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Implicit Bias: Frank Green on tackling unconscious bias in the hiring process

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Frank Green is the Principal Managing Partner at  ExecuSource. His passion for developing high-performance teams turned ExecuSource into a recognized leader in the Atlanta staffing and recruiting market due to its personable, hands-on culture and the ability to tackle any business objective. For more than 7 years, ExecuSource has merged talent with opportunity, serving as trusted finance, accounting, IT and HR recruitment partner to the Atlanta business community and qualified professionals. ExecuSource was named to the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s Pacesetters list, a list of the top 100 fastest-growing companies based in Atlanta, and the Inc. 5000, an exclusive ranking of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies.

Frank, what does diversity hiring mean to you? ExecuSource prides itself on finding qualified candidates who have an understanding of what it takes to succeed in the role.

Each time we speak with a client, we ask what skills and other characteristics describe the candidate that’s perfect for the role. Some skills are ‘’ must have’’ on day one and others may be developed on the job later on. This allows us as a staffing company to tap into a diverse talent pool as there may be candidates who have the right skills, but their experience is within a different industry or candidates within the same industry who are passionate about developing their skills and taking new responsibilities. It is the candidate’s drive, passion and willingness to learn that matter.

When I hire for our team at ExecuSource, I am not looking for people who are like me. We need people who share our values and are passionate about our business and the success of the company. At the same time, our team members bring their own experiences, views and expertise and that’s invaluable.

Hiring people like us may be a limitation as everyone is likely to approach a problem from the same perspective. To me, it would be easy to source all managers via Oxford Alumni, but this is very likely to pose a limitation on diversity of thought no matter how well connected and experienced these people are. What is your opinion about implicit social cognition?

This reminds me of Project Implicit. It was founded by scientists in the late 90s whose goal was to educate the public about hidden biases. I was very excited about the findings as implicit bias is not easy to detect or tackle. People subconsciously perceive the same information in a different way related to their own experiences and are more likely to relate to people who are like them, went to the same school, use the same language, practiced the same sport, etc.

What upsets me is the hypocrisy that sometimes surrounds diversity and inclusion. So many companies have diversity hiring initiatives, and that’s wonderful, but when you look at their teams and senior management you see the same candidate profiles.

I absolutely agree with you. Sometimes, those initiatives are driven by legislation requirements like disability or diversity hiring quotas or investor’s expectations if this is a public company. You are in touch with many companies, what are your observations?

 I hear about diversity and inclusion initiatives mostly from HR Managers. My personal opinion is that diversity hiring initiatives have to come from the top, from the CEO down, to ensure the engagement of everyone involved. If it is only an HR initiative, it will not achieve the same results. There are great examples in certain industries within the technology sphere driven by the high demand of qualified candidates. Diversity hiring is the natural result as no talent can be left behind and business needs override implicit bias. If tech companies are to launch their products timely and innovate, they need to hire people for their skills, and I love that mentality. I have seen so many innovative hiring and benefits practices in the tech industry not only in Silicon Valley but also here in Atlanta. It gives me hope that other more traditional industries will follow the lead.

Technology companies are very open-minded. I have been part of the IT industry for more than 15 years and see how big the progress is. No talent is left behind, and many companies give a chance to those willing to learn to develop skills on the job regardless of their origin or the schools they graduated from. However, some of the people I interviewed before think that there may be a backslide in open-mindedness. Do you see it too?

Atlanta is a little bit more socially conservative and it is interesting to witness what open-mindedness looks like. It has been improved dramatically since I moved in, but at the same time, many people still have biases conscious or unconscious. To me, as a business owner and a hiring manager, the big question is ‘’What are the essential components that can make this candidate a good hire?’’. That’s number one. What skills and attitudes can help this candidate succeed at my company? You were asking about software or tools that can help remove bias. Really, I don’t use anything as it’s not needed. Instead, I speak with the candidates to understand what motivates and drives them, why they want to join my company and not someone else’s. On the good side, I am more in a sales environment than technical environment and it’s someone’s personality, enthusiasm and ability to get to speed fast that matter the most.

At the same time, I do see backsliding. In the last couple of years, I have heard things that make me think about it. As companies become more diverse, people become more outspoken about what it feels to be part of a diverse team. The teams are more diverse, but it appears that not all team members feel appreciated and valued as a part of the team.