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What is Fair Chance Hiring and What Does it Mean for Talent Teams?

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Hiring for diversity and inclusion has been a priority for businesses worldwide for some time. However, often the thinking around these efforts focuses on a person’s ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and physical ability. It stops short of taking other, potential valuable hires into consideration - namely, those returning to work after leaving prison. 

The Fair Chance Hiring movement is shining a spotlight on the issue, as well as the opportunities available to employers who widen their talent pools to include people who were formerly incarcerated.

In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at what fair chance hiring is, why it’s important, what it means for employers and how organisations can make steps to implement it. We’ll be calling on the research and experiences of our integration partner, Checkr, a founder member of the Fair Chance Hiring initiative and platform

What is fair chance hiring? 

According to Checkr’s recent report, The Diversity Group You’re Overlooking: How to be a Fair Chance Employer, “Fair chance hiring is built on the premise that everyone, regardless of background, has the right to be fairly assessed for a role they are qualified for.”

However, importantly, the report from Checkr also points out that there is no “one size fits all” approach to fair chance hiring. “Companies and industries have to consider unique risks, needs and opportunities when developing policies, but there’s also no need to reinvent the wheel. You can make small adjustments to current practices to better accommodate fair chance talent.”

Why is fair chance hiring important? 

Recent records show that today, in the United States alone, as many as one in three people have a criminal record. Traditionally, a criminal record would be enough to ruin an individual's chances of securing a job, despite their professional capabilities and history. 

In passing up the opportunity to hire from this group, the American economy reportedly misses out on around $87 billion annually. 

But aside from the economic impact, the cost of overlooking those with criminal convictions can also be seen at a societal level. Taking this position suggests that: 

  • There is a lack of equality when it comes to measuring a candidate’s ability to fulfil employment opportunities. 
  • There is a perception that people do not deserve a second chance after being incarcerated. 
  • Businesses are more worried about the potential PR damage that could come from hiring a previous offender than they are about potentially missing out on the best talent. 

How does fair chance hiring benefit employers?

So, the benefits on a macro level are clear - greater economic success, a more inclusive society and a fairer employment system. 

But how can an individual business benefit? 

1. Increased talent pools 

If a talent shortage has made hiring difficult in the past, just consider the wealth of opportunity you may uncover by broadening the talent pool you are hiring from.

2. Greater competitive advantage 

Even when great candidates are identified, it can be hard to attract them and ensure that they’re not tempted by alternative offers in a highly competitive hiring market. By adopting fair chance hiring, you will be tapping into a group of largely untouched talent. 

3. Improved diversity 

True diversity extends beyond typical race and gender measures. By hiring those with a criminal record, you will vastly improve your diversity of thought and experience across your business. 

Fair Chance Hiring in Action 

The HR team at Checkr, are strong advocates for fair chance hiring and it’s safe to say they practice what they preach! We spoke to their Fair Chance Development Manager, Lauren Bell, to uncover her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of adopting a Fair Chance approach.

Here’s what Lauren had to say.... 

What are some of the internal challenges talent teams might face when planning to introduce Fair Chance Hiring, and how can they overcome them? 

At the roots, the internal challenges faced by businesses tend to be safety and liability fears, stereotypes and myths of people and a lack of proximity to people who have successfully and permanently exited the criminal justice system. 

Businesses and teams  should first take some time to research and get even more educated on topics that are relevant to understanding the underpinnings of fair chance hiring:  Real data on the business case for fair chance hiring, the United States’ paradigm of mass incarceration, unequal application of justice in the criminal legal system,  corrections systems that focus more on punishment than rehabilitation, the vast array of employment, housing and financial collateral consequences to incarceration, and the stories of successful people who are formerly incarcerated. 

Teams should also get “proximate” to leaders who have permanently and successfully exited the criminal justice system.  Businesses can offer to pay someone to join a community resource group conversation, host a fireside chat or coordinate a panel of speakers during a company meeting.  Leaders who are formerly incarcerated want to help shift the hearts and minds of people in the business community who are relatively removed from the criminal justice system, the prison industrial complex and the challenges of reentry.   

Connection between leaders and businesses is proven to help mitigate fears, stereotypes and bias and help shape a reframed perspective that focuses not on the challenges, but on the business values of fair chance hiring….to businesses, people, families and communities.  A great resource is a recently launched book by Fifth Thirds Bank Senior Investor, Jeff Korzenik, “The Business Case For Fair Chance Hiring”. 

How do you balance wanting to demonstrate that you are a Fair Chance Hirer without “outing” new recruits? 

