How to reduce unconscious bias in your recruitment process

Take steps to make sure that you're carrying out fair and equal practices at the advertising, CV shortlisting and interview stages of your recruitment process.

Last reviewed on 19 December 2023
School types: AllSchool phases: AllRef: 41025
Contents
  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. Carrying out online checks of shortlisted candidates
  6. Interviewing candidates

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 make sure your school is inclusive, diverse and welcoming. Reducing unconscious bias will:

  • Help you create 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 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

Don't just look at a single round of recruitment. Instead, base any judgements you make by looking at multiple recruitment rounds and whether there are any recurring patterns that appear worrisome. 

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

You can then focus on the most important areas of the process.

For example, if a wide demographic variety of candidates get shortlisted but only a narrow demographic group tend to be hired, start by looking at the interview stage.

Find out how to tackle unconscious bias at each stage of recruitment below.

Advertising roles

Post job adverts in a diverse range of places

Make your school website welcoming

Highlight your commitment to diversity

Shortlisting candidates

You may find that a wide variety of people apply for your positions, but only a narrow demographic group 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 

Use a scoring grid to ensure objectivity 

Carrying out online checks of shortlisted candidates

Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) recommends that schools "should consider" carrying out an online search of shortlisted candidates as part of your due diligence (see paragraph 221).

This can increase the chance of unconscious bias interfering with the hiring process, because you may learn additional personal information that's not relevant to the job or hiring process.

To reduce this risk, you should have someone who is not part of the interview panel conduct the search. They should only pass on any relevant information to decision-makers – for example, information that suggests the candidate:

  • Is unqualified for the role
  • Poses a potential safeguarding risk
  • Risks damaging the reputation of your school/trust

Read more about carrying out an online search of shortlisted candidates for more support on how to fairly do this.

Interviewing candidates

Ask the interview panel to read up on unconscious bias beforehand

Ask staff to attend unconscious bias training 

Make sure your interview process is evidence-based

Avoid asking personal or health-based questions

Make reasonable adjustments for candidates with disabilities

Sources

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

 

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