Reviewing the recruitment and promotion process for identification of potential gender bias: focus on promotions

Problem (evidence)

The University had developed a new promotion framework with the goal of addressing perceived and actual inequalities in the previous system. The University considered the local situation, the fact that the proportion of under-represented groups (gender, race) in senior academic posts in science, engineering and technology subjects was lower than the recruitment pool (ECU, 2016). Staff surveys had shown that staff thought that the promotions process was not transparent. In addition, women had been less successful historically. Promotion was generally viewed as relying on research performance with less consideration given to other academic activities such as teaching, impact, leadership and collegiality. Literature (see Moss-Racusin et al. 2012; Milkman et al. 2015) which shows that academic practices are not free from biases, was also considered.  

After 2 years of operation it was considered desirable to determine whether the new process had resolved any of the issues noted above.


To review the new promotion process of the university and provide comments/recommendations for improvement particularly with regards to any reported gender bias.


Budget for research assistant with experience of conducting interviews and doing qualitative analysis

Audio recorders

Transcription service

Support from senior members of the university to enable researchers to have access to promotion candidates and/or decision-making committee members 

Ethical approval for the study

Buy-in from senior management to consider any recommendations

Brief outcomes

A report on the new promotions processes which outlined the benefits and challenges of the new promotions process and provided recommendations on how to improve further the new framework was sent to a representative of the senior management team and was presented to a consultative institutional body (at Warwick the Gender taskforce). The senior member of the university and the Taskforce chair will ensure that recommendations will be followed up in the future. Under the new promotions process, a greater number of women than men for the first time got promoted and all women who applied for professorial positions were successful.

Key area

Recruitment, career progression and retention

Type of action

Data gathering and analysis


University of Warwick
Higher education institution

Action level of implementation

Department Coordinators and Knowledge Areas Coordinators


To provide relevant context to this action it should be mentioned that the new promotion framework is comprised of criteria in four areas: research and scholarship; teaching and learning; impact, outreach, engagement; and collegiality, leadership and management. There are different bands in each of these areas showing the level of achievement in each area with numerical scores required for each area. The applicants have to provide written evidence against the criteria and to self-score. There are examples of evidence to help applicants and the promotions committee to interpret data successfully.

As a first step, this type of action requires the support of senior management within the organisation. It is then necessary to decide whether applicants or members of decision-making panels will be interviewed. For this study, we chose to interview initially members of the Professorial Promotion Committee, but we then interviewed academic colleagues who applied for promotion. This enabled us to get a holistic understanding of the new process and provide further recommendations for improvement. 

As a next step, the researchers prepare and submit an ethical approval application to the Ethics Committee or relevant local body, including relevant documents (participants’ information sheet, consent forms).

Once ethical approval is granted, researchers should contact potential participants. E-mail is probably the best first contact as an e-mail can include all relevant information about the project, the content of the interviews, expected duration as well as the participants’ information sheet and consent forms. Since information about applicants to promotions is sensitive we asked a senior leadership team of the institution who oversees the promotions process to send an email on our behalf (in collaboration with human resources department). Participants were asked to e-mail the researchers if they were happy to be interviewed, suggesting a good time to meet within a specific timescale.

In our action, we conducted 9 semi-structured interviews with members of the Professorial promotions Committee and 29 interviews with applicants which lasted from 20 minutes to an hour. All participants were informed about the audio-recording of the discussion and had formally consented to it. For an interview guide please see the supporting documents.

Interviews were subsequently transcribed and analysed qualitatively, following principles of thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006).

The analysis findings were used to compile the review report.


Recruiting participants can be challenging.

Scheduling the interviews around participants’ availability (especially since some of them were very senior with hectic schedules) requires flexibility from the researchers.

Coping strategies

Contacting participants well in advance and allowing for flexibility.

Tips/strategies – Lessons learnt

Engage with senior leadership team and convince them to give access to the study participants for evaluating the new framework and providing feedback to the leadership regarding challenges and areas for improvement. 

Consent forms, participant information leaflets, interview guidelines (follow links to download documents).