Workplace culture

Workplace culture

Attracting the best talent

Why it is important to get it right

Recruitment mistakes can be costly and recruiting the wrong people can lead to increased staff turnover, reduced productivity and lower staff morale. Unfair recruitment practices can also lead to financial penalties. Discrimination during recruitment and selection can result in an employment tribunal claim which not only costs time and money, but can also present a serious risk to reputation.

How to get it right

  • Have a clear, written recruitment process incorporating: job description, person specification, advertising, shortlisting, interviewing.
  • Ensure that all staff who will be involved in the recruitment process are trained and that the training includes the importance of non-discrimination and fair treatment.
  • Make sure that your recruitment process is not excluding good quality candidates from under-represented groups of people.
  • Keep records of all decisions made during the recruitment process, including all notes from shortlisting and interview processes.

When it’s hard to fill a vacancy

Many businesses find it hard to find skilled and talented people. If you're in this position, it may be helpful to consider ways of encouraging different groups of people to apply for your vacancies.

Women and men who aspire to work in occupations more common to the opposite sex often feel discouraged from doing so. This is because of stereotyping about women's and men's abilities and preferences, access to training, and inflexible working arrangements.

Businesses which adapt their recruitment processes and encourage applications from the widest possible pool are more likely to attract and retain the staff they need.

Way of encouraging applications from the widest possible pool include:
  • Ensuring job adverts are worded to encourage applications from both men and women. Any pictures in adverts should represent both sexes.
  • Offering pre-interview training sessions for potential employees to learn about the business and the skills required for the vacant post. Offering work experience opportunities which avoid gender stereotyping. For example, engineering and construction placements for girls as well as boys.
  • Providing induction training for women returners whose family related career breaks may mean recent work experience is limited. Induction training should be designed to fully introduce staff to the business and their role within it.

Recruitment and selection policies

All businesses, regardless of size, should have a recruitment and selection policy. An effective recruitment and selection policy is one which sets out how the business will ensure that the most suitable person for any job is selected. Your recruitment and selection policy should include a statement that the business aims to ensure that:

  • The most suitable person for any job will be selected on the basis of their relevant merits and abilities to undertake the work, and
  • No member of staff or job applicant will be unfairly treated on any grounds, including gender.


Statements typically used in effective recruitment and selection policies:

  • Vacancies will reach as wide a pool of potential applicants as possible.
  • All job descriptions will be clear and concise, and objective person specifications will be in place for every job.
  • Staff involved in recruitment and selection will be familiar with the company’s recruitment and selection policy, and be trained in non-discriminatory recruitment practice.

The recruitment and selection policy should be reviewed and monitored to ensure it remains consistent with the law and best practice.

Job descriptions

A written job description which details job purpose, tasks and responsibilities should be in place for every job.

There is a job description template in the Workplace Culture section which can be downloaded and adapted for use in your business.

Job descriptions can be used for a variety of purposes, including:

  • As a recruitment tool: they can be used as a basis for job advertisements, and should be sent to applicants with application forms.
  • As a basis for employment contracts: specific reference to job descriptions can be made in contracts of employment.
  • As a defence if discrimination is claimed: they can help demonstrate selection decisions were carried out objectively.

Person specifications

A person specification is a valuable tool used to profile the ideal person to do a particular job. The emphasis should be skills and personal attributes rather than job role and responsibilities.

A person specification should specify the criteria to be used in shortlisting and in selecting candidates to fill a vacancy. When developing a person specification, be careful to ensure no assumptions are made about ‘male’ or ‘female’ qualities.

Person specifications should be kept simple and very tightly referenced to the job. They can include information under a number of headings, such as skills, knowledge and experience.

It is essential that any experience specified relates closely to the actual requirements of the job and that you can, if challenged, justify why certain criteria are necessary. The law states that when recruiting, you must not do something that would impact more negatively on someone who has a protected characteristic than on someone who does not share that characteristic. The protected characteristics in law are as follows:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion and belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Unless you can demonstrate that your actions or requirements are objectively justified (that is, that your actions are a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim), any requirements that have a disproportionately negative impact on one group over another could be viewed as indirect discrimination.


