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Self-selection bias in job searches

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

Creating an inclusive working environment and ensuring that teams, labs, and departments are composed of a diverse set of people is not only socially responsible, but fosters excellence by diversifying ideas and perspectives and making people feel comfortable to contribute those ideas and perspectives. Yet, we face many challenges to achieve diversity, inclusivity, and equity in academia and industry (an excellent book on this topic has been written by Abigail Stewart & Virginia Valian 2018).

The first step to creating a diverse academy is to ensure that people from different genders and sexual orientations, people from different social-economic and ethnic/racial backgrounds, and people with and without disabilities enter an applicant pool in job searches. There are many reasons why a person may or may not choose to apply for a job, but some reasons can correlate with gender, ethnicity/race, and other factors that ideally would not contribute to the choice of whether to apply. This blog aims to raise awareness of the empirical observation that women and people from minority groups tend to apply only when they feel their skill level fits the criteria requested in a job advertisement very well, whereas more privileged people (e.g., white, men) tend to worry about this to a lesser degree.

Two points are important. First, women and people from minority groups may feel less qualified in terms of their skills and knowledge compared to people with a more privileged status (e.g., white, men) even if there is no objective skill/knowledge difference (e.g., Dunning et al. 2003; Torres-Guijarro & Bengoechea 2016; Beyer 1990Stewart & Valian, 2018). Second, women and people from minority groups may only feel comfortable to apply when they see a fit with all of the requested criteria in a job ad, whereas people with a more privileged status (e.g., white, men) may feel comfortable when they fit only some of the requested criteria (Stewart & Valian, 2018, p. 175-176). These factors may result in self-selection behavior that can differ along gender, ethnicity/race, social class, and other criteria.

There are important measures that any search committee can implement when creating a job ad in order to increase the potential for a rich applicant pool with people from different ethnic/racial and social-economic backgrounds and different genders and sexual orientation (Canada Funding Agencies; Stewart & Valian, 2018, p. 169ff). Nevertheless, a self-selection bias may hinder some people from applying despite being qualified. Please apply! I hope this blog contributes to awareness of such self-selection biases and helps potential applicants to consider these tendencies in their evaluations about fit with the advertised job. Please apply for jobs that you find interesting! The more people with different backgrounds and experiences enter an applicant pool, the better the chances of diverse teams, labs, and department in the future. Apply, apply, apply ... you work hard and deserve the opportunity to be seen and considered. Your application will contribute to diversity.

~ Björn Herrmann ~

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