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Learning how to be anti-racist in our recruitment

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Careers, culture, equity, race, recruitment

screenshot of 4 colleagues on a Microsoft Teams meeting

In our post ‘What we’re doing to support Black colleagues’ we listed ‘improving our recruitment process’ as a top priority to support our colleagues and address racism.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic candidates are still less likely to make it through the application process and be offered a job, compared to their white counterparts. We're facing this truth head on.

Here we talk about 7 things we’re trialling to make sure the way we hire people is anti-racist and free from bias. In particular we’re focusing on:

  • deepening our understanding of racism and bias in recruitment
  • growing our community
  • attracting candidates from under represented groups

Getting different perspectives

To make our recruitment process better we need input and feedback from a wide range of people.

We’re collaborating with different members of the DfE Digital race working group, and our staff support networks who have expertise in this area.

We’ve also been working with an organisation that has a network of over 200,000 technologists, and a deep understanding of diversity, inclusion and community building. This collaboration has helped guide our approach.

Understanding what it’s like for ethnic minority people on interview panels

We are committed to diverse interview panels as a way of challenging affinity bias and to ensure diversity of thought.

Some Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues have been doing this for some time time. Since setting up our team 12 months ago 95% of our interview panels have been racially diverse. We're now doing user research with our panel members who identify as belonging to an ethnic minority. Their views, feedback and insight on what we can do better will be invaluable.

We’ve recently put out a call to Black, Asian and other ethnic minority colleagues to get involved in different stages of the end-to-end recruitment process to make it more anti-racist. This can be looking at job descriptions, taking part in user research or observing sessions as a ‘critical friend’ to bring another layer of scrutiny.

Challenging bias properly

If we want our colleagues to challenge bias then we must make sure they are comfortable speaking about race and that they know how to challenge other people’s bias constructively.

To give people the confidence to do this we’ve designed a training session for interview panel members. They must do this before they see any candidates’ applications or take part in any interviews. This training is in addition to the unconscious bias training that all civil servants must do each year.

A member of our recruitment team will be present when the people on an interview panel meet to review application forms and moderate interview results. Our team will make sure any bias is challenged.

We’re also encouraging the people in DfE Digital who are hiring into their teams (sometimes called vacancy holders) to go to awaydays, talks and events about race, allyship and privilege.

Changing how we assess candidates

Our research tells us that assessing people on their lived experiences – not just their work-based ones – will increase the number of successful job applicants from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

We should assess people on merit, their ability and their values – never on whether or not they fit in with our culture.

Attracting a much richer and wider mix of candidates

The focus of the image are some lanyards and sticker on a table. They're in front of a pink billboard that reads 'Government is hiring'

Have you ever read a job advert and still had no idea what the job actually entails? To make our adverts clear and easy to understand, we use Textio to:

  • compose jargon-free text
  • remind us to remove Civil Service terminology
  • prompt us when the text is too masculine in tone

We also include information about the benefits and reasonable adjustment schemes up front.

Our job adverts are in plain english. We know that if we publish a job advert that isn’t readable and accessible we risk losing potential candidates.

We've taken out the requirement for qualifications because we want to assess candidates on their ability, not where they went to school or if they went to university.

A statement from us will soon appear on every job advert to encourage people to apply even if they might not have 100% of the required experience.

We want candidates to tell us about their life, their community and their volunteering experiences. We know teams with different backgrounds are proven to have higher levels of innovation and creativity.

Finding out what our users outside our organisation think

Soon we’ll be running user research sessions with people in Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (with little or no experience of the Civil Service). We’ll ask these users to:

  • review our job adverts
  • review how we assess candidates for digital roles
  • give us their view on our brand
  • tell us if we come across as the kind of employer that people want to work for
  • tell us what we’re doing right and what is not working

We want to know where else we should be posting and advertising our job adverts in order to reach people who wouldn’t ordinarily look for roles in DfE Digital.

If you’re keen to take part in this user research session, contact Farah Khan.

Growing our community

About 10 people sitting in a group concentrating and conferring.

Networking and partnering with groups and organisations led by Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities is critical if we genuinely want to attract a much richer mix of digital specialists.

We also want our digital specialists who already work here to talk and volunteer (even more than they do already) at community events to help spread the word about DfE Digital, our culture and how our work makes a difference to users.

Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, we did lots of community events including:

We now need to find more creative ways to step up our community work, especially now that working from home and virtual events are the new normal.

Without challenge, things will never change

If and when we come across behaviour that does not align with our anti-racist values, we share our concerns immediately. We want to use our knowledge to educate others.

We think it’s important to remember that when something doesn’t feel right, we should call it out and start the conversation.

We’d like to hear from you

If you’d like to suggest or share any changes or ideas that you’re trialling at work to address discrimination, please tell us. We want to listen, learn and grow as a community.

Take a look at our ‘We’re Hiring’ page for our current vacancies. You can also find out more about our commitment to making DfE Digital a more equitable place to work.

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  1. Comment by Catherine Gilhooly posted on

    Brilliant blog. Thank you for this as I'm recruiting at the moment and have been able to put together a diverse recruitment panel. I too changed a lot of the standard text on the job advert as it didn't really tell you what it was trying to convey. I think in the Civil Service there is a tendency to reuse existing text without challenging or reviewing it and so poorly worded text just keeps appearing in job adverts and job descriptions.

    I also endorse the approach of not asking for qualifications unless they are absolutely needed so we are not excluding good prospective candidates.

    I'm active in DfE's social mobility network and we have outreach work planned, which I see you are doing a lot of, which is great because the first barrier is actively ensuring that a diverse range of applicants apply.

    Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading your next blog on this subject.

  2. Comment by Jenny Mulholland posted on

    Thanks Katie. I've shared this with my (private sector) employer as we try to improve on this ourselves.