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Making boards more diverse

The Commissioner is committed to encouraging candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds to consider applying for a public appointment.

The Commissioner works with departments and the Public Appointments Policy Team in Cabinet Office to help achieve greater diversity on the boards of public bodies. Below are some tips and case studies intended as a prompt to encourage appointing departments to think more creatively about how to attract a strong and diverse field of candidates for public appointments. Many of these tips are focussed on attracting more candidates with disabilities to public appointments, but they also will improve the experience of all candidates more generally.

Generating interest in public appointments

  • Consider whether any of your bodies can offer shadowing or mentoring opportunities for potential board members and applicants – often the biggest challenge is helping people understand what public appointments are and giving them the confidence to apply for them.
  • Think about role models from those you have appointed to public boards; they may be willing to mentor prospective candidates or become case studies that can be used to promote public appointments.
  • Retain names of applicants (with their permission) who may not have been successful at interview but who might be appropriate/ interested in other appointments. Actively promote opportunities to them.
  • Some candidates with disabilities, both appointment holders and those who were unsuccessful, may be willing to provide their views or experiences on recruitment and provide useful feedback. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help to help you improve.
  • Make use of social media to raise the profile of public appointments, promote positive news stories and case studies, and advertise vacancies.

Planning and advertising

  • If using recruitment consultants, make the requirement to search for a diverse field of candidates clear from the outset and include it as part of the deliverables. Consider which consultants offer value for money and reliable results in this area and share your feedback with other Departments. Request that diversity data is supplied throughout the competition.
  • Think creatively about where you can advertise and which organisation or networks you can advertise with to encourage a diverse field of applicants. There are specialist publications, networks and professional organisations, champions within the Civil Service, and contacts within the third sector and trade unions who might be able to promote the vacancy to a wider audience (note that there may be a charge involved for some organisations).
  • Think about asking people from these networks etc. to ‘quality check’ the language used in the advert and the candidate pack – how will prospective candidates view and react to your recruitment material?
  • Your advert and specification are your first point of contact and crucial to attracting the right field of candidates. Consider your person specification and don’t make it too exclusive (e.g. requiring board level experience within the last x years), restricting the potential field of applicants. Think about potential, not just experience.
  • If using a PDF format, do not scan as a picture, but as text accessible. This is compatible with specially adapted PCs and can be read more easily by people with a visual impairment.

Encouraging and managing applications

  • Using the Disability Confident Scheme sends a really positive signal and should be proactively considered and clearly advertised. Explain the Scheme to candidates and what they can expect from it.
  • Consider using a foreword from the Minister, board chair or another role model to welcome applicants in the candidate pack. Use this text to promote your commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  • Make your message about reasonable adjustments visible and positive. Be clear that adjustments will be considered if requested (give examples if possible) and ensure that there is someone to contact to discuss any questions about adjustments. Provide their email and telephone contact details. Ensure that all staff involved in recruitment from the Department, recruitment consultants and the NDPB are confident about adjustments and can reinforce this positive message.
  • Think about including a practical description of what is involved in the public appointment you are recruiting to in the candidate pack. This gives people a chance to think themselves into the role – don’t assume people know what the role entails. Consider publishing the dates of planned board meetings, giving applicants the chance to consider if they can accommodate meetings with their other commitments.
  • Work with the NDPD to provide practical information on the location, accessibility and timings of board meetings. Consider travel arrangements, and if there are possibilities for members to join via a conference call, for example.
  • Candidate packs should include key dates, such as the sift and interview dates, to allow candidates to plan in advance. Ensure candidates shortlisted for interview are given their confirmed interview dates at least a few weeks in advance, in case they need to book travel assistance, childcare, or require support at the interview.
  •  Consider the format of application forms. Online applications in particular might not be accessible – be prepared to be flexible (for example, whether the pack/form can be offered in Braille etc.)  Always provide a contact telephone number and email address for any candidate that cannot access the forms.
  • Examine diversity data throughout the process (not just at the end) to see if you are reaching a diverse field of candidates and consider where else you can place the advert to ensure greater exposure, or how to further enhance the candidate pack.

Sifting and interviewing

  • Work with interview candidates to make arrangements to suit their needs. Consider if your interview location is accessible. Does it have parking and step-free access? Will staff be able to assist escorting people into the building and out again if there is an emergency? Is the timing of the interview convenient for the candidate?
  • Ensure that the panel sifting applications know their obligations under the  Disability Confident scheme (especially regarding guaranteed interviews), and under equalities legislation. Keep in mind the Principles underlying the public appointments Governance Code.

More information

Visit the DWP website for advice on recruiting people with disabilities.

Assistance to attend interviews and take up employment can be provided for people with disabilities.
Find out more about Access to Work on the GOV.UK website.

Watch our videos with public appointees and advocates on valuing diversity

Read about the how Boardroom Apprentice Scheme in Northern Ireland (PDF, 10 pages, 1.8MB) mentors the public appointees of the future.