Many organisiations are now striving to form teams they consider diverse, and to ensure this, they check the demographics of candidates already in application forms. Consider e.g. an application form for a scientific journal ambassador where applicants are asked to disclose:

  • Race and ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Neurodiversity
  • Disabilities

The application description site specifically mentions that they "will review applications for eligibility and shortlist the candidates according to their potential to help advance the work of the group, their enthusiasm, and contribution to diversity..., as well as help balance its representation with respect to gender, career stage, geography...". The words "diverse" and "diversity" appear seven times on the application page.

From all this it's pretty clear that the recruiters for this position not only want to specifically avoid to end up hiring a group of white guys, rather it seems already clear from the get-go, that the final team will consist of representatives from all the diversity groups.

Two points I see are particular to this case, and will be very different for your regular "IT of company X is looking for software dev expert using Y" recruitment: first, it seems to me that the team will indeed truly (and more than on average) benefit from diversity, i.e. because of the intended global outreach, and secondly, as qualifications for this role are rather vague and not strictly quantifiable, recruiters will require subjective judgement anyway. Yet, I think the following two questions are valid regardless of the specifics of this case:

  1. How can recruiters prevent candidates from lying about their identity, when it appears to be beneficial for the application? In particular, it seems conceivable that a candidate for the above-mentioned role could simply tick some of the boxes where the recruiters have no way checking veracity; likely easy for sexual orientation, but potentially also for gender, race, neurodiversity, and disability.

  2. How can recruiters be inclusive to people who actually fall under their diversity criteria, but do not want to disclose this info to their employer or the public in general? Presumably, some people to whom several of these diversity criteria apply may not (yet or ever) be willing to share this information, or it may even be dangerous or illegal to do so in their country of origin.


Here is the result from the recruitment mentioned originally. A diverse team indeed.

  • 15
    Can you state a country or jurisdiction? Even asking for most of those markers would be highly illegal where I live, actually acting on them, like hiring someone based on it, would be in courts in no time. I have the suspicion that this happens in a country where worker protection laws are not a priority anyway.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 9:58
  • 1
    @nvoigt, the employer in my example is a not-for-profit organisation founded by partners from various (western) countries, but it is legally based in Delaware, USA.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 14:01
  • 5
    Welcome new user. Your question which is about the philosphy of current macro-political currents, may work on perhaps the history or politics site. This site is for questions like "Which color shirt is it best to wear on Tuesdays".
    – Fattie
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 14:33
  • 1
    One quibble with the title: individuals are not diverse. Companies, teams, candidate pools, and other groups of people can be diverse, but not individuals.
    – shoover
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 21:09
  • 2
    @raxxast no, diversity means not hiring only white males.
    – Kat
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 0:46

6 Answers 6


Note: even though the phrasing might not make it clear at every turn, this applies to any and all "diversity markers", for lack of a better name; whether it be race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, neurodiversity, ... Repeatedly listing the whole lot became obtrusive in terms of readability, so I mainly used racial identity as the default example, but the core of my answer applies to all "diversity markers", not just race.

You're asking for a universally accepted answer on one of the biggest political hotbeds of the 20th/21st century. The short answer is that there is no universally accepted answer here.

This isn't a "racist vs non-racist" bipartisan issue. Even if you only observe opinions that are considered "non-racist", opinions still wildly differ on where the line should be drawn or what is considered freedom vs what is considered abuse.

In the absence of such a universally accepted approach, your company has to make a provisional choice on how to approach this topic, based on how they want to operate and be publically perceived.

I'm not saying your company should roll over and let the diversity system be blatantly abused. I'm also not saying your company should enforce its own ideas on racial identity and how it reflects on their pro-diversity culture.

What I'm trying to point out here is that this is a really fine line to balance which requires personal considerations, and due to it being heavily politicized it's nigh impossible to not offend some people along the way, regardless of whether their offense is based on fact or public perception of your company.

  1. How can recruiters prevent candidates from faking diversity, when it appears to be beneficial for the application?

If you assume a context where people self-identify, and where questioning such identification is considered unacceptable, it's essentially impossible to prevent this.

I'm not interested in discussing whether or not the questioning of such self-identification is acceptable or not and how it should be done (if so). There is a spectrum of opinions on this topic. What I'm trying to point out here is that questioning a person's racial identification is going to get a subset of people up in arms, whether on principle or because of a specific case, and if it gains public traction it's going to be a negative PR experience for your company.