Having a requirement that ‘candidates must be over 6ft tall’, may be considered indirect sex discrimination, since considerably fewer women than men would be able to fit that criteria. An employer would have to demonstrate that this requirement could not be met by, for example, providing equipment that would allow shorter people to reach heights, or the requirement might not be justified.

Similarly, having a requirement for candidates to have ‘x number of years’ experience’, or ‘recent experience’ could potentially discriminate against women, who are more likely to take career breaks to care for children or relatives.

Businesses should consider whether appropriate experience could be gained in a non-working environment, such as the home or through voluntary work. Requirements for ‘recent experience’ would also need to be justified. Businesses should also consider whether industry practices have changed drastically in recent years, or whether new staff could be easily trained on advances in certain technology.


The Equality Act 2010 does, in limited circumstances, allow advertisements aimed specifically at one gender. One reason for this is in cases where there is a occupational requirement for an employee to be a particular gender. This might, for example, apply to caring roles, where personal care is delivered to clients of one gender or another.

Similarly, qualifications specified must be necessary to do the job, unless candidates are being recruited on the basis of future potential (for example, graduates). All of the criteria included in a person specification must be applied equally to all applicants.

There is a person specification template in the main menu that can be adapted for use within your business.

Application forms

CVs may seem a useful option. They allow applicants to tailor their application to their own preferences, but they can make shortlisting difficult. Varying degrees of information may be supplied by applicants while important details may be omitted. CVs can also include information which is not relevant to the job, or include details which may allow negative and discriminatory opinions about an applicant to be formed. For example, information about hobbies, or details of marital status, number and ages of children and so on.

Application forms, however, allow applications to be scored or ranked for shortlisting across a common set of criteria, and help ensure applicants provide consistently structured information which can be expanded on at interview. Application forms can provide evidence of why a candidate has or hasn't been selected for interview, if a claim of unfair selection is taken to tribunal.

Application forms should not include questions which may amount to unlawful discrimination, and which are unlikely to be relevant to an applicant’s ability to do a job.

Some of the questions which may lead to unlawful discrimination include those related to:

  • Gender (including family, ages of children, intentions to have children)
  • Marital status or relationships (including whether Mr, Mrs, Ms)
  • First names (identify candidates by initials only)

Include a section on unpaid work experience. This allows applicants to demonstrate relevant skills or experience gained in unpaid work, for example, in volunteer work or work in the home.

Advertising vacancies

When advertising your job vacancy, avoid using gender specific recruitment adverts (such as for ‘handyman’ or ‘waitress’), which may imply only a man or a woman is suitable for the job. This can amount to direct sex discrimination, which is unlawful. Adverts should use gender neutral terms that can be applied equally to women or men.

Also be aware of indirect sex discrimination. This can occur where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice is applied to all staff, but can particularly disadvantage women or men.

When using images in a job advert, always ensure these do not appear to favour or suggest a particular type of person should apply for the post (for example, white, male, young).

Vacancies should be advertised as widely as possible by using a variety of media, for example:

  • Local newspapers
  • National or regional newspapers
  • Online recruitment sites (e.g. s1jobs,
  • Social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn)
  • Company website
  • Trade and professional journals
  • Magazines
  • Job centres
  • Notice boards


When the job has been advertised and applications received, a shortlist of candidates to invite for interview should be drawn up.

Taking a fair, systematic and consistent approach helps ensure that selectors do not discriminate unfairly on grounds of personal bias, whether consciously or subconsciously, when shortlisting interview candidates.

Applicants should be informed whether they have been selected for interview as quickly as possible.

