Equity Guidelines for Department of Medicine Search Committees


  • to ensure the search processes for the DoM are equitable


  • A diverse faculty benefits the department, the University, our learners, and our patients
  • Individuals have unconscious bias
    • An unconscious bias is an implicit attitude, stereotype, motivation or assumption that can occur without one’s knowledge, control or intention. Unconscious bias affects all types of people and can be found in men and women. Examples of unconscious bias include gender bias, racial bias, and ageism.
    • Unconscious biases are important to consider in instances when judgements are made about quality and competence, judgements that are routinely made by search committees.
    • Unconscious gender bias is the differential treatment of men and women, the impact of which may be positive, negative or neutral.
    • The work, ideas and findings from women or minorities may be undervalued or they may be unfairly attributed to a research director or collaborators despite contrary evidence in publications or letters of evidence. [1-5]
    • Assumptions about possible family responsibilities and their effect on the candidate’s career may negatively influence evaluation of a candidate’s merit, despite evidence of productivity. [6]
    • Evaluators who were distracted by other tasks and under time pressure gave women lower ratings than men for the same written evaluation of job performance indicating that evaluators are more likely to rely on underlying assumptions and biases when they do not give sufficient time and attention to their evaluations. [7]
  • Institutions reproduce themselves
    • The ways in which institutions are organized and governed transmit their institutional norms from generation to generation, and individuals within those institutions are socialized to expect things to be a certain way. [8]
    • This phenomenon maintains the power and advantages of groups that have traditionally held those advantages and makes it harder for those from groups that have traditionally been less powerful to be successful and become leaders. [9]
    • The identification of this phenomenon of cultural reproduction, including pointing out assumptions that advantage or disadvantage certain groups, helps to disrupt the cycle, thereby enabling positive change. [10]
  • Equity efforts will benefit recruitment and retention

Approach to mitigating gender bias in search committees

Establish Search Committee

Advertise the Position

  • Avoid gender-specific language in the job advertisement
  • Broaden description of qualifications to enable recruitment from a wider pool
  • Use broad, informal networks to advertise the position
  • Aim for at least 25% women applicants; if this proportion is achieved, women are more likely to be considered qualified for a position
  • Include a statement about the University’s promotion of diversity and equity

Standardise the Interview and Candidate Selection Process

  • Confirm confidentiality of all discussions
  • Establish agreement on credentials/qualifications for position in advance of interviews
  • Use standardised questions and structured interviews
  • Do not require letters of reference until later in the recruitment process
    • Raise awareness that letters of reference may reflect unconscious bias (see appendix for examples)
  • Do not penalize candidates for ‘CV gaps’ that may coincide with parental/family leaves
  • Compare responses to the interview questions horizontally, across candidates, question by question
  • Ensure sufficient time is available to discuss each applicant
  • Use agreed upon evaluation criteria (see appendix for example)

Monitor the process

  • Document the process for each search and provide documentation to the DoM
  • Review the search process regularly including decisions made; the DoM will be responsible for this with the division directors
  • Establish hiring goals/targets for the division/department and assess if these are being met


  1. Bohnet I. What works: Gender equality by design. Harvard University Press, Boston, 2016.
  2. Valian V. Why so slow? The Advancement of women. The MIT Press, Boson, 1999.
  3. Anderson, A. J., Ahmad, A. S., King, E. B., Lindsey, A. P., Feyre, R. P., Ragone, S., & Kim, S. The effectiveness of three strategies to reduce the influence of bias in evaluations of female leaders. J Appl Soc Psychol Journal of Applied Social Psychology 2015;45(9), 522-539. doi:10.1111/jasp.12317
  4. Kaatz, A., Magua, W., Zimmerman, D. R., & Carnes, M. A Quantitative Linguistic Analysis of National Institutes of Health R01 Application Critiques From Investigators at One Institution. Academic Medicine, 2015;90(1), 69-75.
  5. Deaux K,  Emswiller T. Explanations of successful performance on sex-linked tasks: What is skill for the male is luck for the female. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1974;29: 80- 85.
  6. Eagly AH, Karau SJ. Role congruity theory of prejudice toward female leaders. Psychological Review 2002;109: 573-597.
  7. Martell RF. Sex bias at work: The effects of attentional and memory demands on performance ratings for men and women. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 1991;21: 1939-60.
  8. Bourdieu P. Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.
  9. Bourdieu P. Homo academicus. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988.
  10. Acker J. Hierarchies, jobs, bodies: a theory of gendered organisations. Gender and Society 1990;4:139-58.

Appendix 1

In a linguistic analysis of letters of reference for faculty hired at a major medical school in the US, differences were noted between letters written for men and women. Letters written for female applicants were shorter and less focused on the candidate’s record of accomplishment. They used more gendered terms such as ‘intelligent young lady’.

Letters for women included more grindstone adjectives such as: hardworking, conscientious, dependable, careful, dedicated or meticulous.

Letters for men included more standout adjectives such as excellent, superb, outstanding or unique.

This finding suggests that women’s success is more often associated with effort while men’s success is associated with ability.

Letters written for female applicants included more references to personal life than those written for men.

Letters written for men were more likely to have references to their CV, publications or patents.

Trix F, Psenka C. Exploring the color of glass: Letters of recommendation for female and male medical faculty. Discourse & Society 2003;14: 191-220.

Appendix 2

Example of Candidate Evaluation Tool

*The Department of Medicine interprets the word "female" as fully inclusive of all self-identified trans and cis women.