No matter your (or my) feelings on the subject, Rachel Dolezal is an interesting facet to consider here. She caused an (inter)national thought exercise about the limits of self-identification (or not) and how to approach it in a multicultural society. That thought exercise hasn't yet yielded a commonly accepted answer that balances the two considerations, as far as I'm aware.

Dolezal's critics stated that she committed cultural appropriation and fraud; Dolezal and her defenders asserted that her self-identification is genuine.

This is essentially the fork in the road for your company. What would your company do if Rachel Dolezal applied for a job?
One thing we can definitely agree on is that you're not interested in your applicants' genetical makeup. Diversity hiring is done for cultural reasons, rather than genetic ones.

But the question is more what you'd rather risk. Do you risk coming across as willing to infringe on a personal freedom (i.e. self-identification), or would you rather risk having the diversity hiring system abused?

And as is the case with all of these kinds of issues, where do you draw the line?
Maybe Rachel Dolezal is considered an edge case and your company chooses to not question her self-identification since it reaches farther than just doing it to game the job application, but at what point do you respond to an applicant who clearly ticked a box without having any remote claim to that being correct and has shown no vested interest in this self-identification other than the personal benefit during the hiring process?

  1. How can recruiters be inclusive to people who actually fall under their diversity criteria, but do not want to disclose this info to their employer or the public in general?

Much like the core of the first issue, you can't do this without inherently considering yourself (as a company) as a trusted judge of people's racial identity.

Additionally, there are some people from groups who generally stand to "gain" from diversity hires (i.e. minorities or marginalized groups) who still don't like the concept of positive discrimination (I'm intentionally not exploring their reasoning - not my call to make and not relevant here). They will prefer to avoid it and not "play the diversity card", so to speak.

If your company overrides their lack of playing the diversity card, judges them to hold that card anyway, and plays it for them, that is a massive infringement on your applicant's personal freedom.

Your company comes across here as a big checkbox-ticking entity with little regard for employees' personal freedom or self-actualization, on top of being racially judgmental since your company makes up its own mind on what race (or other protected class) it considers specific people to be.

  • 7
    What an excellent and nuanced write-up. A minor addition: Diversity goals are worthwhile. Research has shown benefits in terms of improved employee well-being and better productivity and cohesion in teams. These quantifiable benefits are used to define KPI's, thus creating a need for a measurement instrument: Are we meeting our diversity goal? A well-intended vision and worthwhile goal is thus reduced to a metric to be gamed, by both applicant and organization.
    – MvZ
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 10:57
  • 3
    While this is an admirable essay, both the excellent question and answer should be moved to , say history or politics SE sites. Bravo!
    – Fattie
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 14:34
  • 8
    @Fattie: I think this is a relevant workplace question, as it focuses on the concept of diversity hiring procedures, and it's not a legal question. I don't see why this would not be a workplace related question. While this answer is arguably closer related to a frame challenge than a direct solution to OP's direct question (since the gist is "you can't achieve that perfectly"), it's well within the boundaries of how most answers on Workplace.SE are written, i.e. explaining the intricacies that the answer relies upon and how certain decisions are likely to be perceived.
    – Flater
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 14:40
  • Also, if someone lies about this, they will lie about other things - things that will be easier to catch. I suggest focusing far more on items that can be verified and not on this. Continue to check during the probationary period for lies.
    – David R
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 22:24
  • @Mvz Do you have any pointers to such research? and is there a clear general causal link or just a correlation. Because correlation seems perfectly plausible; for causation I've so far only seen anecdotal evidence that was more geared towards genetic difference even (e.g. having dark skinned people would have prevented the soap disperser only working for whites dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4800234/…). Not sure if it is relevant for the answer, I'd just be interested in hard reference, but Flater or anyone else might feel them worth to be included. Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 4:40

TLDR: First, see if the benefit of keeping out false applicants is worth doing it at the expense of legitimate applicants.

The biggest thing you need to watch is for the possibility of a Type1-type2 error scenario.

You are fearing a type1 error (false positive) so you are looking to prevent it. Any method you employ will produce type2 errors (false negative).

So, before you do anything, you need to do a risk analysis of which is a greater risk for your company. There are some people, such as myself, who take offense at "diversity hiring" as we find it demeaning, and there is even a term for it: Purse Puppy which is a particularly disgusting habit of hiring people for how many boxes can be checked off, not for the benefit of the people hired, but to make the company look good. I included the link to demonstrate that this is not just some random thing I'm posted because I feel this way, this is a sentiment shared by many.

