true colors?

Mar 11 2011 Published by under academia, colleagues, exhaustion, gender, hiring

As you may know, my department is in the middle of a junior faculty search. I went through the search process as a candidate last year, but this year I'm sitting in the room on the other side of the process. It is...illuminating. The process has certainly made me see some of my new colleagues from a very different perspective.

First, the statistics: we had almost 600 applicants for our position. 30-50 were very, very good. We picked less than 1/4 of these to interview.

I noticed that there were several women that disclosed in their application that they were married to male scientists that would also be looking for a job. Many of these women were REALLY good. In fact, I would say that all of the men were the trailing spouses. We did not interview ANY of these women (or men). I would like to know who gave these applicants the HORRIBLE advice to disclose this info in the initial job packet. Negotiating a two-body issue is something that happens after a job offer has been made. Please, women of the sciences that aspire to the tenure track: DO NOT MENTION YOUR MARITAL STATUS IN YOUR COVER LETTER.

And now, a thing that really pisses me off: the extra scrutiny. I have noticed that the white d00ds that I work with have a habit of looking at certain candidates a little more closely than normally. Not in a good way. For instance, when women did not mention a 2-body problem, there was generally some discussion about whether we could "guess" if there was a second body. This was NEVER brought up for male candidates, though I assume that the men were just as likely to be married to another scientist. But the real kicker was that EVERY single non-white sounding name would lead my colleagues to reveal that they are assholes. People would wonder whether their English was "understandable". Yes, we do some teaching in our department. BUT SERIOUSLY, these are folks that have had a very successful postdoc. They wrote papers and gave talks at conferences. Many have been in the US since they were undergraduates. WTF?!

And then, there were a few instances of bad behavior that made me so mad that I wanted to throw something. I am not going to go into details with these, because I would like to maintain some level of pseudonymity. These events often involved ridiculous statements made directly to candidates. And this is when everyone was supposed to be on their best behavior!! I tried to "nudge" my more senior colleagues when I witnessed these incidents. I tried to explain why their "innocent" statements were offensive (in the most respectful way possible). On one occasion I was so horrified that I even went to the Chair to make sure he knew what was going on.

So, here is a question for my esteemed reader(s): as a junior faculty, should I just shut my trap and keep my head down? Or should I keep pointing out when things are fucked up, in the hopes that I will be able to "nudge" the d00ds to behave better?

56 responses so far

  • Dr Becca says:

    Gah, how horrible!! Since I haven't seen the other side of faculty hiring discussions (YET), I don't have a lot of advice for you, but it sounds like you handled things very tactfully. Still, it must be frustrating to see bad behavior within your department--especially face-to-face with the candidates!

  • NatC says:

    I have no advice, but more of a question to the general audience.
    I know several committees have been...curious about whether I have a trailing spouse, or a spouse that might interfere with any potential decisions on a job offer. I know this because people have asked me during the interview - it's always been handled well, in the most unoffensive way. When asked, I'm honest, if not asked (not happened yet) I wouldn't mention anything.
    My question is this: do men also get asked if they have a spouse, if they are in science, if they would influence the decision-making process?
    I'm curious because my guy friends (admittedly a small sample size) report having never been asked that question during an interview.

    • gerty-z says:

      None of our male candidates were asked this question, as far as I know, and most of the fellows I know that have been on the market report not having been asked. It just never seems to come up (riiiiiiiight). I was asked on every single interview. Apparently this is only a concern for female candidates.

    • GMP says:

      I was asked every time (the wedding ring is a giveaway, I guess). I responded and that enabled me to tell them that I expected help with spousal placement (non-TT). But putting marital status in cover letter is completely unnecessary. You want them to give you an interview based on your CV/letters/technical qualifications - period.
      If they like you well enough to get an interview, that's when you can convey the marital status.
      I think waiting to get an offer is too late to mention a spouse/significant other, because a good offer will likely include something for the spouse if that's what you are after.

    • namnezia says:

      I was asked every time in one form or another.

    • A says:

      I am male (aka d00d), I had 18 tenure track interviews this season and at EACH of them I was asked if I have a family. Often by more than one person. People do it in order to know if you need help with the trailing spouse or info on local schools, etc. Obviously finding a job for trailing spouse is a pain in the ass that the chair might want to avoid and this negatively affects married candidates...