Shortlisting interview candidates

  • Set criteria for selecting candidates. Criteria should be based closely on the person specification drawn up for the job
  • Have a scoring system to assist decision making
  • Examine each application and award points to each applicant, depending on how the individual criteria agreed for the job are met by each applicant
  • Involve two or more people in the shortlisting process
  • Where possible, at least two people should collaborate in deciding the shortlist of interview candidates
  • Each should draw up their own list of potential candidates, then meet and agree a final list, based on scores from their individual lists
  • Scores are totalled, and applicants with the highest scores are invited to interview

Positive action in recruitment

Where you have identified that certain groups are under-represented in a particular role within your business, you can take ‘positive action’ measures to try to address this. In recruitment, this can be done before, or at, the application stage. These steps can include encouraging people from those groups to apply or helping people with particular protected characteristics to perform to the best of their ability (for example, by giving them training or support not available to other applicants).


A design company is looking to take on a new software developer. All of its current software developers are men, so the company directors decide that they should try to target women for the position. The company contacts Women in Technology, an organisation which promotes career opportunities to women working in information technology, to advertise the vacant position. The advertisement reaches a much wider pool, and there is an increase in female applicants.

Positive action can be used in a tie break situation, where two applicants are equally well qualified but one shares a protected characteristic and the other does not. In the example above, the design company could select a female candidate over the male candidate, providing she was equally well qualified, in furtherance of the employer’s efforts to have amore representative workforce.

This is not the same as ‘positive discrimination’, which is unlawful. If, after advertising for the post, a man applied and was better qualified than a female applicant, the employer would have to offer the job to the male candidate, even though they were targeting women in an effort to redress the gender imbalance in their workforce. To offer a post to a less well qualified person because they share a protected characteristic is discriminatory.


Job interviews serve two main purposes:

  • To find out if the candidate is suitable for the job, and
  • To give the candidate information about the job and the company.

A structured interview provides a fair and consistent way to assess suitability for a post, as it is based on the interviewers asking the same questions of each candidate and assessing the quality of responses provided by each interviewee.

Deciding which questions should be included in the interview should be relatively straightforward as the knowledge and skills or competencies required for the job should already be decided, having formed the basis of any job advertisement and shortlisting process. For each question to be asked, the interviewers should decide on a score to be allocated to it, with the maximum score available being that which they would award to the ideal candidate.

Some employers may decide that certain competencies are more important to the job than others, and award a higher possible score to one question than they do another.

Every candidate should have the same opportunity to present themself effectively, to demonstrate their suitability and to ask questions of the interviewers.

Interviewing job applicants

  • Where possible, at least two people conduct interviews.
  • One to one interviews can increase the potential for discrimination to occur. It is also difficult to concentrate on questions, take notes, and relax the candidate at the same time.
  • Panel interviews, conducted by two or more people who have met and set criteria and interview questions beforehand, lessen the opportunity for discrimination.
  • Keep records of interviews.
  • Each interviewer should note every candidate’s answers to the interview questions, and notes should be kept for future reference.
  • All interview candidates are asked the same questions.
  • All candidates should be asked the same set of questions which are decided by the interviewers beforehand.
  • Where candidates are asked different questions, inconsistency and unfairness can result.
  • If an unsuccessful candidate takes a complaint to an employment tribunal, this type of questioning can be difficult to defend.
  • Where possible, both men and women should be on interview panels, and ideally have an equal number of each.
  • Ensure only questions related to the job in question are asked
  • Never ask questions about childcare arrangements and marital status. Even if such questions are asked of both men and women, this may amount to indirect sex discrimination.

During structured interviews, scores are allocated for each answer given by candidates, according to the rating system previously agreed. The successful candidate is the person who has achieved the highest overall score.

Always ensure information relating to candidates’ answers, and copies of any scoring sheets, are kept for providing feedback to unsuccessful candidates. If a complaint of unfair selection is made, such evidence may be invaluable.

Everyone involved in recruitment processes must have received appropriate training in recruitment and selection, which should include equalities aspects of recruitment and selection, and in the relevant legislation.

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