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Tahcita Mizael
Careers and professional development, Equality, diversity and inclusion, Ethics and morality

Pursuing a job overseas

Táhcita Medrado Mizael, PhD, with a tale on multiple dimensions of diversity and inclusion.

03 January 2023

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, “Equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents” … but only if you were born, raised, and educated in the right place. Bureaucratic tendencies in the UK’s equality, diversity, and inclusion drive present a hurdle that works against some of the goals it strives for.

I am an early career researcher, and I hold a PhD in Psychology from an elite university in Brazil where I was born. After I finished my PhD in November 2019, I started looking for opportunities abroad, especially in the UK. I have been working with topics related to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion for several years now, so I was amazed to learn about charters such as the Race Equality, the Athena Swan, the Diversity Champions programme, and the Disability Confident Scheme, which do not exist in Brazil.

I felt very confident about having the necessary skills for applying to positions… until I started reading the person specifications. HEA membership, proven experience with the Equality Act 2010, Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching, achievement of HNC, A-Level, NVQ3 with proven work experience, a project management qualification… common qualifications in the UK but not beyond.

Barriers of certification

Some requirements are deeply related to social class. For example, some jobs require that the applicant be a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA). Long story short, the costs for obtaining this certification are prohibitive. But not only the price tag puts it out of reach: From 1 January 2023, only those from the United States, Canada, Australia, and the UK will be able to apply for the certification. This means that all opportunities that require this certification (which are very common in my field) are not meant for the majority of behaviour analysts throughout the world.

t is my hope that a deeper reflection of the obstacles faced by early career researchers from the UK and abroad can enable positive change.

I finally found some vacancies that did not require criteria impossible for me to meet. When asked about my education on the application form, I was given the choice of “pass”, “merit”, or “distinction”, but the university I attended did not have this type of grading system. This may look like a minor obstacle from the other side, but to me as an applicant it meant worrying about whether simply choosing the best equivalent would be considered fraud. It is one of the small barriers that keep adding up until you ask yourself whether to just give up.

The chicken and the egg

Those are just a few examples of obstacles early career researchers may find while pursuing jobs abroad. If I am seeking my first job after finishing my PhD, how can I get access to the work that requires me to already have had experience doing this work? If I live in a country where some of those charters and certifications do not exist, how can I have experience with them? How can I have HEA membership, if I do not live in the UK?

At least some of these obstacles can be easily removed with a little effort by employers. For example, ‘willingness to achieve membership within 18 months of appointment’ is an example of still valuing the membership, but acknowledging that not everyone may have had the opportunity to obtain it. The same goes for ‘experience with the Equality Act 2010’, or with the EDI charters mentioned above.

If a person has a disadvantage because they are poor, live in a different country and have had different opportunities, to act with justice is to provide them with more, so that there is no more advantage and disadvantage.

Yet this sentiment also needs to be endorsed by employers. If candidates who already have all qualifications, memberships, and experiences are prioritised over those with a willingness but no means to obtain them, then the results will not change. That is, if there is not active preoccupation with early career researchers (from the UK or abroad), adding “a willingness” will be mere formality. Therefore, it is crucial that employers reflect on and work with criteria that consider applicants’ skills and potential rather than risking becoming a tick box exercise. This would also serve as an indicator of whose equality institutions are interested in: As we saw at the start of this article, “Equality is about ensuring that every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents.”    

Explain your acronyms

Adding an explanation of the abbreviations used (e.g., NVQ3, A-Level) and simple explanations of terms that may be obvious for individuals who live in the UK (e.g. Two A-levels at Grades A-E) could help foreign applicants. Having a brief description of the qualifications required plus “or equivalent qualifications” increases the probability that a candidate has understood what is necessary and allows them to assess if they have similar qualifications, in case they live/studied in another country. Universities already practise this in the recruitment of (fee-paying) students, where equivalent qualifications from other countries are often detailed. Adding brief explanations or even linking to information that institutions already hold would be a low-cost step towards equitable practice for foreign candidates.

Finally, when it comes to the requirements closely associated with social class, employers need to critically think if those requirements are aligned with their values as an organisation. In the case of the BCBA requirement, it may be easier to recruit individuals who are already BCBAs because to obtain this certification, one needs to prove to be up to date in behaviour analysis practices. However, this eliminates several professionals who did not have the opportunity to obtain this certification, and it is fair to say that at least some of them may have equivalent abilities and knowledge as the ones with the certification. Therefore, if the organisation values EDI, it should think about how those types of requirements may hinder candidates’ participation from less advantaged backgrounds, as well as from other countries. In this scenario, an alternative could be to have as a goal recruiting a number of early career professionals, and help them to gain this certification (e.g. by paying a percentage of the fees) or using other measures to verify their professional capabilities (like a PhD in the field).

A friend of mine, who is a lawyer, told me once that “law is the field where you treat different people differently, so that they can become equal”. If a person has a disadvantage because they are poor, live in a different country and have had different (and maybe less) opportunities, to act with justice is to provide them with more (opportunities), so that there is no more advantage and disadvantage. It is my hope that a deeper reflection of the obstacles faced by early career researchers from the UK and abroad can enable positive change.

About the author

Táhcita M. Mizael is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. She holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the Federal University of São Carlos, and works mainly with equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) issues, such as racial prejudice, racial issues, gender, sexuality, feminism, autism, and behaviour analysis.