    • I was asked every time. I have never asked any candidates myself. In my department, it has not come up when discussing candidates, but it has in other searches I have seen (speculation on a trailing spouse).

  • Wow, that's pretty insane. I don't have any advice but I did have the opportunity to serve on a faculty search committee while in graduate school and I didn't observe much behavior like this at meetings. There was some scrutiny concerning minorities etc, and on occasion the language speaking did come up. But this was quickly assessed by a short phone call to the candidate. If anything, minority candidates appeared to be screened to ensure that we had at least one come through on an interview, and there wasn't much discussion of two-body body problems for the women (there were several women on the search committee). So perhaps there is hope one day that things will change as more women climb the academic ladder? Best of luck figuring out how to tactfully navigate your situation.

  • GEARS says:

    How many people on the search committee are women or have trailing spouses? If there aren't any, that's a reason why they would have that bias.

    I think you handled it OK, but if it really frosts you, then I would stick your neck out a little bit more. Maybe there are other people on the committee just as appalled as you are but they are also apprehensive about doing so.

    Sometimes we need to see by the light of our burning bridges...

  • physioprof says:

    Keep your head down, do your work, and get tenure.

  • CoR says:

    I feel you here. I've recently run into the same things...luckily we have a slew of younger female (&male) faculty that are of similar mind (some tenured, some not) regarding these issues. That said, there are still issues running through the dept, and another young faculty recently said something very smart: change just most often takes time. Time has to pass for people to retire, etc. etc.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    “(A)s a junior faculty, should I just shut my trap and keep my head down? Or should I keep pointing out when things are fucked up, in the hopes that I will be able to ‘nudge’ the d00ds to behave better?”


    You should speak out, but nudging colleagues is not likely to accomplish nothing.

    Your institution should have an Equal Opportunity / Affirmative Action office and representative. Ours does:

    You should be able to talk to the EO/AA rep and tell him or her the problems you described with the search process. At our institution, the EO/AA representative is answerable only to the president (i.e., not beholden to department politics) and takes confidentiality seriously.

    If your university doesn’t have that, there should be a compliance hotline or something else.

    The bottom line is: take this outside the department. There should be a person whose job is to make sure that all job applicants are treated fairly.

    This is a serious legal issue. Applicants and candidates can use these kinds of unequal treatment and bad behaviour as a reason to sue the institution. Some might try to sue the individual members of the search committee.

    As Johnny Blaze said: “You can't live in fear.”

    Do not tolerate this.

    • Zen Faulkes says:

      D’oh! “Nudging colleagues is not likely to accomplish nothing.” Stoopid double negative! Should have been, “nudging colleagues is not likely to accomplish anything.” Or “nudging colleagues is likely to accomplish nothing.”

      • DrugMonkey says:

        And I disagree with Zen. Sometimes good hearted people really haven't thought about how the culture they've been trained in is discriminatory.

        • Zen Faulkes says:

          Very true.

          It could well be that people can smarten up if they get the right message from a colleague. But it's important to know that people have options if they don't think a few well-placed words are going to get the job done. I got the impression that was the case here.

          But it’s hard to get a reading on the situation from a distance... or a blog post.

          • gerty-z says:

            I am not inclined to take this outside the department at this point. So far, when it has come up the folks I talk to are receptive to listening to my take on these things. I'm sure that I will not be able to change things immediately, but I don't want to be too aggressive. I still have to get tenure, too.

        • brooksphd says:

          I was chatting with an aquaintance the other, a new guy in town, and he was making the most appalling racist comments and honestly didn't know he was being racist. I was horried and it made it clear he was bang out of order. He genuinely seemed upset that I thought he was an asshole with a bad attitude to black americans.

          Sometimes people genuinely DO NOT GET IT.

    • namnezia says:

      Hmmm... I would stick with CPPs advice.

  • Postdoc says:

    I think you should keep your head down and get the tenure first... and point out when things are fucked up only after that. Most people hate to be criticized... even if you are right.

    By the way, what makes someone one of the best applicants? What are you looking for when selecting for interview? How many papers (first author, other) do they have? Do they have any active funding?

    • gerty-z says:

      this is a whole 'nother set of posts. You should probably check out Dr. Becca's excellent tenure-track advice aggregator ( Short answer: there is not a single "formula". All the top candidates have published papers and, most have (or have had) external funding. After that it comes down to how well the application is written, how good the letters are, and whether we think the research plan fits well in the department.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Imma gonna disagree with PP. Sometimes you have to be that guy.

