Workshop supports inclusive search for Global Ecology scientists

Interlocking hands

Carnegie Institution for Science staff in the Department of Global Ecology took part in a half-day professional development workshop on how to implement an inclusive search in November. Participants included scientists who will be engaged in providing feedback on candidates for new Staff Associate and Senior Staff Scientist positions. The virtual workshop supported the institution’s deep commitment to scientific excellence and to increased diversity in STEM fields. 

Stephanie Goodwin, founder of Incluxion Works Inc., tailored the interactive workshop, How to Conduct an Inclusive Search in STEM, to the department’s hiring objectives. Goodwin has more than 20 years of experience in academia, including 10 years leading efforts for faculty equity and inclusion in STEM disciplines. She provides consultation services for Carnegie’s committee for diversity, equity and inclusion. 

The department aims to attract candidates who will enrich and foster a diverse and inclusive environment. To meet that objective, Goodwin first asked participants to define a successful search. Some participants said they want the best people for the job. Some said they value multiple perspectives. Others listed goals to build and broaden the capacity in the organization, cultivate talent for the future, contribute to collaboration, and ensure a fair process. Pointing out how language shapes the hiring process, Goodwin showed that fair processes need checks and balances to ensure consensus, rather than conformity. 

Participants reviewed research that shows how diversity in human capital within the sciences increases scientific excellence. Yet barriers to inclusion can be cognitive and motivational, as well as individual and structural. Goodwin shared research findings that, counterintuitively, demonstrate that the more objective people feel, the more biased their judgments  may become. In other words, feeling morally credentialed—for instance, feeling we are exempt from bias—can lead us to ironically trust our gut reactions, including our biased preferences and stereotypes about who “fits” in certain roles and professions. 

“‘Fit’ is a very subjective term that allows us to push people out of organizations for all kinds of reasons,” Goodwin said. Sometimes unintended preferences and gut reactions that are irrelevant to our hiring goals can interfere with implementing an equitable search. 

Goodwin offered a number of evidence-based suggestions for mitigating such biases. These included using consistent evaluation rubrics, calibrating to ensure committee members use these rubrics consistently, and avoiding premature ranking and rating of candidates. Such premature actions can lead to the exclusion of diverse talent when judges become focused on numbers and rankings rather than candidate strengths. In developing a rubric—and therefore the criteria for evaluating candidates—Goodwin stressed the value of considering the wide range of traits and characteristics that may make candidates successful in their scientific roles. In addition, it is important to consider the workload of people on the hiring committee, and allow time for the hiring process. TIme-pressure and distraction undermine the attention committee members need to provide thoughtful and equitable consideration of all candidates, and increase the risk that unintended bias would shape search outcomes. 

“This training was incredibly helpful in helping the search committee define a clear, transparent, and objective process for recruiting and evaluating candidates ,” said Anna Michalak, department director. 

Follow-on training included a pre-recorded presentation by Goodwin about how to establish ground rules for deliberation within the hiring committee. Ground rules ensure committee members understand and agree on a process that ensures full participation of all committee members in deliberations. Knowing the ground rules for agreement enriches discussions and will contribute to fostering a culturally diverse and inclusive environment for the Department of Global Ecology.