A short guide to inclusive recruitment in STEM

Inclusive recruitment refers to the process of attracting, interviewing, and hiring a diverse pool of talent. These processes are designed to eliminate bias from the recruitment process and ensure the best-qualified people get hired for positions regardless of gender, ethnicity, or any other protected characteristics.

Why inclusive recruitment matters

Inclusive recruitment aims to prevent discrimination, ensure all groups have equal opportunities, prevent potential candidates from deselecting themselves from the recruitment process, and eventually build a strong and diverse talent pipeline.

Implementing inclusive recruitment practices will help employers avoid discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, widen their talent pool, and increase their brand reputation so they can be seen as an employer of choice for women and other underrepresented groups.

Widening the STEM talent pool

It is estimated that women only represent around 25% of the STEM workforce. Not only is this a waste of talent and opportunity but it jeopardises Scotland’s chances to be at the forefront of innovation. Data also suggests that diversity in organisations correlates with better financial performance (McKinsey report) and can lead to better decision-making at work (Cloverpop report).

STEM employers in the UK are facing an acute skills shortage and an ageing workforce – they must find new ways to attract and recruit new talent but also upskill or reskill their existing workforce. Being able to tap into a new talent pool is therefore critical and requires genuine commitment to see positive and sustainable results.

If increasing the number of individuals from under-represented groups makes sense from an economic and business perspective, it is also and above all the right thing to do. Having an inclusive hiring process does not only ensure they don’t miss out on valuable talents but is the most ethical and value-driven way to build a workforce.

We’ve set out the best inclusive recruitment practices for employers to follow.

Practical steps for inclusive hiring practices

All employers – regardless of their size or industry – can take steps to widen their talent pool and overcome recruitment bias. If you’re unsure where to begin, the following steps can be a good starting point. However, it is worth noting that the best results will be seen when this is part of a broader equality, diversity, and inclusion strategy.

  1. Use inclusive language in your recruitment materials and on your website

Did you know? Commonly used words and phrases can reinforce unhelpful stereotypes and inadvertently exclude or discourage certain groups from applying for roles.

There’s been several studies that have demonstrated the impact of language in job descriptions. Academic research by the University of Waterloo and Duke University defined a series of words which socially, culturally, and historically carry a stereotypical weight towards a particular gender. The researchers found that language used in job recruitment materials can maintain gender inequality in traditionally male-dominated occupations.

There is guidance available that helps identify gendered language including from the United Nations. This is also something the Equate Scotland language review service can support you with.

  1. Review the structure and content of the job description

Did you know? Women tend to only apply to jobs when feel they meet 100% of the criteria listed on the job description.

There are many aspects of the job descriptions that can put candidates off from applying. One of them is the list of requirements in the person specification. Avoid the temptation to add too many criteria to the job description or person specification in search of the ‘perfect candidate’. Only including criteria that is required to start the role and essential can help employers widen their talent pool. Anything that can be learned or developed once hired should ideally be removed especially if the employer would consider hiring someone who does not have one of the listed characteristics.

Equate Scotland offers a language review service that can help employers improve the inclusivity of their job description. We look at the language used, the wording but also the tone and structure of the job description to help employers attract a diverse range of candidates.

Not displaying a salary or salary range can put potential candidates off from applying and thus reduce your chance to widen the talent pool.

If you are able to offer flexible working in any capacity or have an official flexible working policy, it is worth including this in your job advert to signal to candidates that this is available to them. More and more people are looking for flexibility from their employer to improve their work-life balance, so flexibility is an appealing attribute of a job listing.

  1. Ensure your website is accessible and speaks to ALL candidates

Did you know? The images and videos on your website can affect how potential candidates may view your organisation.

Ensuring your website is accessible is also a good practice for inclusive hiring. You can for instance include transcripts or close captions for your videos, alternative texts for images and check you meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) international standard.

Showcase a diverse range of people in your photos and imaging on your website if possible, but be wary of virtue-signalling and giving a false impression of how diverse your organisation is.

Including a diversity statement in your job advert can help showcase to candidates that you are committed to inclusive recruitment and hiring diverse talent. They are becoming more common in job listings and may be something candidates look for, especially candidates from underrepresented groups.

  1. Identify ways to reach out to under-represented groups in your organisation

Did you know? Job seekers are giving more and more importance to the culture of the organisation and its social values. To be able to find employers committed to ED&I, some candidates would look for job opportunities on non-traditional channels and platforms.

Diversity job boards can offer an alternative to generalist job boards. Another way to reach out to a new talent pool is to be present at networking events, career fairs or partner with organisations who can help you reach out to the underrepresented groups in your organisation.

Include your organisational values in your job descriptions to present your organisation to potential candidates. Remember they are screening you just as much as you are screening them.

  1. Reduce unconscious bias during the recruitment process

Did you know? People tend to hire people like themselves or based upon their assumptions of other people, rather than the individual who may be the best fit for the job.

When hiring a new person, the people in charge of recruitment may already have a ‘type’ of person in mind, and this can be illustrated in the job advert and recruitment process without them even realising. This is well illustrated in this famous research from Yale which showed that when presented with identical applications, the only difference being one had the name Jennifer and the other had John, all recruiters, including women recruiters, favoured John’s application across each criteria of competence, hireability, mentoring, and recommended a higher starting salary.

Here are a few steps you can take to reduce unconscious bias:

  • Introduce an anonymised application process where the recruitment shortlisting panel has no access to the applicant’s identity and demographics (gender, name, age) of the applicant.
  • Ensure that hiring managers are also trained to inclusive recruitment practices can help reduce unconscious bias and prevent discrimination from happening.
  • Have a diverse interview panel
  • Follow a standardised job interview process: prepare a script and list of questions, use an interview scoring system and assess candidates based on the essential criteria listed in your job description


Following these steps will help you adopt an inclusive recruitment approach that should help you attract a diverse group of applicants which will help your recruit the best talent for your organisation.

However, inclusive recruitment is only one step towards building a more inclusive and diverse organisation. It is crucial that employers review their workplace environment, policies, and culture if they want to retain talents and help them grow. In fact, retention of staff is a key indicator of an employer of choice, and we know that repeated vacancies and staff losses create financial and expertise losses to organisations.

Equate Scotland is here to support you on your equality, diversity, and inclusion journey, click this link to find out more about the Equate CareerHub job board and language review service.