    Look, you have to be smart about it but there are ways to nudge without killing your tenure chances in most of these situations. You don't want to put people on the spot but there are ways. Talk a lot about allowable HR policy and how you are looking out for the Dept.

    • gerty-z says:

      This advice resonates with me. I feel like if I just keep silent then nothing will change. And I am trying hard to make points without actually specifically calling out anyone. I certainly don't want to irritate all the d00ds that are going to be voting on my tenure, or have them think of me as "that girl"* that is more concerned about __x__ than her research.

      *yes, that is what SOME of them call me 🙁

      • drugmonkey says:

        and I have found, in my life of privilege with dangly bits, that people do respect others for having opinions and being willing to state them. They don't like arrogant asses, of course, and it is not exactly comfortable if your opinions challenge their own. But on the whole, I have found many people to appreciate my...candor.

  • nparmalee says:

    Certain behavior is illegal for a reason. When the protections that exist (and were achieved by people who put it all on the line, either out of principle, or because they had no choice) are not invoked, they become toothless.

    Industry has a heathy fear of litigation that academia seems to lack. Industry didn't come by this altruistically. They came by it during moments of reflection while endlessly peeling off crisp hundred dollar bills to pay off settlements. That many benjamins take a long time to count, thus, a long time for reflection.

    All involved should consider the potential damage to the prestige of a department or institution of a high profile lawsuit. That kind of outcome is not good for anyone, and would reflect a catastrophic series of failures where intervention was possible at every step.

    Personally, I see institutional embarrassment as the inevitable outcome, since people who see the issues and care generally feel powerless, and in many academic cultures, there is a lack of awareness of what is legally acceptable and what is not. I keep saying this in the hope that a few people of sufficient character and will would choose to do something to avert an otherwise universally unpleasant outcome.

  • jc says:

    "Sometimes you have to be that guy"

    Yes, if you are a GUY, you are better positioned speaking up to the asshats about their discriminatory bullshit. But if you are a woman, you are fucked if you speak up. If there is an ADVANCE office or a woman in a powerful position that you are close to, then go see them. Only talk to people YOU TRUST because chances are, it will come back to bite you in the ass.

    Keep your head down and get your tenure. Put your own oxygen mask on first, then help others when you are secure.

  • Dr. O says:

    I just first have to vent some about how much this PISSES me off, not least of all because I'm in the position of several of these women (and I did NOT talk about my marital status in my application packet). I'm theoretically on the short list at several institutions, waiting to find out if I'll get an interview, sitting on pins and needles. The idea that my possible marital status might affect the chances of getting an interview makes me ANGRY BEYOND BELIEF!!

    I myself have no advice, since I wouldn't want to be the person that put my own tenure chances in jeopardy if I was a junior faculty member, and I have no feel for how this would go over with your *colleagues* if you did speak up. I am interested if there are many women on the committee, and if they're making these comments or speaking up when they're made. If you are going to speak up yourself, though, I think DM gives some good advice on how to go about it.

    But still...grrrrrrrr. :{

    • gerty-z says:

      Dr. O. It pisses me off, too. I am the only female on the search committee (and the only jr. faculty). There have been a couple of times that I have spoken to the other (tenured) women in my department. They all seem upset, but no one seems to do anything. I asked why once and was basically told "I'm too tired to keep fighting that battle. Good luck to you if you want to try, though". On the plus side, though, one of my male colleagues-who is on the search committee, too-is definitely "that guy" and has been great. But still...grrrrrr

      • Dr. O says:

        I asked why once and was basically told “I’m too tired to keep fighting that battle. Good luck to you if you want to try, though”.

        Double depressing.

  • In response to one of the early posts, I (male) was subtly asked at almost all of my interviews about a spouse. It was always very subtle and I can see guys forgetting even being asked the question. At places located in the middle of nowhere, I asked if the school had anything in place to help my spouse find a job since she's not on the academic track. A two-body problem in academia though would have been much trickier. The advise I got from male professors was to bring up the topic on my own at the interview, since if they bring you in there are already interested, and if they like you at the interview, then will then make the effort to get you there.

    On a separate topic, our school does have a separate equal opportunity office that is external from the departments and colleges that oversees the hiring process and they are always checking to make sure everything is run kosher. If things in your department are bad, you should very much see if there's an office like this on your campus and report them. For all your colleagues know, one of the candidates might have complained.

