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Unravelling Meritocracy: Inclusion and Exclusion in Recruiting Academics
Umeå universitet, Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Pedagogiska institutionen.
Umeå universitet, Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Pedagogiska institutionen.
Umeå universitet, Samhällsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Pedagogiska institutionen.
2018 (Engelska)Ingår i: Abstracts: Inclusion and Exclusion, Resources for Educational Research?, EERA, European Educational Research Association , 2018Konferensbidrag, Muntlig presentation med publicerat abstract (Refereegranskat)
Abstract [en]

ContributionFew things in organizations are as clearly including or excluding as recruitment procedures. Through these often standardized methods of selection between candidates for a position, an employer chooses who is believed to be up for the task and who is not. Research on candidate selection is almost exclusively prescriptive. However, there is wide recognition that the labour market and selection of employees is biased towards, for instance, class, gender and race (Horverak, et al., 2013; Moss-Racusin, et al., 2012). Even applicants seem to be aware of such biases (Morrison, 2014). Theoretically, this has been explained in terms of similarity-attraction of recruiters and employers (Graves & Powell, 1995) or a social “organisation fit” between the individual and the organisation (Dafou, 2009). However, little research exists on how selection is actually done in practice (Bolander & Sandberg, 2013) and even less from critical perspectives on how these power relations work in the practical recruitment settings of the workplace.

This paper reports a case study of the academic context and the selection of Swedish full professors in Education. In Sweden, government directions from 2017 stipulate that all HEIs need to gender mainstream their organisations. Especially recruitment and career development is focused in the directions since the number of female full professors still are perceived to be too low (27%) (UKÄ, 2017). Previous gender equality studies of Swedish HE has shown a complexity in understanding how gender inequality in academia works (Haake, 2011; Silander, Haake & Lindberg, 2013).

We chose this case of academia partly for our familiarity of context, but even more on the basis that academic recruitment professes to be, if not completely, as objective and meritocratic as possible. In addition, as independent experts are required to give a detailed argument for preferring one candidate over the other, we have access to documents laying out the reasons a person is considered more or less suited for a position. Hence, in the paper we ask the following research question: How is academic competence argued for and what are the ideals (normative principles) that guide these arguments? In what way could these principles be seen to include or exclude academics according to diversity measures like gender and ethnicity?   

We use the theory of practice developed by Schatzki (2001) and operationalized to recruitment procedures by Lindberg and Rantatalo (2015). In this case, competence is an “inferred potential for desirable activity in a given practice”. This potential is dependent on a number of qualities that involved parts in the recruitment believe that the applicant possesses. These qualities are inferred through a series of symbolic representations in the application procedure (or at the workplace).

By analysis of ideals, qualities and symbols, we add to the knowledge of this phenomenon. As meritocracy is often seen as something intrinsically good, we wish to critically examine how a meritocratic system works in terms of exclusion and inclusion. For instance, there are previous studies suggesting that meritocratic systems might be more biased than other systems (Castilla & Benard, 2010). Thus, we pay particular attention to how qualities and symbols might lead to subtle and unintentional discrimination of women and ethnic minorities. While there are studies on recruitment in academia, previous efforts have mostly been studied with the aid of bibliometrics or large quantitative materials. These studies show that gender (e.g. Castilla & Benard, 2010), ethnicity (Alon & Tienda, 2007) and class (Bozionelos, 2014) works as discriminatory factors in academia’s recruitment procedures. However, there is little insight in how and why this happens, which stresses the importance of qualitative studies on the arguments for selection of candidates in a highly meritocratic system.

MethodTo study the recruitment of full Professors, our data collection includes document studies of 10 recruitment processes of full Professors within the field of Education at Swedish universities. More in detail, our selection targets ten recent recruitments processes in which there were more than two eligible candidates for a position. In relation to these processes, we analyse a ‘chain’ of policy documents that in different ways inform the procedure. Examples of documents include admission requirements from faculty, job advertisements furnished by HR, instructions to expert referee’s, and the written statements on each of the applicants based on the referees assessment of competencies. Due to a principle of public access in the public sector in Sweden, access to these documents is granted and each recruitment procedure involves a multitude of documents. Documents are analysed in two steps. In the first step, the concepts of symbols and qualities are used as a guiding analytical lens. We code the material based on applicants qualities, which we define as traits, abilities or dispositions of character that by expert referees are defined along the lines of being wanted (desirable) or less wanted/unwanted (undesirable). Furthermore, we analyse the associated symbols that relate to qualities. Symbols are, for the purpose of this study, defined as concrete manifestations of activities that exemplify qualities. For example, a trait such as being communicative (an often desirable quality for an applicant), can in a recruitment process be displayed by an applicant who can show participation in an extensive research community or who has many keynote presentations at scientific conferences (symbolisations of the quality). Working in this way, the objective of this analysis is to visualise how symbols relate to inferred qualities. In the second step of the analysis, the previously identified qualities and associated symbols are analysed in light of each other as constituents of practical ideals, which function to govern and socially differentiate applicants from each other in the given context. In sum, this study design gives insights into how subtle mechanisms of social differentiation lead to a potential inclusion or exclusion of applicants that displays certain competencies and dispositions of character. With this analysis as a basis, issues such as bias in the meritocratic recruitment process can be addressed.

Expected OutcomesThis abstract reports on a study that is conducted during the spring of 2018 and from which a preliminary analysis will be presented during the 2018 ECER conference. Of interest is to see, among other things, how different skills relate to each other and how different dispositions of applicants’ character (qualities) are operationalized on a symbolic level. For instance, one question we aim to pursue is how “research skills” relate to “teaching skills” among applicants and how these skills are exemplified in applications. Both are described to be of equal importance for professorates (according to the document-chain until the expert reviews and rankings). Another interesting aspect is to see how concepts such as “quantity” and “quality” operate to differentiate applicants. Is the length of the publication list and productivity in form of most publications in shortest time (a symbol of competitiveness) favoured in relation to quality aspects of research? Furthermore, how are social dispositions among applicants valued as desirable/less desirable? For instance how are inferences made regarding what it means to be a good research leader or supervisor? From the results, a discussion of inclusion and exclusion of women and those of other ethnicity will be conducted.

Ort, förlag, år, upplaga, sidor
EERA, European Educational Research Association , 2018.
Nationell ämneskategori
Pedagogik
Identifikatorer
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-151950OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-151950DiVA, id: diva2:1249458
Konferens
European Conference of Educational Research, Italy, Bolzano, September 3-4, 2018.
Tillgänglig från: 2018-09-19 Skapad: 2018-09-19 Senast uppdaterad: 2018-09-25

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Haake, UlrikaLindberg, OlaRantatalo, Oscar
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