Blog post

Using positive action to create a fairer recruitment process

Placing more focus on values during the recruitment process can create a more inclusive process.

20 September 2021


  • Paul Deemer
    Paul Deemer Head of Diversity and Inclusion, NHS Employers
  • Erika Ottley
    Erika Ottley Senior HR, OD & Transformation Improvement Lead, NHS England and NHS Improvement
  • Will Thomas
    Will Thomas Associate Professor, University of Suffolk Business School

Following on from a series of tweet chats on #EthicalRecruitment, Paul Deemer - head of diversity and inclusion at NHS Employers, Erika Ottley - HR, OD and transformation improvement lead at NHS England and Will Thomas - associate professor at University of Suffolk Business School talk about inclusive recruitment.  

Recruitment processes are intended to ensure that applicants and potential applicants are treated fairly. In most cases, we try to achieve this by ensuring that everyone is treated the same, we try to eliminate biases and strive to be fair, open and transparent in our decision-making. The fact that we have guaranteed interview schemes however, is an acknowledgement that this approach can only take us so far.

The two ticks scheme, now called Disability Confident, was introduced because people with disabilities routinely find themselves disadvantaged by recruitment process that claim to delivery fairness and equality.

Offering support to people with disabilities, for example, through a guaranteed interview scheme, is a way in which we might try to address disadvantages that might affect these people if they were required to apply on a level playing field basis.

We might ask though, why we take steps to address this form of inequality whilst ignoring others such as gender, sexual identity, race or socio-economic background? Could this way of advertising and recruiting which actively promotes diverse hiring, serve to improve the situation, not just for applicants that have disabilities, but for those who are disadvantaged in other, multiple or intersecting ways? Bottom line - could we even justify extending the use of guaranteed interview schemes to those from other groups that are under-represented in our workplace?

One approach that may offer a way to deliver a fair and transparent approach to recruitment, whilst enabling employers to address inequalities is to focus on values-based recruitment. In our recent #EthicalRecruitment tweet chat we discussed these issues with participants, many of whom were HR professionals, with experience inside and outside of the NHS.

The focus of this approach is, as one contributor said “being intentional about recruiting people based on your values” rather than emphasising experience.

For example, in the case of the NHS, this means placing an emphasis on the six core values both as we make selections about who to interview and to whom we make job offers, but also in the way that we conduct recruitment processes. Here are some ideas you could consider as you run your next recruitment process:

  • Could you adopt the principle of personalised care and take this forward to recruitment – for example by considering adjustments that may encourage candidates to highlight the contribution they could make?
  • Could you involve current employees in designing the recruitment process to build a shared understanding of how core values are practiced within your team?
  • How can you make sure your efforts to practice ethical recruitment are not a box-ticking exercise? 
  • What steps could you take to ensure that potential candidates understand the intention behind your actions?
  • Could you adapt a leadership development programme to have wider inclusion by a positive action selection process?

NHS Employers has produced guidance to help employers meet some of the actions of the NHS People Plan around recruitment and shared examples of good inclusive recruitment practice. In addition, take a look at how to recruit and support disabled staff in the workplace and a report inclusive recruitment into apprenticeships.

The NHS Employers Disability Summit took place on 29 September 2021. The event explored how to create workplaces for the future where disabled staff feel like they belong. Access further information and resources from the event.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the individual authors, and not necessarily the views of their respective organisations.