  • Ewan says:

    As a male candidate two years ago, I was asked every time (7 interviews, I think) what my spousal/family situation was. I know that it was a concern for some places (my wife's an industry-employed PhD chemical engineer, far more remunerative than academia!) but the consensus seemed to be that that was my problem, they were going to go ahead and make offers anyway. I was boggled quite how little attention many places paid to the law, but not really bothered.

    I'm very much in the 'speak up' camp - similar Qs have come up in two areas here, and the decisions to be active have both brought a bunch of positive feedback from others who were hoping that someone would be. Maybe there're also negative effects that I'm not seeing - oh well.

  • "Negotiating a two-body issue is something that happens after a job offer has been made."

    A tangential point to your post- but in my field, waiting *this* long is also unlikely to be helpful in securing a job for the trailing spouse. It often takes a couple of months for a department to scout out the possibility of obtaining funding for a 2nd position. Wait until that offer comes in March or April and you could be out of luck.

    General advice in my field of engineering is to be honest (but not over-the-top) about your situation, if asked, while on your interview. If the dept really is interested in you, they will likely follow up with you to learn more about your 2-body needs as they try to put together an offer.

    Putting this info in a cover letter is ridiculous.

    • gerty-z says:

      Good point, CE. I am obviously only speaking of my own small area of experience. Thanks for insight from the Engineering world! I suspect that even in my field there are times when it may be useful to bring up a 2 body issue at the first interview. It just seems really hard to know when the information will be held against you (and thus precluding a job offer) and when it will be used to secure a 2nd position.

  • Dr. W says:

    As another male, when I was on the academic job circuit I also was frequently asked about my family situation. One woman even said "It is illegal for me to ask this, but ...."!
    And when I wasn't explicitly asked, there were a number of awkward changes-of-topic to how good the local elementary schools were, etc. Oddly enough, it seemed that the female professors would almost always be the ones to ask.

  • gerty-z says:

    OK, I stand corrected. Clearly even male candidates are being asked about another body. Thanks for the heads-up, guys!

  • becca says:

    Be that girl. Fuck em.
    There's no need to piss people off, you can always assume (or at least fake assume) that they are good people who just aren't doing things optimally- bringing it up as 'I'm not a lawyer or anything but I know a friend at another institution who got into some legal trouble for taking this kind of approach to job candidate selection' (that makes it very much about *their* behavior, and its consequences, and not about *your* judgment of their behavior).
    But you've got to say something. Shit like this makes me so upset. If you wait for tenure to make waves, you will NEVER DO SO. Cold hard fact- you WILL become those other women in your department who are 'too tired'. Or worse, you'll be obsessed with your own advancement... "Other people (and their emotions) never matter as much as your success". If you're CPP, that is. I say Fuck. That. Shit.

    "Keep your head down and get your tenure. Put your own oxygen mask on first, then help others when you are secure."
    Dude, when you say this to an undergrad, sure. Maybe, anyway. When you say this to a TT-faculty who will be *more* emotionally distressed by *not* taking action? Then this is bullshit. Stinky, grimy, stupid, support-the-status-quo-at-all-costs, pull-up-the-ladder-behind-you, why-women-hate-women, bullshit.
    No one is ever well-positioned to take down an asshole without risking that asshole being an asshole at them. Your argument is the height of cowardice.

    You know who I admire? The 'dumb' women who put their marital status on their applications. They are brave enough to say "you know what, people who would judge me by that make LOUSY colleagues. I don't want to work with jackasses like that and there's no point in dragging out the process waiting for them to reject me based on discriminatory bullshit."

    • jc says:

      becca, the two things I've learned over the last few years is to pick my battles, and find support systems. Gerty is 1 woman on a panel of men. I know what that's like. I get talked over and at, if I'm not ignored outright. She isn't in a position to not "work with jackasses" because she is surrounded by them. They are EVERYFUCKINGWHERE. Good luck avoiding them. Just wait until you are on faculty interviews where you are leered at BY SEARCH CHAIRS. Plural. Oh yeah, welcome to my world. Asked about marital status. Check. Asked about ethnicity. Check. Asked age. Check. Asked about kids. Check. Asked "if I really wrote my papers". Check. I fought back and it was ugly. I went to HR. I went to other women. I was one of the "dumb women" because I decided that I didn't want to tiptoe around the bullshit. Women on search committees told me to run away. I'm not giving armchair advice. I've been in the fucking trenches.

