Equality and diversity guidelines for panel members

The University has a duty to ensure that job applicants are not subject to discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, civil partnership status, trans-gender status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, race, religion or belief, disability and age.

Decisions on recruitment and selection should be based on objective, job related criteria. The University seeks to ensure best practice and in so doing ensure compliance with relevant legislation.

Where can I find the University policy on equality and diversity?

What practical steps should we take to reduce unfair treatment?

Advertising: careful consideration should be given to the wording used in job adverts to ensure that they are not written is such a way that stereotypes or encourages people to believe that the position is only suitable for certain groups of people. Consideration should also be given to which media is used for advertising in order to ensure that applications from some sections of the community are not excluded or limited.

Person specification: your criteria for selection should relate to the requirements of the job, relevant qualifications and relevant experience. The person specification should be drawn up objectively, taking care to ensure that all the criteria included are appropriate and relevant to the performance of the job in question.

Criteria used in recruitment may sometimes amount to indirect discrimination against people in certain groups, eg women, overseas nationals or people in a particular age group. Indirect discrimination occurs where a requirement applied to all job applicants has a disproportionate adverse effect on members of one group compared with another. Unless the criterion in question can be shown to be appropriate and necessary for the effective performance of the job, it will be unlawful.

Shortlisting: when shortlisting takes place, it should be undertaken consistently and against the objective criteria set out in the job description and person specification. It is recommended that a record is kept of the criteria under which job applicants are shortlisted.

Interview: if you are the Chair you should advise your panel to keep to topics that are relevant to the selection process. Marital, family, domestic and age-related matters are likely to be irrelevant and could lead you unwittingly into unfair discrimination eg asking questions about childcare arrangements, in particular when interviewing female candidates, may be interpreted as direct sex discrimination.

The University take gender bias in recruitment seriously.  We have a policy of having male and female staff on the recruitment panel, and require all panel members to be trained in recruitment and selection.

 The article below can help to raise awareness of gender bias in academic recruitment.

 Scientists at Yale conducted experimental research into the gender bias of academic recruitment panels in science faculty.

It was found that both men and women on the recruitment panel are significantly more likely to rate a male candidate as more competent and hireable than an identical female candidate, and to offer a higher starting salary and more career mentoring  to the male candidate compared to the female candidate. This research shows that there is gender bias in the recruitment of academic staff. The researchers show male and female staff were equally likely to demonstrate this bias. (See Moss-Racusin, Dovido, Brescoll, Graham, & Handelsman, 2012).

To view the article in full click here

Is there any University training on this?

There is both online and face to face training available. Only staff who have completed the University's recruitment online training course are ‘licensed’ to be on a recruitment panel. For staff the online Recruitment and Selection course can be accessed via your LearnUpon Dashboard. If you have not been automatically loaded onto the course you can self enrol via the catalogue.  Panel members who are not University employees are still required to complete the online training and will need to be given an external LearnUpon account, please contact peopledevelopment@exeter.ac.uk to request access. This is important as the University would be liable if a claim is made against you following a selection process and training has not been completed by a panel member.

What is the difference between direct and indirect discrimination?

Direct discrimination: treating one candidate less favourably then another purely on the grounds of their age, disability, gender, race etc without justification.


  • Not employing a woman because of concerns that she may want to start a family
  • Not considering a person with a disability without looking at whether they meet the selection criteria and whether any reasonable adjustments can be made.

Indirect discrimination: operating a practice, criteria or provision that applies to everyone, but that indirectly (whether intentionally or not) puts some groups or individuals at a disadvantage compared to others without justification on other grounds.


  • using word of mouth and informal networks as the primary source for academic appointments is likely to disadvantage groups who are currently under-represented at this level, eg black and minority ethnic (BME) or female candidates
  • including a specific academic qualification in the selection criteria excludes those who have achieved an equivalent standard of knowledge and skill through other, equivalent routes. 

Women and BME staff are under-represented in my area. Can I select a candidate on that basis to improve the balance?

No. That would be positive discrimination (ie treating those from under represented groups more favourably to the exclusion of others) and that is unlawful. However, positive action is allowed. You are permitted to encourage applications from under represented groups eg

  • include statements such as “We encourage applications from women and ethnic minorities, who are currently under-represented in this part of the University” in adverts
  • target advertising to reach under-represented groups.

Disability confident employer

The University is committed to interviewing all applicants declaring a disability who meet the minimum essential criteria for a job vacancy. It is the responsibility of the recruitment panel to ensure that any disabled applicant who meets the minimum essential criteria is offered an interview.

Panel members should also be aware of the duty to make reasonable adjustments for any candidate with a disability. Examples of reasonable adjustments could include:

  • changing the interview location for an applicant who has mobility difficulties 
  • ensuring there is no background noise for a candidate with a hearing impairment 
  • allowing an applicant with a learning disability to be accompanied by a helper at the interview.