Rhona Barnett-Pierce


Image of Rhona Pierce, a Black woman, smiling and pointing at the words: "Fair Chance Hiring" Newsletter #016

Inclusive Hiring: Beyond the Obvious

When we speak about inclusive hiring, our brains default to gender, race, ethnicity, veterans, religion, etc. Don’t get me wrong; these groups are important, and creating hiring strategies to include them is an integral part of a robust diversity hiring strategy, but they aren’t the only groups to consider. Today, I’d like to highlight another population facing systemic barriers – formerly incarcerated individuals.

Did you know that 1 in 3 working-age adults in the US has a criminal record? Over 650,00 Americans are released from prison each year. Because of bias and discrimination in the hiring process, one year later, more than 60% of them will still be unemployed.

Why should you care?

Unemployment is one of the top reasons for recidivism. Money is needed to survive in this society. An individual cannot fulfill even the most basic needs if they don’t have money to pay for things like shelter and food. If they can’t find a job, they’re more likely to fall back into old behaviors and eventually end up behind bars again.

Why I care about Fair Chance Hiring

Let me tell you the story of “Pam.” That’s not her actual name, but I met her back in 2017 when I started volunteering at Dress for Success Tulsa. Pam had just been released after serving many years in prison, and she was excited to finally start her new life. First step: getting a job.

I’m not sure what type of crime Pam had committed, as I made it a point never to ask, and even as she started to tell me, I stopped her because it didn’t matter. Pam had paid her debt to society, and that’s all that mattered to me. She was a free woman and had earned the right to build a life and provide for herself and her family. Pam had been struggling to get a job. Part of the reason was that she didn’t have adequate clothing for interviews. That’s an easy fix! That’s why she was at the Dress for Success Boutique that day. But I’ll never forget Pam’s reaction when I suggested that she try on a peach-colored blouse to pair with her suit. Pam said: “Honey, I’m no longer an inmate; I don’t wear orange. I just can’t go back there mentally.”

Pam went on to tell me how she wanted to make sure that interviewers saw her as more than her criminal record. When she learned I was a recruiter, she wanted tips on how to get through the first few minutes of an interview without talking about what she had been doing for the past decade. Because most job applications in Oklahoma asked if you’re a convicted felon, Pam had to be truthful, and she spent the first half of most interviews explaining the details of her crime to a recruiter. All she wanted was to share all the skills that she had learned and how she was ready to keep learning and start making an honest living.

Everyone deserves a Fair Chance

A few weeks later, Pam was back. She got the job! She now needed enough clothing until she got her first paycheck. As we shopped, Pam told me that her record never came up until after she had been offered the job, and it was time for the background check. At that point, Pam had already shown them she had the skills. She assured them she would stay out of trouble and promised they would never regret their decision. The company that hired her was one of the few private companies in Oklahoma to openly Ban the Box.

Pam still works there. She ended up working at a business that I go to often, and over the years, I’ve run into her a few times. She’s never even entertained working at a different company. Her loyalty lies with the people that gave her a chance.

Pam is why I’m very passionate about Fair Chance Hiring.

Benefits of Fair Chance Hiring

When employers commit to becoming Fair Chance Employers and hiring justice-involved individuals, you’re not only empowering someone to change their life and provide for their family, but they’re preventing crime and making their communities safer.

The next time someone tells you they do skills-based hiring, are big on Diversity Hiring, or hire for potential, ask them how many justice-involved individuals they’ve hired recently. Most of the time, the answer I get is zero, followed by a ton of reasons why it’s “risky.”

Are you a Fair Chance Employer?

President Biden has proclaimed April as Second Chance Month. You can read the proclamation here.

Here’s a list of resources to learn more about Fair Chance Hiring:

Want to be featured on the Podcast? 🎙️

If you’ve implemented a Fair Chance Hiring Program, I’d love to chat!

Let me know in the comments.

Talk to you next week!

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