So, the very existence of any such diversity program will immediately create type2 errors. In this case missing people you would WANT to hire for "diversity".

Another thing that will cause type2 errors, is that many people will feel uncomfortable disclosing the kind of personal information such as the application the link you provided asks for.

There are plenty of hidden disabilities out there. so, if someone doesn't feel like they want to disclose they have a heart condition that is partially impairing, or partial deafness, or mild autism, you are going to miss these people.

Another cause of Type2 errors will be people who make claims that are true, but difficult to verify. Say someone says they are diabetic. Are you going to demand their A1C levels? If their A1C falls below 5, will they still be in the diversity box?

If you want racial diversity, how are you going to handle people who are multi-racial? Look at these twins They are both multiracial, which one fits as a diversity hire? Eliminate the one, and you've got another type2 error.

Now, for the armor piercing question

Does your company want to run the risk of being the one who rejects an applicant for not being diverse, when they were?

Can you imagine something like this going viral?

Company tells disabled man he isn't disabled


Company tells candidate she is not black enough, but twin sister hired at same company

So, before doing anything, your company needs to understand the type1-type2 error scenario, and then do a risk-benefits analysis, and then decide if it is more beneficial to ensure that those who apply meet your criteria, or if all that meet your criteria can apply.

This also exposes another problem. If there is currency in "diversity", there will be counterfeiters, such as Flater mentioned.

  • 2
    False positives are far better for PR than false negatives.
    – David R
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 21:53
  • 5
    You hire the person who brings most value to the company. If your company was in a jurisdiction where they could be fined for not having enough employees within various minorities, then a black lesbian handicapped woman could objectively bring lots of value to the company before you even consider how good she is at doing the job.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 10:24
  • I think you bring useful points; I just don't like how you support it with "Can you imagine something like this going viral?" This calls for defensive PR. Is this how we live our lives now? Waiting for the next twitter word-gunner to stumble upon us with some good-old "kick some ass"? While this pattern seems, on one hand, like an effective tool in driving change, it also inflames; panicky reactions cause a lot of damage; such things could also contribute to polarization. Couldn't we grow out of this era?
    – Levente
    Commented May 12, 2021 at 22:14
  • @Levente we can out grow this, but, for now, everybody reeds to defense Commented May 14, 2021 at 13:09

The problem is we're all diverse in terms of how we identify ourselves. None of us are "pure" in terms of race and ethnicity.

My mom is Asian, and my dad is of European. If I fill out an application, I check both white and Asian, but if I could only check one, I would check white. Does that mean I am white? Probably not.

The same could be said about many folks out there of mixed background. They could say their great grandfather was African American and they identify themselves as that. Could that be right? Wrong? Who knows.

Even the VP of USA identifies herself as both "Asian" and "African American." She would not be totally wrong in either case. Tiger Woods calls himself Korean and African American. And he's not totally wrong in either case. A recent case where a white individual calls himself African-American because he was really from Africa and was born and raised there so he is truly identifying himself correctly.

With that said, an employer is probably not going to verify your background. The background information is to report it to the government that a person who identifies himself as such and that he applied. It's not so the employer can simply say, "interview these people only but not those." And on top of that I would guess if a large amount of people lie on it, the company would have to figure out new ways to target those groups if they want to hire.

  • 3
    "It's not so the employer can simply say, "interview these people only but not those."" In a company where diversity hires are key to meet specific quota, this is precisely what happens. It's not something you advertise but it's most definitely something that happens behind closed doors. Note that I'm not saying I'm against positive discrimination, but that's not the same as pretending it doesn't exist.
    – Flater
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 15:36
  • @Flater I meant that statement to say that if someone appeared they "lied" it might not be the case. For example if they said they want to hire more African Americans, and someone was born and raised in Africa and came to the USA, they would technically fall within that category but from the viewpoint of someone looking in, it might not seem truthful but an employer can't really "prove" that without asking directly which they can't. They can't say, "Says you're African American but you're white...?"
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 20:36
  • 1
    "African-American" does not refer to place of birth, it refers to race. It's essentially a more polite way of saying "black". This whole "white Americans born in Africa are African-American" is simply not correct. They are an African (adjective) American (noun), but they are not African-American (i.e. black). Similarly, a black American who was born in Europe is still categorized as an African-American. It simply does not specifically refer to the content anymore, even though that's where the name originated from.
    – Flater
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 10:55
  • 2
    @Flater I know some folk from the Jamaica, who bristle at that term, as well as a man from Cameroon living in the UK who wouldn't care to be called that either. I guess we need to find a new name for black history month, and the cable channel BET needs to do something about it's name. Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 18:56
  • 3
    @Flater, outside the USA everyone thinks calling people "African-American" is stupid, especially when it excludes white Americans of African origin, but includes British Caribbean, African-Africans, and I heard that people from some African countries find being called "African" instead of say "Kenyan" quite insulting. If someone called me "Caucasian-European" or worse "Caucausian-American" I'd be tempted to punch them.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 13:50