      Once Gerty has a support system in place, she can bring up issues from a position of power and teamwork. She needs to gain allies first. Going at it alone has worn me down, and out. Gerty can be "taking action" for the next time this shit happens. It will. She sees what happens now, and she's learning from it. She can point out that this shit has already happened (take notes, Gerty - document everything!), so it's not a mystical magical event that happens on Saturn, not in her department, of course, because everyone is so logical and rational. /snark. She can warn candidates on their visits. She can lobby for another woman to join her on the next search panel, so they can tag team against the assholes.

      • Gerty-Z says:

        JC-it sounds like you have had a hell of a time. My current predicament is frustrating, but I am hoping that I can change the culture a little so that things won't always be this way. I AM taking notes, and I know that I will definitely be more prepared next time this comes up.

    • Gerty-Z says:

      becca, I agree with you. 100%

      I did not hide the fact I was gay when on the market, because I kinda figured that if anyone was going to be that upset by the fact that I was a lesbian that I didn't want to work with them. And I DO find it ridiculous that I suggest a woman not be upfront about her marital status. But just pragmatically, I also want to see more women succeed in academia, and on the tenure-track. This can only happen if women get interviews, which requires flying under the radar a little. Give those of us that are trying to fight a little bit of a chance.

      I also agree that it is not right to keep totally quiet. I have been taking the approach that you mention. And it HAS worked. I think that some of my colleagues are *a little* more aware now than they were when I was being hired last year. I am currently working on the assumption that most of the d00ds I work with are just a little clueless. But I can't pitch a fit everytime something is slightly off-kilter. It takes too much energy and eventually that WOULD become an issue that could impact my ability to get tenure. As jc points out, I have to pick my battles.

      • becca says:

        Yes, there are very sound arguments in favor of not fighting every battle, and not fighting very many of them at all prior to letting off some of the emotional steam (blogs are useful for that, afterall). And what fighting a battle strategically means is very different depending on specifics of your environment I don't pretend to know better than you.

        It's just... very frustrating for me to hear people who *know* something is wrong with the status quo arguing in favor of keeping one's head down and never making waves. I try not argue that anyone else needs to be outraged about what I am outraged by. But when you already are emotionally struck by how *off* something is, it's often *more* emotional work to *not* say something. Channeling some of that energy toward change- even if it's only in a couple of relatively friendly (albeit clueless) colleagues at a time- is a better solution.

        I really admire that you were out during the job search, which may be part of why things struck me as so odd you'd encourage people to be covert about this. But then, at least in one rational way of thinking, wanting spousal hire assistance is a 'weakness' in one's negotiating position, whereas sexual orientation should be irrelevant to what the committee has to consider. So I don't disagree with you exactly, particularly with respect to what goes into a first impression (i.e. a cover letter).
        And after all, you were quite clear with the statistics. Your colleagues were searching for a way, to cut down the pile. The fact that they didn't think about the consequences of how they were doing that doesn't necessarily indicate they are true jerks. Maybe just truly clueless.

  • TheGrinch says:

    Gerty, has this department been to you so far?

  • TheGrinch says:

    I mean, has the department been *good* to you so far? Have you experienced the sort of behavior you wrote about directed at you?

    • Gerty-Z says:

      You know, most of the folks are good to me, most of the time. My department is, generally, a great place to work. I don't want this to get blown out of proportion. Yes, there are things that wear on me after a while. But, they DID hire me and I genuinely get along with most of my colleagues. I am NOT in a horrible situation, but I think it could be better.

      Some of the shit that came up during this job search pissed me off. Many of my colleagues at least pretended to be sympathetic when I brought it up. I'm working on the rest.

  • APhdsLife says:

    I am a male, and was on the academic job market last year. I had two on-site interviews, and during both I was asked about my family situation. It didn't bother me to answer because my wife is not a scientist and would have no problem finding a job in any city in her line of work. At the job I ending up taking (at a private institution), they actually invited my family to come to the interview with me. It was within driving distance, so it wouldn't really cost them anything extra. They did this because family is very important to our university and college. They wanted to make sure my spouse found the city and amenities to her liking as well.

