This is one of the big fails on equality initiatives in academia (one of many, in my opinion).
For everyone to have equal opportunity to apply for a job vacancy, it is often a requirement that the position is made public to everyone and anyone that wishes to apply. As a rule of thumb, this is actually a pretty good idea. If everyone can apply, the selection would be based on merit. So, why is it a problem at all?
As an equality measure, this loses the big picture.
Researchers are often hired on a contract basis, with no promotion scheme.
When a contract finishes, it is often easy to just renew the current contract if more work is available. However, when it comes to promotion (e.g. moving from research assistant to research associate), moving from research into tenure track positions, or hiring of PhD students as postdocs, things change. The person looking to be promoted does not have a ‘path to follow’. The solution is to apply for a new vacancy on the role that the person is looking to be promoted for.
And guess what happens!?
In the hope to be promoted, you can get fired.
If a vacancy is open for the purpose of your promotion. And the vacancy needs to be made available for everyone under equal opportunities. Then if another candidate gets selected, you will get fired rather than promoted.
So, easy way for Universities to not promote anyone. Isn’t it?
What happens next!? People get creative and start gaming the system.
If the system is unfair to people being promoted, people pull some “tricks” that pushes the unfairness somewhere else. They game the system by creating a job description that is really hard to fulfil.. unless you are the person being promoted. It is almost like asking that “You must have a thesis named X as a requirement for this job”.
The unfairness on the promotion track gets pushed into the hiring process.
Rather than giving equal opportunities, the hiring process is just making applicants waste their time in this instance.
Now you have a tailor-made job advertisement for a vacancy that is not REALLY vacant. You ask people all around the world to waste their time applying for it. You spend resources of a whole team interviewing people and organising a selection process just to arrive at the obvious result. The person who was supposed to be promoted, gets promoted.
Note that no one is scheming to put the person in or giving an unfair advantage. Instead, the person IS the most qualified for the position exactly because how the advertisement was framed. In my opinion, not fair with any of the people applying and not fair with the person who is looking for (and deserving of) a promotion.
So, next time you apply for a job in academia, if you see a VERY specific type of job advertisement, remember:
Not all vacancies are vacant.
Know A University Doing “Path to Promotion” Right?
I have been in EDI (Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion) discussions for a while and the “path to promotion” of contract researchers is always in the list.
If you know of a University that has done this right and eliminated the unfairness in the hiring process as a consequence, please let me know.
I would love to feature it here in the newsletter.