Firstly, looking through the application you posted, I notice several things:

  • This is not an application for a salaried position. The applicant is supposed to be either a graduate/medical student, or already hold a postdoctoral fellow position
  • In fact, if the selected candidate loses their studentship or job, they are expected to stand down from the position.
  • From what I can see, this would be a position in a committee (for which the primary qualification is 'be an early-career researcher') which would work towards improving the quality of life for early-career researchers, likely through organising occasional events or publishing studies.

Additionally, I also see that while the application is on an .org domain, one of the leading partners is UK-based (Cambridge UK address at the bottom). So I would assume that this type protected information is treated in the same way as with actual job applications at my UK University. The way to ensure this information does not influence the recruiting committee is to not show it to them. I admit this is not expressed all too clearly in the application you posted, but that is my experience with how it is handled, at least at my University (from both the applicant side and the shortlisting/interview committee side). These questions are asked as part of the online application, withheld from the selection committee and hiring panel, and used later on to compile statistics. I can't guarantee the same process for the application you posted, but I would certainly assume it before I've read this question.

As far as mentioning "diversity" several times through the application, I think that is to be expected of nearly any academia-related position, salaried or not. Academia is extremely international, regardless of where the University is located. Working in a multicultural environment is a norm. They state they are looking for a person who will "represent the needs to early-career researchers and promote a healthy research culture", therefore they are looking for evidence of past activities or a thought-out programme which will promote opportunities for early-career researchers. Presenting yourself (falsely or not) as quirky, or part of a minority group, or demonstrating a protected characteristic is not in itself evidence of being able to planning the activities organised by this committee.

  • Yes it is a very specific position, generally not very comparable to other ("real") jobs; but it's a very good example where a diversity marker could be perceived to be an advantage in an application. Check also here the current team members. I may be wrong, but it all points to me to a specific selection where the goal is to in the end present a team that ticks as many diversity boxes as possible. I do believe that this may actually make sense for this particular case; but that is not the question here.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 11:16
  • As I said, for the "real" jobs at my Uni that asked for that type of information (in virtually identical format) in the online applications, this info would be completely hidden from the hiring committee considering the applicants. It would later be used to compile statistics, so that if somebody says that "the committee's choice of hire points to a specific selection based on presentation, not skills", you have (anonymised) statistics that back your choice up. The irony
    – penelope
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 11:49
  • This is a quote from the application page about the diversity marker questions: "Please note that providing information in this section of the form is optional. Any details you provide here will be viewed only by the current members of the ECAG and eLife executive staff in the Communities Team to help manage the applications, shortlisting and elections process. It will be deleted no later than three months after the election process is closed.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 13:10

The reason there are diversity requirements is that it is currently a detriment to your chances writ large of being hired to be a minority. Assuming diversity requirements give minorities an advantage over people who don't qualify is to assume the playing field was level to begin with, which is false.

Of course the impact will vary based on location, meta-studies show that there is significant discrimination in hiring and pay based race, gender, sexual orientation, disability. The incentive structure to pretend to be in these groups simply isn't there. Possible for an individual? Sure. But that's probably not really worth your time worrying about.


You do this by focusing on the things you want to gain by having a diverse work environment, not whether or not a candidate truly "is" x.

Reading between the lines, my interpretation of what this position is looking for is someone who, among other things:

  • Has experienced discrimination and/or bias
  • Is willing/able to share that experience with others, towards the goal of breaking down barriers in academia
  • Can propose and evaluate ways to make science and research more inclusive
  • Is able to communicate, inclusively, with others from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences

If it were me, I would make it clear in the job listing that these are the sorts of responsibilities that come with the position, and then during interviews I would ask questions designed to tell me if the candidate can fulfill them. If the candidate can convincingly answer those questions from a perspective that is not yet present in the team, it doesn't really matter if the candidate "is" x.

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