UCL Human Resources


Guide to positive action and inclusive recruitment

Introducing key aspects of best practice in relation to equitable recruitment practices. This resource provides departments with strategies to help attract and recruit diverse applicants.



  1. This guide must be read in conjunction with the Recruitment and Selection Procedure

Positive action

  1. Positive action is lawful under sections 158 and 159 of the Equality Act 2010.  This legislation states that employers can take voluntary actions to address any imbalance of opportunity where they perceive that people who share a protected characteristic (namely age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and/or sexual orientation):
  • suffer a disadvantage.
  • have needs which are different from those who do not share that characteristic, or
  • are disproportionately under-represented.  
  1. Positive action can include:
  • placing job adverts to target particular groups, to increase the number of applicants from that group.
  • including statements in job adverts to encourage applications from under-represented groups, such as ‘We particularly welcome female applicants and those from an ethnic minority, as they are under-represented within UCL at these levels’.
  • offering training or internships to help certain groups get opportunities or progress at work.
  • offering shadowing or mentoring to groups with particular needs.
  • hosting an open day specifically for under-represented groups to encourage them to get into a particular field.
  • appointing a candidate who i) shares a protected characteristic which is disproportionately under-represented, or ii) suffers a disadvantage connected with a protected characteristic, when they are of ‘equal merit’ to the other best candidate(s).  Further information about how to apply this type of positive action is found in the Appointment section of this guide.  

Job descriptions and person specifications

  1. Recruiting managers should review the Job description and Person Specification when a vacancy occurs to ensure it accurately reflects the job requirements. Refer to the Guidance on writing a Job Description and Person Specification and the job description templates.  Remove unnecessary criteria, especially around qualifications, and ensure there are not more than 10-12 essential and 1-2 desirable criteria in total.  
  2. Pay particular attention to the language used and that it remains as neutral as possible.   For example, consider the use of a gender decoder to ensure that it does not use language that puts women off applying.
  3. Ensure there is an EDI responsibility in all job descriptions to embed equality, diversity and inclusion being ‘business as usual’.
  4. The recruiting manager will then need to determine how this criteria will be assessed in an objective way. This can take into account a candidate’s overall ability, competence and professional experience together with any relevant formal or academic qualifications, as well as any other qualities required to carry out the particular job.  It is important to be able to demonstrate individual assessment of merit for all candidates. 


  1. Plan advertising:
  • If the role is Grade 9 or 10, consider advertising the post as a secondment for BAME staff only, under the Accelerate to Leadership programme
  • Read the Checklist regarding disabled applicants.
  • Consider placing adverts on websites, forums, or publications that have a diverse readership or are dedicated to underrepresented groups or minorities.
  • Make better use of social media. Where appropriate share links to the vacancy on departmental Twitter accounts and on LinkedIn profiles.
  • Actively advertise and promote roles within internal diverse UCL networks
  • Be explicit about hybrid working where applicable, and be open to discussing the potential of flexible working options e.g., part time working and job shares.
  • Put the interview date in the advert so that those with commitments can plan ahead. 
  • Use a gender decoder to ensure that your advert does not use language that puts women off applying.  
  • Use a Positive Action statement, example below: 

    Positive action statement example:

    “As London’s Global University, we know diversity fosters creativity and innovation. We are committed to equality of opportunity, to being fair and inclusive, and to being a place where all belong.

    We therefore particularly encourage applications from candidates who are likely to be underrepresented in UCL’s workforce.

    These include people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, disabled people, LGBTQI+ people, and women (for our Grade 9 and 10 roles).”

Interview panels

  1. As per UCL’s Recruitment and Selection Procedure, make efforts to diversify your interview panels, ensuring that there is a mix of genders and ethnicities; all UCL interview panels must comprise of at least 25% women and all white panels should be avoided where possible.
  2. If you are unable to source a trained BAME interview panel member, consider the use of the Fair Recruitment Specialist Scheme (FRSS). 
  3. Encourage the creation of local EDI Recruitment Champions, who are trained on recruitment best practice and positive action to ensure consistent actions are being taken.