  1. Develop a clear hiring process that strives to share the least amount of information with the fewest people and honors the right of new employees to share their personal stories on their own timelines if at all. 
  2. If a record comes back as “consider,” the Independent Review Panel should take a deeper dive into criminal history and evidence of rehabilitation.  If the candidate is approved, the hiring manager only needs to know that the business is going to move forward.  If the candidate is removed from consideration, the hiring manager is given more detail.
  3. Once hired, the fair chance talent is treated exactly like a new hire who doesn’t have a record, again with no obligation to share her/his story.
  4. Managers of teams that may be most likely to support newly hired fair chance talent should get training on working with fair chance talent to ensure baseline knowledge and comfort with the unique needs of some fair chance talent - some people still need to check in with probation/parole officers, for example, and schedules must consider this.  Managers should ask all new hires the same types of questions - “Are there any personal obligations we need to discuss that may impact your schedule”, for example.

Which businesses are doing Fair Chance Hiring well? What have the results been for them? 

The Fair Chance Hiring Movement has gained tremendous visibility and growth through key business leaders and professional associations. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation, for example, have created a variety of employer development and educational resources. 

Slack, and J.P. Morgan Chase are business leaders whose fair chance hiring practices and advocacy efforts are creating ripple effects in the business sector. In April 2021, J.P. Morgan Chase helped to spearhead the Second Chance Business Coalition, a fair chance hiring and advancement effort that includes well-known businesses like Accenture, Bank of America, Best Buy, Kroger, Verizon, Visa and Prudential Financial, Inc. These business leaders are helping to send the message that we can’t continue to limit people who are formerly incarcerated from opportunities for upward mobility and that the business sector must play a role in helping people to not just get back on their feet but to achieve advanced professional successes. 

Reports on fair chance practices tend to be written from the angles of public safety and criminal justice reform, noting how employment can reduce recidivism or return to prison rates. I haven’t seen any comprehensive outcomes reports for fair or second chance employers. Checkr is in the early phase of working with educational institutions on a plan that leverages our data wheelhouse and fair chance commitments with a long-term goal of publishing a paper on our journey as a fair chance employer. This Stanford Social Innovation Review link presents excerpts from a recently published book: Untapped Talent and offers some good insights into the benefits of fair chance hiring and practices. 

How can Fair Chance Hiring positively impact existing employees? 

There are five key ways we have seen fair chance hiring positively impact employees: 

  1. Pride in corporate social responsibility - leveraging business success to do something right and good.
  2. Intellectually deeper connections - to the roots of injustices in the United States criminal legal system and the national responsibility to mitigate a system that is driven by punishment rather than accountability and redemption.
  3. Compassion - connection to the logic that every person deserves a fair chance at professional success.
  4. Innovation and productivity - participating in teams with diverse perspectives.
  5. Recognising social Impact - realising that by hiring, we can impact individuals, families and communities.

What have been the biggest challenges of introducing Fair Chance Hiring at Checkr? 

Even at Checkr, there are people who don’t understand the United States’ history of mass incarceration, unequal sentencing, corrections systems that seek to control rather than rehabilitate and the collateral consequences of incarceration - without that knowledge and perspective, people may still express fears or bias.

Checkr’s onboarding process, which includes education on many of those topics and which underscores the importance and value of fair chance hiring as both public safety and good business strategies, is helpful in mitigating misperceptions and inspiring teams to get involved in our fair chance mission work more deeply.  

We also have a community resource group called Bounce Back and subcommittee which help to further educate on fair chance practices and create opportunities for Checkr staff to volunteer on projects that support the employment and reentry success of people who are formerly incarcerated.

What are the notable differences in your hiring that now enable you to hire previous offenders? 

  1. We use people first language - saying that we are open to “people who are formerly incarcerated” for example.
  2. There is commitment to fair chance hiring from C-staff all throughout the company.
  3. We set annual fair chance hiring metrics to hold us accountable to talent sourcing and hiring goals.
  4. We are consistent in using fair chance hiring best practices like sourcing talent through mission partners, using skills based assessments in the hiring process, and mobilizing the independent review panel when a questionable record surfaces. 
  5. We celebrate fairness successes in the products we create and those achieved by our colleagues.

What do Checkr’s fair chance hires have to say? 

"When you go into an interview, you want to be seen as a human being, you want to be seen as a person, you want to be seen as  the person sitting across from you and not as the worst thing a person has ever done....True fairness means being judged on what you do and how you do it, and not what you've done." - Zach. Checkr Team Member, Formerly Incarcerated

"How are you going to make a living? How do you get a job where you're able to sustain yourself? It's a big fear. Building a fairer future is a phenomenal statement...To look at a human being regardless of what their background is and say—'this person has value'—that to me is fair chance." - Kevin, Checkr Team Member, Formerly Incarcerated

Getting Started with Fair Chance Hiring 

The Great Resignation has caused a shortage of workers, and chances are you’re juggling to backfill people. This is a great opportunity for companies to extend their DEI policy to include Fair chance employees. 

Fair Chance Hiring presents multiple benefits on both a business and society level. It is not just the right thing to do, but also a great opportunity for businesses to expand the range of talent they have access to, and improve the diversity of their teams. For more information about the Fair Chance Hiring movement and how you can implement it in your place of work, check out Checkr’s Guide to Getting Started With Fair Chance Hiring.

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