Recruiting for diversity: a NNS/NS diversity based recruitment policy by Andy Hockley

Note: This is the second of two blog posts. The first sought to explain what diversity is all about and why it is important, and specifically why it is important in our context in language teaching organisations (and indeed what it should mean to us).  This one, the second, is intended to offer some ideas about how we can think about our hiring policies and practices such that we ensure a diverse group of teachers and other staff.

Recruiting for Diversity

An NNS/NS diversity based recruitment policy

In the previous post, hopefully I managed to make it clear why diversity – in all its forms – is something we should strive for. This diversity is a two stage process – firstly an ethical and diversity focussed recruitment policy, and secondly a genuinely inclusive and open communication process as in any learning organisation.

Here, I will be looking at the first of these, the creation of an ethical recruitment policy and set of practices. The second question – that of building a genuine learning organisation – requires more space than a simple blog post will permit.

Surprisingly, perhaps, it is not quite as simple as making it a policy to hire a mixture of native and non-native speakers, or indeed any other policy that promotes a diversity-based recruitment policy. Clearly that is a good first step, and one that needs to be taken if your language teaching organisation (LTO) doesn’t already have such a policy. But even with such a policy we have a number of cognitive biases that are an obstacle to truly making unbiased hiring decisions. We base decisions on our own experiences and often our own autobiography. We also find it very hard, if we are a member of a privileged group, to recognise that privilege. We like to believe that we got where we are through merit alone.  When the status quo is challenged we (those of us of privilege) feel attacked.   This, unfortunately, feels more true today than it ever has, in the year of Brexit and Trump’s election. Bias affects everyone, not just those who are proud of that fact, but also those of us who like to see ourselves as free of any form of prejudice. In short, we are biased, regardless of good intentions or awareness.

Research conducted in firms that championed diversity found that actually during hiring decisions, any of these unconscious biases came to the fore. When candidates were asked to solve maths problems (in the banking sector, for example), men were assumed to be “having a bad day” if they got something wrong, whereas for women it was an indication of a lack of ability. In other examples,  white men who were shy or nervous were seen as modest, whereas non-whites were seen as unassertive. (Burrell, 2016)

In our context, I’ve heard academic managers who are recruiting teachers say that they’d rather hire someone with a CELTA than someone with a three year degree from a pedagogical university. Now it’s possible that there are reasonable reasons for this – some such degrees have no practical component, whereas with someone who has successfully passed the CELTA you know you’re getting someone who’s survived under pressure and has spent, well, 6 hours in the classroom. But be sure, is this decision founded upon genuine reasons or is it simply that “I went through the CELTA, I understand this route into teaching, because it’s just like mine, and therefore I’m comfortable with it”?

So, within your hiring systems you need, as much as possible, to try and remove that bias from the process.  You can do this in part through software – famously, for example, Google uses algorithms as part of its  hiring process – which can remove the possibility that you, the person making the decision, will be unconsciously influenced by something you see on the applicant’s CV, such as name, age, background, and so on – the list of possible things that can subtly touch your inner biases is almost endless!  At present these pre-built software solutions may be beyond the reach of most LTOs, but it is worth looking at what Google or GapJumpers, say, are doing to eliminate bias to see if it can be replicated in some way in your own context.

Once you begin interviewing, you need to be much more structured. In short, stop going with your instinct.  You instinct is biased.  Ask everyone the same questions and in the same order. Make sure (as much as it is humanly possible) to make the process as systematic and objective as you can. Ideally, have an interview panel, which will again reduce the level of subjectivity. We work in education – we know that we can’t rank students’ ability on their answers to entirely different questions, so why do we still do this in interviews?

The key here is to ask the same questions in the same order – and to note down our responses to their answers after each question, not only at the end of the interview. That way we can compare like with like – what everyone said in response to Question 2, for example.

Finally if you find you are choosing between two roughly equally qualified candidates for the same job, then accept that you have biases and choose the one that represents “diversity” more than the other.  I know that sounds like some form of bias in the other direction, but that’s the only way you break down bias. If you’re playing darts and you consistently throw lower than the target you’re aiming at, the only way to counteract that is to aim higher. Higher than feels natural, higher than feels right. Only then will you start breaking out of the habit of shooting low.

In conclusion, diversity (in all its aspects) is important. Many years’ worth of studies show that it improves performance, decisions making, creativity, innovation and flexibility. In our profession, diversity includes hiring non-native speaker teachers as much as it does anything else.  By discriminating in favour of native speaker teachers (whether consciously or unconsciously) we are not helping our own organisations and failing our students.

hockley5042Andy Hockley is the co-ordinator of IATEFL’s Leadership and Management SIG (LAMSIG) and is a freelance educational management consultant and trainer based in deepest Transylvania. He has been training (both teachers and managers) for 20 years and has been coordinating and training on the IDLTM (International Diploma in Language Teaching Management) since its inception in 2001. He is co-author of ‘From Teacher to Manager’ (CUP, 2008), ‘Managing Education in the Digital Age’ (The Round, 2014) and author of ‘Educational Management’ (Polirom, 2007).

Bibliography & Further Reading

Bock, L. (2015) Work rules!: Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead. United States: Grand Central Publishing.

Bohnet, I. (2016) How to take the bias out of interviews. Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/04/how-to-take-the-bias-out-of-interviews (Accessed: 11 November 2016).

Burrell, L. (2016) We just can’t handle diversity. Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/07/we-just-cant-handle-diversity (Accessed: 24 August 2016).

Morse, G. (2016) Designing a bias-free organization. Available at: https://hbr.org/2016/07/designing-a-bias-free-organization (Accessed: 24 August 2016).

PolicyTerms, A.P. and ConditionsDisclaimerCandidates’Security (2015) Diversity in the workplace benefits employers. Available at: http://www.adecco.co.uk/news/diversity-in-the-work-place.aspx (Accessed: 19 August 2016).

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