  1. At least two members of the interview panel will undertake shortlisting and should include one of the BAME members where possible. 
  2. Shortlist using only the original agreed criteria on the person specification. Do not allow the introduction of new criteria.
  3. Only consider facts. Recall unconscious bias training and avoid assumptions to minimise risk of stereotyping. 
  4. Score each candidate using a pre-agreed scoring system and the UCL Shortlisting Form.  If done properly, there should be a high degree of consensus. 
  5. When inviting to interview ask about any reasonable adjustments required.


  1. Be prepared to be more flexible about how and when we conduct interviews to allow for a wide range of people with various commitments to attend. Refer to the Guidance for conducting interviews.
  2. The chair of the panel may brief the panel on fair recruitment and positive action to ensure the panel are scoring answers consistently to reduce unconscious bias. 
  3. Keep it simple, just ask one question at a time. If candidates don’t give full answers make sure you probe each candidate equally. 
  4. Always ask a relevant Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion interview question. Please consult your HR Business Partnering Team or Departmental Teams if you require assistance developing suitable EDI questions.
  5. Make comprehensive notes of each answer given and only score the response on what was said. 

Remote interviewing 

  1. Consider whether the interview will be conducted remotely or in person.
  2. If conducted remotely:
  • There may be technical issues beyond the interviewee’s control, and it may be advisable to have a practice run to ensure comfort with and workability of technology. 
  • Be sensitive to potential barriers to a usual standard of performance and be patient in understanding individual constraints, which may be at play.
  • If necessary, you should use closed captioning and indicate that access to British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, or palantypists may be possible, as these can be provided in a virtual setting.
  • Is the technology available to all interviewees to take part remotely?
  • Do they have a quiet, stress-free space in which to be interviewed?
  • Offer flexibility over interview time slots, where possible.
  • Consider the impact of any required tests or presentations, and the length of interviews. 


  1. Where there is a tie-break and two candidates are of equal merit to be appointed, you may appoint the candidate from an underrepresented group, in line with the following guidance. 

What does ‘equal merit’ mean?

  1. ‘Equal merit’ is where two or more candidates are considered equally appointable.  This does not just mean qualifications – it is considering the candidates’ overall ability and experience as well as specific qualities required for the role, using fair and objective selection criteria.

Use of positive action in a tie-break

  1. The tie-break provision is to be found in section 159 of the Equality Act 2010 and allows an employer to treat an applicant with a protected characteristic that is under-represented more favourably in connection with recruitment than someone without that characteristic who is as qualified for the role.  
  2. Use of the tie-break provision requires three criteria to be met:
  • Firstly, candidates must be of equal merit for the specific post: the tie-break provision could not be used to favour a less qualified candidate (taking into account candidates’ overall ability and experience as well as specific qualities required or any relevant academic or formal qualifications), highlighting the importance of using objective selection criteria.
  • Secondly, there must not be a policy of automatically treating people who share the under-represented protected characteristic more favourably (even where employers have evidence of disadvantage or under-representation) to ensure each candidate is considered on their individual merits.
  • Finally, treating the candidate more favourably by recruiting them must be a proportionate means of achieving the aims specified by section 159 Equality Act 2010. These aims are encouraging people who share the protected characteristic to overcome or minimise the disadvantage or participate in that activity. 

Disproportionately under-represented?

  1. In a tie-break situation, recruiting managers should familiarise themselves with the diversity profile of the staff in their department or in the type of role being recruited to.  Data is available from the EDI team and Human Resources.  They should also discuss this with the Head of HR for their Faculty/Division beforehand.


  1. UCL’s positive action position in recruitment will be reviewed on an annual basis to ensure that it is still appropriate.

An example of positive action:

‘A department has a vacancy for one of its senior jobs. All the other senior jobs at that level are performed by white staff. The department conducts a recruitment exercise, and at the end of a stringent and objective process finds that two applicants – one black, one white – are of equal merit and could do the job equally well. The department could decide to take positive action and give the job to the black candidate. But the department couldn’t give the job to the black candidate if the white candidate demonstrated that they were able to perform the job better– that would be unlawful direct discrimination against the white candidate’.


  1. Make the successful candidate aware of any diverse staff networks and groups that they could join. 
  2. Make the successful candidate aware of relevant Communities of Practice groups they can join. 
  3. Make the successful candidate aware of the leadership and mentoring (and coaching) programmes available for BAME and other under-represented groups staff as applicable:

March 2022
HR Employment Policy Team