Around New England

White Hiring Managers Are Rejecting Black Candidates Because of Racial Bias, Corporate Executive Says

June 14, 2020

Corporate decision makers often pick a white candidate for a job over an equally qualified black candidate because of unconscious bias based on race, a National Grid executive said.

Marcy L. Reed, president of National Grid Massachusetts and vice president of U.S. policy and social impact for the British-owned utility, participated in an online panel discussion on race hosted by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Friday, June 12.

The moderator, Micho Spring, asked Reed, “Why, despite the talent available in Boston, and the countless professional development programs that exist,” corporations in Boston have “have not made strides” in getting more African-Americans into management and leadership roles.

Reed said the problem is the people making the hiring decisions:


We haven’t made strides I think for a few reasons. First, people hire people who look like them, or who went to the same college as them, or were referred to them by a friend who also looks like them. That’s one sad reason.

Secondly, even though companies have diversity goals and targets, very few of them have targets that truly represent the actual makeup of the communities we serve. And when communities reach their mediocre targets, they claim victory for having met the goal, and they move on to the next challenge in their business life.

And then I think a third reason why we haven’t made strides, is that there’s unconscious bias all over the place. If an opening comes down to two equally qualified candidates, one white, one black, what we’ll do is we’ll say, “Well, the black candidate needs XYZ development in order to move on later,” while the white one, we’ll say, “The white candidate really needs that next opportunity for development.” So we hire the white candidate.

This is, of course, unless we haven’t met those mediocre targets that I stated earlier. And then we hire the black candidate.

I actually think it’s as basic as that.


Reed serves as chairman of The Partnership Inc., which was founded in 1987 to advance African-Americans in corporations in Boston, and which now seeks to help corporations “attract, develop, and retain talented multicultural professionals at all levels of leadership.”

Reed said hiring decision makers ought to seek out candidates from racial minorities through that organization, which would help steer them away from picking a white candidate because of their unconscious race bias.

“I would say an easy way around all of this problem, or part of the problem, is to contact The Partnership and put your jobs on the job board, and where you’ll have access to excellent professionals of color,” Reed said.

The panel discussion, sparked by protests and social unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd, black man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minnesota on May 25, was titled “Fierce Urgency of Now.”

Marcy Reed, president of National Grid Massachusetts and executive vice president of U.S. policy and social impact