Nicola's story on recommending selection panel members

Nicola was an experienced health manager with many contacts within the local Aboriginal community and health sector generally. Over time, she had become the 'go to' person for any Aboriginal recruitment issues and, as a result, was often asked to assist in recommending selection panel members.

While her professionalism and integrity was never questioned, she had begun to hear murmurs amongst colleagues that she was 'playing favourites' in her recommendations. Nicola was very upset about this and tried to find out what had given her colleagues this idea.

Nicola arranged to meet with a trusted long-term colleague of hers who was an Aboriginal nurse called Shane. Together Nicola and Shane talked over some ways that Nicola could do a spot check on her own practice.

One strategy involved a simple 'back of the envelope' approach where Shane asked her to name all the Aboriginal people she had recommended for inclusion on selection panels in the past year. Apart from Nicola's immediate surprise at how many times she had been asked for advice, her friend noticed that one name kept coming up. This was an older Aboriginal professional with whom both had worked for over 10 years, a woman called Joan.

This consistent nominee was extremely well qualified, highly experienced, well regarded by management and respected within the local communities. Her integrity was not in question.

However, when Nicola's friend asked her to circle all the names of nominees that had actually participated on a selection panel she was shocked to see that only Joan had been included as a selection panel member over the past 12 months. Prior to this point she had assumed that there was a range of people from her recommendations who had been sitting as selection panel members. Surely, there had to be a reason for this!

‚ÄčNicola contacted the local Human Resources (HR) Manager to ask whether there was any reason for Joan being the only Aboriginal person involved on recent selection panels.

After discussion it was identified that names were added to the list but Joan's name was at the top and was always called first. This was a practice that had developed over time.

Nicola realised that it must appear to others that she only promoted Joan for inclusion on selection panels simply because she was the one who was always in the room!

Nicola was disappointed that her depth of knowledge had not been utilised and that many selection panels had not matched the specific job being recruited to. Furthermore, it looked to everyone else that she was favouring Joan and limiting opportunities for other Aboriginal people.

To fix the issue, Nicola worked with human resources and the Manager of Aboriginal Workforce Development to develop a simple procedure to ensure that there was no unintended bias in future selection panel membership. The new process was communicated to staff and the local communities.