to respond to a statement like that?

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    I can see job ads including an "equal opportunity" statement, but I can't say I've ever heard it stated during the actual interview. It's almost begging a candidate from the non-represented group to respond. I think under those circumstances, it's best to simply say "Yes, I noticed your commitment to those efforts in the job ad" and leave at that. – Inde Jan 21 '17 at 12:01
  • (1) If I were on a hiring committee, I would not make this type of remark. It seems like a legal mine field. (2) They may have preferences for certain groups, but the reality may end up being that the candidates who are most qualified and give the best interviews are not members of those groups. Just put your best foot forward and don't worry about what you can't control. – Ben Crowell Jan 21 '17 at 18:56
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Discussions about how to improve participation from underrepresented groups in academia are not uncommon in interviews, even when the interviewee does not come from such a group. That a department has a strong commitment to hiring people from underrepresented groups is an important thing for the interviewee to know about the department. After all, if the interviewee is hired, they are going to be expected to be part of the departmental team that is working toward broadening participation.

If you are interviewing for faculty positions and are not part of an underrepresented group, it is still a very good idea to have thought carefully about the underlying issue. When the issue comes up in an interview, you should be able to voice your support for broadening involvement in your field. You should also have some specific thoughts about why this in important and, most crucially, how you can help. Hiring you may not represent direct progress toward the goal, but you have an opportunity to show that you are enthusiastic about recruiting students from underrepresented groups and working to hire people from those groups when you are part of the faculty.

  • Indeed. You can respond my acknowledging that you are clearly not the solution to this problem, but that you agree with the goal, that it is an important consideration for your as well, and that you have in the past worked on X, Y, and Z to improve the situation in the department you had been in before. – Wolfgang Bangerth Jan 21 '17 at 14:43
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    "You have an opportunity to show that you are enthusiastic about recruiting students from underrepresented groups" -- perhaps you could add "and supporting their success in the department." – aparente001 Jan 22 '17 at 15:15

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