Reducing Bias & Increasing Diversity through Fair Chance Employment

September 9, 2020
Checkr Editor

On Thursday, September 3rd, Checkr teamed up with the Multicultural Food & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA) to co-present a webinar titled, “Reducing Bias & Increasing Diversity through Fair Chance Employment.”

This is an important and timely topic because, in the U.S. today, as many as one in three Americans have a criminal record. Even with only a minor offense, individuals with a conviction history face a major uphill battle and a long set of challenges to find a job. Once an individual has a criminal record, they face upwards of 48,000 legal barriers to employment according to the National Employment Law Project.

Though we might not think about it every day, those of us who are leaders in the HR Operations, Talent Acquisition, Recruiting, and People spaces can directly affect recidivism rates in the U.S. When individuals with conviction histories apply for jobs, their application is met with a high degree of scrutiny and bias, which means they are less likely to gain meaningful employment. Without meaningful employment, individuals are more likely to recommit offenses out of necessity or stress.

A deeply knowledgeable group of experts gathered to offer attendees practical ways to face these issues head-on. Gerry A. Fernandez, President & Founder of MFHA moderated the session and was joined by Rehana Lerandeau, Senior Fair Chance Program Manager at Checkr; Genevieve Martin, Executive Director of Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation; Chef Jeff Henderson an Award-Winning Chef, Author, Entrepreneur, Speaker; and Russalynne Griggs, Diversity Recruiter at Good Eggs. 

Rehanna Lerandea kicked the panel off by stating, “Simply put, fair chance hiring is hiring the best person for the job regardless of their record. We are lowering the barrier, not the bar.” Fair chance hiring is a set of practices which  help companies find a pool of qualified talent with a wide range of experiences. This can lead companies to better understand their customers, become more inclusive and diverse, and ultimately reach stronger business outcomes. By choosing to become a fair chance employer, companies and organizations are able to positively impact individuals with conviction histories and help to break the cycle of recidivism.

As the conversation was underway, Chef Jeff Henderson reminded us, “As we all know, the words we use are important. Terms and vernacular have changed a lot over the years —generally for the better. ‘Criminal’ is no longer a term we want to be using. More humanizing terms include ‘person who has been system impacted’, ‘returning citizen’ or ‘person with a conviction history’.”

The panel then talked through the foundational values of fair chance hiring. Genevieve Martin offered everyone insight into how Dave’s Killer Bread hires. She stated, “If you have the capacity and ability to do a job — you get the job. If, as a company, you are making practices that serve the person with the most barriers in your organization –everyone in your organization will benefit.” 

The group spoke about empathetic and humble ways to humanize individuals who have been system impacted in the hiring process. Russalynne Griggs emphasized, “It is most important that we connect with the human element. Everyone is capable of performing various job duties despite their background.” Jeff added on, “When I am hiring, I want to know where a candidate’s heart is. Can they embrace the values of this organization? I like to ask about their time in the system to find out what they learned and how they have grown.” 

“Tactically, bringing fair chance hiring practices to your organization can start small. Small steps in changing hiring practices can make a huge difference.”

Tactically, bringing fair chance hiring practices to your organization can start small. Our speakers mentioned that it is not an elaborate plan or program. Small steps in changing hiring practices can make a huge difference. “It is important to understand why you want to be engaged in fair chance hiring. Assess where you are today and create a vision for where you want to go in the future. We should be giving back to our communities as organizations and one of the most practical ways to do that is through employment, “ said Genevieve. 

Often, during the interview process hiring managers look for relevant experience instead of for skills and attributes. We know this can add to less inclusive practices. “This is why training is so important. For me, coming out of the system, transparency and honesty were incredibly important. As a hiring manager, I want to know what roles you occupied during your time in the system. There are a lot of industries within the prison system—and individuals can talk about this work history,” said Jeff. Russalyne offered insights into the Good Eggs hiring process. She mentioned, “The interview process is very important. At Good Eggs, we are committed to behavioral interviewing. We ask questions about how individuals have adapted to the various seasons of their lives. During the hiring process, we want to connect with candidates as individuals and get to know their stories. We also want to filter out any irrelevant offenses in the background check out of the report.”

Rehanna offered attendees practical ways to make sure background check reports allow for fair chance hiring. She said, “First, filter out the maximum number possible records off of the report being viewed by the hiring team. Most records do not have anything to do with the skills required to do a job. Make a business-related filtering decision for each role. Next, always individually assess each candidate when reviewing background check reports. Look for the nature and gravity of the offense, the time that has passed since the offense, conduct, and/or completion of sentence, and the nature of the job held or sought. Finally, ask the candidate about their story. Be prepared for their own unique version of professionality.” 

Once a company has begun to hire fair chance talent, supporting these individuals (alongside all employees) is important. Jeff said, “I gave private lessons to formerly incarcerated individuals in my kitchen. I coached them along the process so they would be successful. Genevieve mentioned, “We treat all of our employees the same. We look at performance evaluations for all of our employees. Naturally, the folks we hire who happen to have conviction histories foster a culture of inclusivity and they turn around and give a hand-up to new employees. They are excellent at motivating others and fostering growth in teammates. People with conviction histories are often promoted faster than their counterparts.”

After a full conversation, the speakers left us with some wise words and meaningful advice. Genevieve said, “Keep an open mind and an open heart. Always lean into uncomfortable conversations.” Rehana offered, “HR folks know that background checks are one of many tools to use to balance the risks of hiring a new employee. It is important to know that there is also risk in keeping this talent out of your organization. You are not legally in a place where you are protected for bias and discrimination. You have to make a fair risk assessment on both ends.” 

To learn more about fair chance hiring, be sure to watch the recording of the webinar here or let us know here if you would like to find out how to make your company’s hiring practices more fair. 

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“It is most important that we connect with the human element. Everyone is capable of performing various job duties despite their background.”
Good Eggs
Russalynne Griggs, Diversity Recruiter

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