Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Personal Experience with Hiring

My Astroparticle Physics Laboratory at Goddard has 14 scientists, most of whom are physicists and 50% of whom are women.  That is a high female fraction for a largely physics-oriented organization and I thought it would be useful to write today about how it came about.

Goddard has good policies about diversity in the workplace.  Here is the policy statement, known as the Business Case for Diversity at Goddard:  "It is the policy of NASA's GSFC to develop and maintain a vital and effective workforce by involving employees in the creation of a work environment conducive to their best performance according to the Center's values and goals.  Our objective is to foster an organizational climate where employee diversity and mutual respect are catalysts for creativity and team effectiveness."

There are also strong policies at NASA against discrimination and bias, but I like the fact that the diversity statement is aimed toward performance and team effectiveness, and was developed as a business case.  It is a good way to think about diversity and the best motivation for open hiring practices.

The female fraction in the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory has increased over the past 15 years, a time period in which more women candidates became available to apply for openings.  In all of our hires, the job was open to all candidates and selection was based on skills, publications, letters and interviews.

So, there were no biases in the hiring, but there were factors at play that I think increased the chances of recruiting women.  One was the snowball effect (see my napkin drawing above).  After a couple of women were hired, they helped get the word to other women when a new opportunity arose.  Another part of the snowball effect is "good buzz", where colleagues see the group as a good place to steer their female students and postdocs when they are looking for jobs.  A final part of the snowball effect is the positive environment that develops with increasing diversity, and that is evident to candidates on interviews and recruitment visits.

The take-away:
1) Have a hiring policy that is focused on performance and team effectiveness and seeks candidates of all types to meet those goals.
2) Get the message out that the work-place atmosphere is people-friendly and all team members are treated not only with respect, but with enthusiastic support.