Hallé Orchestra

Exploring unconscious bias in recruitment and selection for Britain’s oldest professional orchestra

The Hallé Orchestra is an English symphony orchestra based in Manchester. The orchestra dates back to May 1858 when the pianist and conductor Charles Hallé set up an orchestra in his name to perform at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition. It is now in its 161st season and since 1996 the orchestra has been resident at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.

The Hallé Orchestra first engaged with EW Group because they had identified the opportunity that attracting and retaining a more diverse talent would bring to the team. They wanted the orchestra to be representative of the diversity of Manchester and this was especially important when going to out to visit schools. To begin this process, they were keen to raise awareness of unconscious bias by rolling out training sessions across the organisation.

The organisation consists of 80 permanent members of staff and employs many more on freelance contracts. The management of HR are split within organisation roles and diversity and inclusion issues sits with a single member of staff who champions the diversity aims of the orchestra.

The Hallé were keen to attract a wider and more diverse pool of talent at the job application stage and wanted to understand where unconscious bias may then arise during the audition stage. In practice, this means working towards building an inclusive workplace culture where everyone is aware of the organisational impact of unconscious bias, and how unconscious bias can be managed day-to-day.

The Inclusive Recruitment Challenge

The current challenge focuses on inclusive recruitment. Once an applicant gets through auditions, they are put on trial with the orchestra – a situation which may last for several months before a decision is reached as to whether to take them on as a permanent member of the team. They wanted to consider how their biases may affect their decision-making as to who was taken on permanently and who didn’t make the grade.

Changing the culture through unconscious bias training

Our team, led by Caroline Arnold, worked closely with Project Manager and D&I champion, Hayley, to agree the unconscious bias course aims and deliver training sessions for all members of the orchestra as well as members of the administration and senior management.

As a result of the training, we wanted to:

  • Explore the cultural codes that arise from unconscious bias.
  • Develop their capacity to manage unconscious bias in recruitment and selection.
  • Raise awareness around unconscious bias in decision-making and its adverse impact on talent retention.

The unconscious bias training was rolled out as half day sessions for groups of 12, over a month and included:

  • Presentations to set the context
  • Personal experiences of delegates
  • Real-life case studies
  • Facilitated exercises for the whole group
  • Reflection, review and action planning.

As a result, the team left the training sessions with the skills they needed to:

  • Clearly articulate their commitment to overcoming unconscious bias in the workplace
  • Acknowledge the subtle ways in which unconscious bias plays out at work
  • Understand the role of diversity best practice in their day to day work
  • Feel clear about the various aspects within their roles that may be open to unconscious bias
  • Identify opportunities to promote best practice and work with cultural adaptability
  • Employ a set of practical tools and action plans to address unconscious bias wherever they work.

All of the sessions were well received with some great take ways from those attending.

When asked what was the most useful tool/action they had taken away from the workshops, responses included “question my first impressions and assumptions when meeting someone, try to extend myself towards individuals more often to help them feel included and be more aware of my biases.”

Others included:

  • Think before I open my mouth
  • Pause before making judgements about others
  • Talk to more people outside my friendship group
  • Not to make gross generalisations
  • Not say cheeky things in ear shot of others!
  • Make sure everyone feels included in social and professional surroundings
  • Not make snap judgements about people.
  • To try and be more aware of my biases and how they affect my relationships.
  • Remain and improve my inquisitiveness
  • Question my first impressions and assumptions when meeting someone.
  • Be more aware of my own unconscious bias and more mindful of the bigger picture
  • Try to extend myself towards individuals more often to help them feel included
  • Try to keep the awareness of this topic at the forefront 24/7 and pause before judging.
  • Be more aware of unconscious bias.
  • Make application forms anonymous.

Measures of success

Following the workshops there was a marked increase in knowledge and understanding:

When delegates were asked ‘How aware are you of what unconscious bias is?’ before and after training we saw an increased from 30.8% to 94.7%

When asked ‘How aware are you of what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour and language in the workplace?’ we saw an increase from 66.7% to 100%
And finally, when asked ‘Do you have a clear idea of the ways in which you can behave inclusively?’ we saw an increase from 61.5% to 100%

Next steps…

The success of unconscious bias training is just the first step on the path to diversity and inclusion and Hallé are keen to develop a full strategy and roadmap to chart their progress. We look forward to working with them to help them realise their D&I ambitions.

Quotes from delegates

“A really positive environment was created in the session – a lovely example of inclusivity.”

“I found this session very thought-provoking and interesting, I believe these sessions will make me a better work colleague.”

“Caroline was extremely engaging, able to answer any questions and created a safe space in which I felt as though no question/comment was silly as they were valued and met with respect.”

“Working with the EW Group on both the challenges and the opportunities ahead of our organisation in relation to Diversity & Inclusion has been a pleasure. The deliverers appropriately challenged our staff to consider the everyday applications of this training but also the wider professional and societal effects. This is the first step on what I hope to be a very positive journey for the Hallé and I look forward to collaborating with EW Group on our next steps.”

Hayley Parkes, Projects Manager at Hallé Orchestra

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