In Part One I talked about to move from one part of the Big Tent of Librarianship to another. In this post, I’ve turned the focus on those on the hiring committee, the ones who decide who can join them in their part of the Big Tent. If you took a close look at your workplace, you will probably find that the majority of your coworkers share similar life and work experiences. They will probably look similar to you too. Unless you have the power and authority to definitively change hiring practices at your place of work, you might be wondering how you can make room for folks from other parts of the library field when you are just another search committee member. How do you sway the recruitment process to venture away from the cultural “fit” default?
A major part as to why you see a homogeneous workplace is implicit bias. Implicit bias is about our attitudes toward stereotypes - both positive and negative - that are held on an unconscious level. While you might have worked on correcting attitudes and stereotypes you held in the past, chances are you only worked on the external bias that you hold, since external biases are easier to spot in everyday thinking and behavior. In short, you are biased, your search committee members are biased - and you all might not even know it. If you are sceptical that you are biased - even after all those hours and work you put in not being actively biased - take the test on the Project Implicit site. Implicit bias is a reflex that takes active, consistent work in recognizing and addressing over time on a personal level. You have probably seen implicit bias mentioned in conversations about race, gender, age, and ability, but implicit bias also plays into someone’s judgement of another person based on their school or workplace.
Combating the implicit bias present in the search committee can take on many forms. The first place to start is awareness - your HR or organization might already have an implicit bias training in place, or have a section on implicit bias in the materials that the hiring committee receives for the hiring process. If neither of those are the case, talking to HR and the hiring committee chair about addressing implicit bias in the hiring process will start the conversation in your organization.
Moving on to the job post that your committee is drafting, pay attention to the tone of the post. Look at any key words or phrases are you using that might turn off qualified candidates from applying. Take this example phrase in a required qualifications section of a job post - “experience in an academic library”. Widening the net and changing the phrase to “experience in a library setting” (or another broad phrase) opens up the candidate pool to those who have the skills but not in the setting of an academic library.
Another strategy to combat implicit bias is blind reviews. This will take some buy in from the committee and HR if your organization does not perform blind reviews already. Usually blind reviews take the person’s name or any gender or racial identifiers off of the application materials, and this is where a good portion of the literature regarding blind reviews focus on. Removing school and employment identifiers is not as commonly practiced as removing name, gender, or racial identifiers; nonetheless some organizations have taken that route. A non-library example of this is with an UK law firm who stripped out the names of educational institutions on resumes to ensure that the evaluators will judge the candidates on their skills and not the reputation of the school the candidates attended. Another company that specializes in the blind review process found that when they removed educational institution identifiers that applications from community college graduates rose 15%.
You might not be in a position to have your HR department develop a blind review process. You might not even have a say in what the job posting says when it goes out to the public. In those cases, when you see candidates who have the skills and experience but not in “right” type of library, advocate! While it is on the candidate to ultimately show that they have the skills to succeed in the position, it is on the hiring committee to evaluate candidates without penalizing for experience gained at the ‘wrong’ part of the Tent.
Further Reading on Implicit Bias
- For a longer, related read about how racial bias has shaped our profession - including who is part of the profession - and ways to address this problem, I recommend Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science.
Becky Yoose is the Library Systems and Applications Manager at The Seattle Public Library. This is her second post for LtaYL. The first was "Fitting” into the Big Tent: The Role of “Fit” and Moving Between Library Types She tweets at @yo_bj.