    We actually just had another candidate come up and interview for a position last week. She has a family, and her husband actually came up here with her to the interview. He is a non-scientist as well, so he was mainly coming to check out the area and see what job opportunities he would have.

    That being said, I came into the interview expecting to be asked this question, because every blog I read said they would ask (legal or not). I've always wondered how they get away with this when it is clearly illegal. Now, if someone puts the information out there for the world to see in there cover letter, that is their problem.

  • West Coast TT Prof says:

    I'm a female TT prof in an engineering field. I have seen similar things happen in search committee meetings and other faculty meetings. In general, my department has treated me exceptionally well, but sometimes biased comments are still made about others (usually women and foreign candidates) in front of me. I have tried saying things once or twice, but after talking to other jr colleagues and a few trusted sr faculty, my current policy is to keep my head down and grind it out until tenure. To earn tenure, you need as many faculty as possible to be willing to be your champion. Just like winning a faculty search, earning tenure requires senior faculty who are willing to go to bat for you. Bottom line: you need these people to like you. Don't antagonize them until after tenure.

  • BugDoc says:

    I have also heard the common wisdom many times that you should just keep your head down until you get tenure. I think that's bullshit and completely undermines the academic culture.

    "You don’t want to put people on the spot but there are ways."

    There are some ways that are definitely better than others. Since your colleagues are scientists, it might work well to emphasize that the candidate selection process should be governed by logic and evidence, just like anything else. I have been on committees where the committee chair emphasized from the get-go that candidate evaluations should be supported by specific evidence or examples, which minimizes the opportunity for unintended bias. For example, if people are going on about someone whose name sounds "foreign", you can point out, "Since we are speculating about problems this person might have in communicating - does anyone have any specific evidence that Candidate X is deficient in this regard, e.g. letters or personal experience? If not, perhaps we can follow up with a phone call to the advisor, since this person is otherwise a great candidate". Or "Can you clarify why specifically you think this candidate might have problems communicating?". That way you don't have to argue with them, rather you ask them to defend their (untenable) position.

  • Girlpostdoc says:

    This post was extremely interesting, as was the comments thread. As a minority female postdoc, I cringe when I read stuff like this. But I probably would have done the same. I think the advice to pick your battles and write everything down seems like a good one. If you fight every battle, it just gets tiring and people label you as "that woman." And if you want to change the culture of the department (which is what it sounds like), the best way is to secure an influential position.

  • That sucks, G-Z. I have (happily) not been in that situation in my own department, but I have had to be "that girl" before as a PhD student and postdoc. It sucks, but you need to do what you need to do to keep on looking in the mirror. If that means putting your head down until tenure a la CPP, then do it. If that means being more confrontational, then try to pick your battles wisely. Personally, I would tend towards the mild correction side. I try never to assume maliciousness as a motive, when stupidity or ignorance will suffice, and I make comments accordingly.

    FWIW, it isn't illegal to ASK about marital status. It is illegal to make decisions based on marital status. Many corporate places will not ask to avoid the appearance of making decisions based on a protected status. Most faculty have no formal training in interviewing, so they do dumb things sometimes.

  • anon says:

    A moment of advocacy for the devil: It is generally considered a good, fair, reasonable, and progressive thing for institutions to help candidates with 2-body situations. Also, it is sometimes hard to do this in compressed time frames. If you've given somebody 2 weeks to decide whether to accept an offer, and they say "My spouse/partner/whatever needs a TT offer" that is a very short time frame for them to decide whether to make such an offer. So, even people on the "good" side will often want to know about potential 2-body issues at an earlier stage of the game, so that they can plan appropriately.

    The solution, however, is not to have members of the department asking surreptitious questions. Rather, HR should confidentially query all applicants at an early stage of the process. HR can then begin some behind the scenes planning for potential scenarios involving those who make it to the interview stage, without the department having any temptation to dig for info. This way, potential second hires can be planned for in a confidential manner, and on a reasonable time frame.

    • gerty-z says:

      I don't know how reasonable it is to have HR take part in the search. I wonder if that would cause more trouble than it is worth. Also, I have yet to talk to someone from HR. That level of admin is fairly removed from the academics (me).

      That said, I agree that there can be reasonable motives to ask about marital status during an interview. I guess it just mostly pissed me off that this was only/mostly an issue that only came up for female candidates. This makes me suspect that the motives were not so progressive. Or maybe it was an unconscious thing.

