How First Advantage Is Creating an Anti-Bias Culture

With a greater spotlight on social injustice over the last year, organizations are re-examining how they can build greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Michael Pilnick, executive vice president of global human resources at First Advantage, discusses how the company is evolving its culture to create inclusivity for all.

A greater spotlight on social injustice in the past year has motivated businesses to examine and address internal biases they may not have realized existed. As businesses look to develop and evolve their diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. 

Michael Pilnick, executive vice president of global human resources at First Advantage, a global leader in background check and drug screening solutions with more than 4,000 employees, shares how his organization is addressing opportunity areas in its D&I programs and tackling biases head on. You can find his insights below. 

How would you describe First Advantage’s company values?

We pride ourselves on transparency, collaboration, and having an outside-in view, which means we put customers first. We are a lean organization, but we do a lot given our size. We value diversity and inclusion and continuously evolve our programs to best represent our culture, core values, and customers.

In the early years, we were essentially a number of small businesses that operated more like a holding company—and each business was responsible for its own culture. Over time, we’ve transitioned into one comprehensive products and services organization operating under a single vision and culture. Our employees are now spread across 14 countries and represent more than 50 spoken languages. In many ways, we're the epitome of global diversity.

Now, we're making strategic moves toward better understanding and supporting diversity, equality, and inclusion throughout the organization. Diversity and inclusion can mean different things in different regions around the world, so it’s important to tailor our programs by region. We kicked off our efforts in the U.S., Canada, and the UK, and we’ve already begun work to bring in India, Australia, and New Zealand. Next, we'll expand to Asia and other parts of the world. I’m excited to see how much we’re able to accomplish in the coming year.

Where do you see opportunity areas between your company’s D&I intentions and the current practices in place?

While we’re a very diverse organization, we’ve identified opportunity areas to grow our inclusivity efforts and better ensure equal opportunities for all.

One area where we’re already making significant progress is in recruiting. Other companies have said that hiring diverse technology talent can be challenging, but 64% of our technology recruits in the last year have been diverse candidates. We’ve been able to onboard employees from a variety of backgrounds, which will only increase the strength of our technology organization.

We’re also working hard on improving cultural inclusivity. Measuring inclusion is not easy, but we've gathered both qualitative and quantitative data to help us better understand our opportunity areas, which will better inform our actions as we move forward. Our next step is to remove unconscious bias from the recruiting process. We've been using a number of benchmarking tools and talking to teams like those at Workday to understand what they've done and how they're institutionalizing diversity and inclusion.

“Ultimately, we want to build a culture of diversity and inclusion that is inherent and self-sustaining.”

Michael Pilnick Executive Vice President, Global Human Resources First Advantage

How are you planning to accelerate program initiatives?

Empirical data shows that diverse organizations outperform those that lack diversity, so improving diversity and inclusion within corporations is not only the right thing to do—it’s good for the business as well. And our leadership team is fully on board. They're looking for what we need to do next and how to do it. We’re using every resource at our disposal to drive this in an accelerated fashion, including leveraging external expertise.

What advice would you give to companies looking to establish D&I programs?

There are a lot of great organizations and people implementing programs that have worked, so I recommend starting there. Go out and talk to other heads of HR or heads of diversity and inclusion, read, and learn from the success of others. 

My second piece of advice would be to gather meaningful data that you can act on. It can be challenging, but use whatever tools you have available to survey your organization and audit it. Take those insights and build programming that will impact those numbers in a positive way.

Finally, listen to your employees. Food used to be a great way to pull people in. Back in the pre-COVID world, I had this habit of showing up for a night shift with four or five pizzas and hosting a roundtable discussion. While that option is not currently available, I do get to see more people on video than I ever did before, and I'll say, "Hey, let's have a cup of virtual coffee together." Candid conversations like these are some of the best ways to capture qualitative examples of how employees are truly feeling.

HR people and professional managers have been trained to not talk about race, age, or gender; it has historically been all about performance. So, we now have to figure out how to have those types of conversations, and it’s not easy. Ultimately, we want to build a culture of diversity and inclusion that is inherent and self-sustaining. And that can only happen if we all break away from how we’ve been taught to do things and rebuild our processes in a way that enables business success.

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