Jay Nash, Director of HR at Teach First
Jay Nash
Director of HR at Teach First

Revisiting employee recruitment and selection to create a fair and inclusive process

Today we’re making changes to our employee recruitment processes, all with the goal of making it more inclusive and creating more diversity at Teach First.

While it’s difficult to remove bias from an individual, it is possible to re-design processes and procedures in ways that make it harder for biased minds to skew judgment. Processes and procedures which rely on one person’s decision are inherently biased. And it’s more than time to acknowledge that there are systemic biases at play built into many of the processes we’ve become familiar with in the workplace. It’s overdue we do something about them.

Our direct motive is that recruitment should be fair: we should try to select the person we think will do best in the job, and not on the basis of unrelated characteristics. The indirect goal relates to our cultural principle of Speaking Up. It is hard to be entirely frank if your progression depends on the favour of senior people or your connection with certain individuals or groups. This has ethical ramifications in terms of honesty and transparency. We expect courtesy, respect and tolerance - we succeed together, so the ability to collaborate is essential - but we want to strip away as many barriers as possible to honest feedback and open debate.

To better fulfil these two aims recruitment should be:

  • Distributed – selection decisions should be shared and taken collectively
  • Objective – selection should be as free from bias and subjectivity as possible
  • Valid – the criteria used and selected for should reflect the attributes genuinely required to succeed in the role
  • Efficient – we should respect people’s limited time and resource

These factors reinforce each other: for example, using multiple perspectives evens out individual bias and objectivity focuses decisions on valid criteria.

No selection process can be perfect: it depends on human judgement in situations of uncertainty. There is equally an element of chance involved as success can depend on the field applying for the role and their circumstances at the time. Nor can selection by itself solve all problems. For example, a more objective selection process will not improve representation if people have unequal access to the qualifications or experience used to make those judgements. In fact, under those circumstances, crude objectivity could make things worse rather than better. Therefore, the changes we are making today (1 September) can only lead to improvement rather than perfection.

What we’re changing from today

  1. Interview panels must be made up of three people. By getting other team members involved we’ll be harnessing the power of ‘crowd wisdom’ and an individual hiring manager’s own subjectivity will be ‘averaged out’.
  2. We’ll ensure our interview panels are more diverse. No interview panel can be made up of people with the same ethnicity or gender identity will be permitted.
  3. Our panels will be multi-rater. Each panel member will score candidates independently with all scores counting equally. They will submit their scores without conferring with other panellists - no-consensus building or power dynamics affecting someone’s scores. The candidate with the highest score(s) will move to the next stage or be hired. There will be no hiring manager veto. This combats groupthink, hierarchy, bias and tokenism.
  4. All interviews will be structured whereby each candidate is asked the same set of questions in the same order, standardising the interview process. This begins to reduce bias by focusing interviewers on relevant factors and performance-related comparisons, with each question having a scoring criterion set in advance to enable consistent and accurate scoring by panellists.
  5. Interviews will include work sample questions, to hire for potential as well as experience. By definition, work sample questions mimic the job, so are more predictive of who can do the role. Less interpretation is required by assessors. The focus is on what the candidate can do not where they learnt to do it, meaning we’ll be more open to non-traditional skill development and less prone to ‘halo’ effects (being dazzled by where someone’s worked before).
  6. Interview questions will be sent to all candidates at least five days in advance. This is more inclusive of neurodivergent candidates (ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, and Dyslexia) and equally can help those with anxiety perform to their potential. Interviews will also be more representative of our normal working practices where employees have time to plan and prepare. On rare occasion where on the spot thinking is needed in the role, some questions may be ‘kept back’ until the interview, but we’ll make this clear to candidates in advance.
  7. We are now a Disability Confident employer. Any candidate who declares a disability and meets essential criteria (as described in the job description) will be invited to interview.

To enable these changes, we’ve developed an assessor community: a group of colleagues trained in our approach to assessment drawn from all areas and levels of the charity. This notion of an ‘assessor community’ across Teach First is exciting.  It reduces the ‘load’ on hiring managers and it helps ensure diverse interview panels without overburdening individuals. More profoundly we will all have an opportunity to get involved in choosing the next generation of employees. Recruitment decisions shape the organisation and affect us all in multiple ways, in makes sense that we all take ownership of them.

Whilst the smarter design of our recruitment and selection practices and procedures may not free our minds from our individual shortcomings, we hope that the changes we have made today will significantly reduce the impact of these biases, allowing us to collectively hire the best talent instead of those who ‘fit in’.

All this builds on work we’re already embedding including:

  • our diversity short-listing rules for management and leadership positions
  • simplifying our job descriptions and removing unnecessary qualifications from them
  • publishing a single non-negotiable starting salary for each role; publicly sharing our employee demographic data; and voluntarily publishing our ethnicity pay gap information.

You can read more about what we’re doing on our Diversity and Inclusion webpages (including our reports).

We’d love to know what you think of the changes we’re making – drop us an email on hr@teachfirst.org.uk

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