      • anon says:

        I don't envision HR helping pick candidates. More like this:

        1) Applicants tell HR if they will need an academic job for their spouse, and what job their spouse is in.
        2) HR gets short lists from departments.
        3) HR checks short lists for people who need spousal placement, and says to department chairs "An un-named finalist for a position on this campus has a spouse in your field. If the department makes an offer to this person, be prepared to interview the spouse, and prepare a memo to the provost outlining the resources that you would need to add another person to your department."

        So the department being approach is not necessarily the department that the person is interviewing in, but rather the department that the spouse would interview in (these departments may be the same in some but not all cases). The department isn't told "If Dr. Smith, who's applying in the Biochemistry Department, is hired, Dr. Smith's spouse is a computer science PhD in need of a faculty job" or whatever. The department is just told "Somebody interviewing somewhere on this campus has a spouse in your field."

        This way, the department that would be affected has some lead time, so wheels can be set in motion sooner.

        Perhaps the Chair of the relevant department can also be shown the CV of the potential spousal hire, to begin the vetting process. Also, seeing the field that the spouse is in would help the Department Chair to estimate the needed resources to put in the memo to the Provost--hiring a literature professor usually involves less start-up than hiring a biomedical researcher studying primates, for instance. The Chair would have to be instructed to keep this confidential (yes, chairs can gossip, but when it's sufficiently serious they mostly seem to know to keep their mouths shut).

        Point is, some sort of process that is mediated by HR, so that the candidate does not have to tip cards during the interview.

  • neurowoman says:

    In my department/institution (where I am non-TT faculty, so not really included in official discussions, but I hear things), the faculty (including my spouse) who discuss candidates inevitably discuss spousal status, but it is always secondary to whether the candidate is the best for the position. When is comes up, it usually it is a matter of can we use spousal accommodation to potentially recruit someone who might otherwise go to a more prestigious program. Spousal hiring as a recruitment tool, not to cull candidates from interviews. Perhaps this is one line of attack for you to argue a different spin on the exclusion of candidates with spousal issues, the doods might be more receptive if they see spousal hiring as an opportunity rather than a negative. You could also go talk to the dean to find out what the gist of their stance of spousal hiring is, how supportive. Perhaps the faculty have tried to do spousal hires and gotten burned by an unsupportive administration.

    I think faculty don't think about getting (the institution) sued because of cluelessness, partly, and because it would be virtually impossible for a candidate to prove hiring discrimination.

    Every single search committee I dealt with was dying to know what my spousal situation was (mainly, was there a two-body academic issue?).The questioning ranged from sly & surreptitious, to straight-forward genuinely helpful, to blatantly sexist/possibly illegal. The guys I've asked have not reported being directly asked, but were sometimes unaware (until I asked) that hints were being dropped, mainly because they didn't have an academic spouse so it didn't cross their minds what was being hinted at. People mentioned schools as a selling point, not to inquire about my parental status per se (they were also parents).

    I have been advised like Gerty says, to not bring up marital status/spousal issues till an offer is made. I resolutely tried to keep my mouth shut during interviews, but I think this backfired. The field is too small to keep my marriage a secret; those who would use it against me probably felt like I was being evasive, those who would help couldn't because I refused to say I would need spousal accommodation (never got offers, so I can't say how that would have worked out). I have decided going forward to just put it out front and include in the cover letter. I have done this once, and got short-listed (at a place where I knew people, who would already know I was married to another academic). Since we are in related fields, the cover letter gave me an opportunity to spin it as a net positive and state outright what the benefits were ( synergy, opportunistic hire, filling a need the department/school might have, second outstanding candidate). Without giving away too much, I imply flexibility in negotiation. Some might see that as showing a weakness, but I figure it would come to that anyway.

    • gerty-z says:

      It can be difficult, if not impossible, to avoid talking about your family on an interview. My advice, now that I have been part of a search, is that you should not include this information in the cover letter. BUT, if it comes up in the interview then you will probably have to talk about it. You definitely want to avoid coming off as evasive or unfriendly. Here is the (potential) difference: when going through applications, you are looking for reasons to narrow the pool of applicants. Even if unconcious, the hassle of a two-body problem can nudge you off the interview list. But after you have been invited, then the faculty are looking for the candidate they like the best. If everyone is enthusiastic about you (and the institution is supportive), then there is a chance to solve the 2-body problem.

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