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.
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.
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.
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.
For each application you receive, the staff member should:
- Make a copy of it and redact any identifying information (name, photo, place of birth, gender, nationality, religion, ethnicity, etc.)
- Keep the original copy so applicants' details don't get lost at the end of the process
- 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
- 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
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
Ask staff to attend unconscious bias training
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.
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
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 leaders, support 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