Reflections and reactions on recruiting a new Chair of Council

12 August, 2021 by Lisa Marie Williams

Last month we announced the appointment of our new Chair and Council member, completing the public part of a recruitment campaign we began planning for back in the summer of 2020. Before we get started on the next round of recruitment, I’ve been reflecting on how the campaign was run and some of the external commentary we’ve seen about the appointments. 

Planning and attracting the broadest range of candidates 

Recruiting for all positions on Council – the GDC’s strategic body – often represents a real challenge. First and foremost, just like any recruitment campaign, we are looking for the person best able to do the job. For Council members this means seeking someone who is willing to share their ideas and expertise, and to take the difficult decisions to support the important work we do.    

For us, we then need to overlay the particular skills we are looking for – for example, are we seeking someone with finance knowledge or a background in education - with the criteria set by our legislative framework. The latter includes the practicalities of ensuring we maintain an equal balance of registrant and lay (non-registrant) members of Council, and the requirement to have representation from each four of the UK’s nations.  

While we may start out with a fairly large number of people who are interested in joining Council, finding - say - a registrant, educational expert from Scotland, who also wants to join Council at that moment, can be a little tougher.  

And, as you would expect, our processes must be able to withstand the highest levels of scrutiny. We follow the Professional Standards Authority guidance on the principles of good appointments which focus on merit, fairness, transparency and openness, and inspiring confidence. Doing so is not only in keeping with the values of the GDC, but also enables the Privy Council to have confidence in appointing the candidates we put forward for approval.  

What this all means of course is that Council recruitment campaigns must be carefully planned, months and months in advance, and I’m proud of the job our team did, not only in the planning of this most recent campaign but also in the execution – they ran a really challenging process very well and with a great outcome. 

Appointing the Chair 

From the beginning, our goal with this campaign was to design a recruitment process that ensured we had the widest pool of candidates to pick from who could succeed in what, by anyone’s standards, is a challenging role. We needed to find somebody with the skills and experience to provide leadership and set direction in an environment which is always complex and even more so at a time when we are facing major legislative and regulatory change. We were also looking for somebody who brought an understanding of professional regulation and a deep commitment to patient safety, as dentistry starts to emerge from the intense stress of the pandemic. 

Ensuring an equal opportunity for both registrants and non-registrants to apply was also important to us, and I think the applications we received indicates we achieved this. Out of a total of 36 applications for the position of Chair, 16 were from registrants. However, after an initial ‘on-paper’ assessment set against the job description, this fell to just three at initial shortlisting (from a total of 14), and then - following a preliminary interview by our recruitment partner - four candidates were put forward for final interview, none of whom were registered dental professionals. 

Before we began our search, we saw some calls that our next Chair should be a dental professional, and similarly some disappointment when we announced that the appointment was not a registrant.  

Screenshot of a tweet from @SarahCanavan.

On the other hand, we also saw debate online acknowledging that the priority for the role is to ensure we fulfil our statutory responsibilities as a regulator and, therefore, that status as a registrant (or otherwise) should not factor into how we make the selection.

Screenshot of tweet by @briteeth:

Wherever you land on this debate, what we saw at the different stages of this recruitment raises some important questions for us to consider. Out of around 116,000 registrants in the UK, should we have expected more applications from dental professionals? Or, are those with the skills and experience we are looking for not interested in applying for this role? And, if this is the case, why not? We did have some feedback through our recruitment partner that the two day a week time commitment was off putting for some, who might consider this type of role later in their career, which may go some way to explaining the numbers.   

While we will continue to question how we attract the best possible lay and registrant candidates for Council, we welcome the feedback and healthy debate around this issue. We will also pay close attention to potential legislative changes in this area, as the recent Department of Health and Social Care consultation put forward proposals to change the rules which currently include an explicit requirement for registrant places on Council. 

I am, however, hoping we don’t need to address the question of who the next GDC Chair is anytime soon, and I am looking forward to welcoming both of our new members of Council in October. 

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