How to reduce unconscious bias in your recruitment process

Learn how to minimise the influence of unconscious bias when you're making hiring choices at the advertising, CV shortlisting, and interview stages of your recruitment process.

Last reviewed on 17 December 2020
School types: All · School phases: All
Ref: 41025
  1. Reducing unconscious bias will bring long-term benefits to your school
  2. Look at data from your previous recruitment rounds
  3. Advertising roles
  4. Shortlisting candidates
  5. Interviewing candidates
  6. BAME – a note on terminology
Please note: while this article discusses reducing unconscious bias in terms of race, you can apply the same principles in terms of gender, age and sexual orientation, too.

Reducing unconscious bias will bring long-term benefits to your school

It may take a long time to implement the steps in this article and embed them into your recruitment process. However, the benefits are well worth it to help ensure your school is inclusive, diverse and welcoming. Reducing unconscious bias will:

  • Give Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) applicants a better chance of joining your staff, and help to make a more inclusive team
  • Give pupils more diverse role models to look up to in your school
  • Allow you to find the best candidate for each role

It might not be possible for you to adopt all of the steps below, but pick the ones that are most suitable and feasible for your school's context - even adopting some of them will help you reduce unconscious bias. 

Look at data from your previous recruitment rounds

A low proportion of BAME applicants making it to the final stage of a single recruitment round doesn't necessarily mean that there's unconscious bias at play. Instead, base any judgements you make by looking at multiple recruitment rounds and whether there's any recurring patterns that appear worrisome. 

Find out how to start gathering HR data to improve inclusivity in your school. 

Advertising roles

Post job adverts in a diverse range of places

If you find that applicants applying to work at your school mostly come from one demographic, think about where you're advertising  roles - are your vacancies only reaching certain groups of people? 

To make this more diverse, you could: 

  • Look for local social media groups in which you could advertise roles, especially those focused on non-white demographics
  • Advertise in print and online newspapers for various communities, like the The Voice (a national black weekly newspaper) - but note that this might be more expensive than advertising locally
  • Ask parents at your school to pass on your job adverts if your school community is diverse - they might know people interested in applying 

Make your school website welcoming to BAME applicants

Candidates are likely to visit your website at some point during their application - consider how you can show that your school celebrates diversity and aims to be as inclusive as possible.

Upload your anti-racism action plan (if you have one) to your website. This way, BAME candidates can see that you're actively taking steps to make your school community more inclusive.

Shortlisting candidates

You may find that a high proportion of your applicants are BAME but only a few of them make it past the CV stage. If this is the case, consider adopting the approaches in this section - these may take a long time to develop and require extra resources, but they're recommended practice in other industries. 

Anonymise CVs 

Appoint a staff member to do this - to ensure fairness, this person shouldn't be involved in the shortlisting process or be part of an interview panel. 

For each application you receive, the staff member should:

  1. Make a copy of it and redact any identifying information (name, photo, place of birth, gender, nationality, religion, ethnicity, etc.)
  2. Keep the original copy so applicants' details don't get lost at the end of the process 
  3. Send the anonymised versions to whoever is shortlisting candidates

It should take about 10 to 20 minutes to anonymise each application, depending on its length, so make sure you're allowing plenty of time for this. If you get lots of applications for a role, you may want to appoint more than one person to anonymise CVs. 

Use a scoring grid to ensure objectivity 

Introduce a scoring grid to make your shortlisting process as fair and objective as possible - download our shortlisting grid to help you do this.
Your scoring system should be clear and straightforward, and you should only shortlist candidates based on: 
  • Criteria taken from the person specification 
  • Skills and experience outlined in the application that are relevant to the job in question 

By doing this, you'll be able to show: 

  • Decisions were based on relevant criteria and evidence
  • You’ve considered each candidate fairly
  • That a candidate wasn't shortlisted because they didn't meet a shortlisting requirement

Interviewing candidates

If a high proportion of BAME candidates often make it to interviews but no further, this might suggest that unconscious bias is influencing decision-making at this stage. Here are some suggestions to help you address it:

Ask the interview panel to read up on unconscious bias beforehand

You could ask everyone on each interview panel to spend 30 minutes reading up on unconscious bias.
If the panel understands concepts like the "halo effect" (e.g. where an interviewer unconsciously allows an applicant's positive qualities to underplay any negative qualities), and you have a short reminder session before interviews, they'll be more equipped to identify and check their unconscious biases.

Ask staff to attend unconscious bias training 

If you want to go further than the last step, you could arrange for at least one person on the interview panel to receive unconscious bias training. That person will then be more likely to spot instances of anyone appearing to go by "gut feeling" to make hiring decisions.

Prioritise the training for the person who makes the final decision on recruitment, and/or the person who leads on anti-racism in your school. They can then share their expertise with other decision-makers in recruitment.
How to arrange the training

Contact your local authority to see if they can support you with this, or put you in contact with a training provider. If your school has a union representative, they might be able to organise training in your school. Ask your union rep to reach out to the union to see if training is available.

Make sure your interview process is evidence-based

Just like with shortlisting candidates, you should make sure your interview decisions are based on evidence - it's easier to slip into choosing candidates based on their ethnicity (or how similar they are to you) if you don't have a process that measures skills objectively.

If you aren't already, use a person specification to set competency-based questions that you can measure each candidate's answers against.

Once the interview is over, discuss with the other panellists what you've picked up on. In this way, you'll more likely be able to challenge your own, and anyone else's, potential biases towards a candidate based on the evidence in front of you.

For more tips on how to do this, take a look at our guidance on holding interviews. You can also use our interview questions for senior leaderssupport staff, and teachers to save time.

BAME – a note on terminology

We use BAME (Black, Asian or minority ethnic) throughout this article as a succinct way to refer to the many ethnic minority groups in England. However, we recognise that some people are not comfortable with the term.

When talking about this topic in your school, we'd encourage you to think about what terms will work best in your own context (other widely used terms include "ethnic minorities" and "people of colour") – and note that individuals should always be referred to according to their own ethnicity, rather than grouped in this way.


Many thanks to:

  • Ann Marie Christian, an independent safeguarding consultant, trouble shooter, author and trainer. She provides consultancy for designated safeguarding leads, heads, senior leaders and governors. She has experience in frontline and managerial child protection matters including school improvement, casework and training
  • Gulshan Kayembe, an independent consultant who has experience of inspecting schools. As a consultant, she provides mentoring for senior leaders and has worked as an external adviser on headteachers’ performance management
  • Fitzgerald HR, who spoke to us about contacting unions to find out what inclusivity training they can offer
  • Show Racism the Red Card, who spoke to us about contacting your local authority to find out about unconscious bias training available to you
  • Sufian Sadiq, director of teaching school at Chiltern Learning Trust, who spoke to us about anonymising CVs in your recruitment processes


Please rate this article

Can't find what you need? Try searching or ask us a question.