Kenji Sato, ABC, November 16, 2023
Queensland University of Technology’s vice-chancellor has defended the decision to remove all references to “merit” from its hiring policy.
Vice-chancellor Margaret Sheil told ABC Radio Brisbane the suitability assessment would consider factors such as gender and ethnic backgrounds.
Professor Sheil said it would also consider the current demographic breakdown of their various schools and disciplines.
She said women, for example, were under-represented in science and engineering at QUT whereas men were under-represented in teaching and nursing.
She dismissed suggestions that the hiring process should be colourblind, saying that was impossible in practice.
“When people say things like ‘We do this on merit’, they’re actually reflecting the bias of their own experience,” Professor Sheil said.
“There’s so much data on this around selection, whether it’s recruitment into orchestras or into universities.
“There isn’t a way of being colourblind that’s not got some form of bias into it.”
She said staff undertook unconscious bias training, and that the selection committees were chosen with diversity in mind.
She said they would aim to hire a diversity of personalities, such as recruiting more outgoing scientists who were good at industry engagement.
‘We don’t want everybody to look the same’
Professor Sheil denied the policy was a “political” decision, insisting it was a practical move to improve the university’s talent pool.
“We need to access the entire talent pool, and we don’t want everybody to look the same,” she said.
“We need the workforce to reflect the students coming through, and we also know people look at things differently when they come from different backgrounds.
“I’ve been working in improving diversity in academic environments my entire career; it’s got nothing to do with contemporary politics.”
Professor Sheil said she was the first female professor of chemistry in Australia and has subsequently spent her life trying to get more women into science.
QUT claims the suitability assessment is based on the Queensland Public Service Commission’s hiring strategy.
The ABC attempted to reach the QUT Liberal National Club and Young LNP for comment.