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Recruiting for inclusion: How do we lay the foundations for a more diverse workforce?

1 March 2021 | Elias Zapantis
Elias Zapantis reflects on recent steps taken to improve diversity in the NHS workforce and shares some of the actions AHSNs are making to improve inclusivity in the recruitment process.

Getting recruitment practice right is a key element in improving diversity in organisations. In recent years, the NHS has been making considered efforts to increase the number of staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BME) groups in senior positions. The recent workforce race equality report highlighted improvement in the diversity of senior staff – with 8.4 per cent of NHS trust board members now from BME backgrounds, and 16,112 more BME staff across NHS trusts. While this is good progress, there is much more to be done to become a fully inclusive, equitable and fair employer. Race is one of several protected characteristics that should be considered when talking about a diverse workforce, and we need to consider how we can make our workplaces an inclusive environment for all individuals.

Last year, the 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) across England committed to diversity pledges, including a pledge to taking positive action to ensure the AHSN workforce reflects the diversity of the communities it serves. Now, members of the AHSN Network have been sharing the steps they are taking to improve in-house recruitment practice.

Peer reviewing job descriptions

Recruitment literature generally accepts the term ‘fit’ as an effective way to assess a job applicant’s suitability for a role. However, this can undermine diversity if people are required to conform and ‘fit in’.  We should be aiming to make our organisations less exclusive rather than pressuring minority groups to fit in. Perceptions of fit are one way that bias can creep into a recruitment process.

At UCLPartners, we’ve been reflecting on our own recruitment practices and how we can improve our own process. From mid-2020, we have started stress-testing all our job descriptions before recruitment to remove any language or specifications that may exclude people or groups from applying through a peer review process. We are sharing best practice and learnings across the organisation to create a pool of knowledge to help recruiting managers. We have found that comments on language around age and gender bias are most common and easy to pick up. Equally, using organisation-related jargon and acronyms may estrange potential candidates and make them feel they do not belong in the organisation; the same applies for job descriptions packed with incomprehensible words which may deter a candidate with a learning difficulty from applying.

Using a recruitment platform designed to facilitate equality and inclusivity

The South West AHSN uses the Applied platform – recruitment software that applies behavioural science to technology approaches that help reduce bias and increase inclusivity in the workplace. The platform uses several methods to reduce bias. It supports recruiters to write a job advert that uses inclusive language, has an application form designed to create equal playing fields for candidates, removes personal data from applications at the point of review and supports shortlisting by randomising the answers from candidates when recruiters are reviewing them. It also provides automated and personalised feedback for candidates. Although it is still early days for South West AHSN using the new platform, they have found it provides an inclusive, intuitive way of accessing candidates and supports recruiting managers to select the right individual for the role, without unconscious bias creeping in.

Rethinking the interview process

Hosted by Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust, the Health Innovation Network has introduced diverse panels to help candidates feel more comfortable during interviews. Data gathered by the trust showed that although many people applying for roles were from a BME background, a smaller proportion of these candidates were actually appointed. Now, BME staff members are invited to be part of interview panels and all staff are trained on practices of selection and recruitment and unconscious bias. Through this process, the trust has already seen an increase in the proportion of BME candidates who are successful at interview stage in senior level roles. In addition, they have taken measures to ensure all interviewees feel comfortable in virtual interviews and are treated equitably.

All these different initiatives are steps towards our collective organisational commitment across the AHSN Network, to build inclusive and diverse teams. Creating a diverse and inclusive environment is a challenge for all of us, by sharing learning from our colleagues and partner organisations we can learn from one another, be inspired and generate new ways of working. We know that diverse and inclusive teams are high performing teams – so I implore you to challenge your own practice or organisation to reflect how we can mitigate against unconscious bias in recruitment and beyond.

This blog was first published by the NHS Confederation’s NHS Voices.