This interview is with Dr. Elizabeth Speck, Founder and Principal of MindOpen Learning Strategies, a training, coaching, and consulting company that helps organizations achieve social justice goals through transformative workplace learning experiences.

Congratulations on speaking at the SHRM Annual Conference. For those who were not able to attend, what was the premise of your talk? What are the 1-3 takeaways you want every SHRM member to know from your talk? 

Speaking at SHRM Annual was an amazing experience. My talk was “Fair Chance Hiring: Shifting from Background Check Compliance to Talent Strategy.” With my colleagues Tarik Greene, Deputy Executive Director of M.A.D.E. (“Making a Difference Every Day”) Transitional Services, and Roberta Meyers, Director of State Strategy and Reentry for the Legal Action Center, we presented a crash course on the “why” and the “how” of leveraging the under-tapped talent pool of the 1 in 3 Americans of working age with a criminal record.  We use the term “Fair Chance” not “Second Chance” hiring because the truth is that many potential employees affected by a criminal record never got a fair first chance in life, to begin with.  

Here are 3 big takeaways:

  1. Fair Chance Hiring is NOT about bleeding hearts or undue risk— it’s bottom-line business value! With unemployment rates falling below 4%, employers who want to win the talent wars cannot afford to overlook the vast and diverse pool of 70 million Americans impacted criminal records.
  2. Don’t rule out “violent offenders.” More incarcerated people are convicted of violent crimes than property, drug, & public order crimes combined. Studies show that people who have served their time for violent crimes such as homicide, murder, physical and sexual assault are NOT more likely to commit new crimes than the general public, and employers report they often become the highest performing and loyal employees.
  3. Words matter: Put people first. Fair Chance Hiring means putting practices in place to prevent discrimination and to overcome unconscious bias. Create a more inclusive company culture for everyone by breaking the habit of labeling people as “felons” or “ex-offenders,” and sending a clear signal that no one’s future has to be defined by their past.

Tell us a little bit more about your talk. What are some of the ways you can implement fair chance hiring in any company?

Fair Chance Hiring can be implemented in any company, but, like all organizational change efforts, it’s not one size fits all. Different industries and regions have different opportunities and concerns. Here are a few steps that many businesses find helpful.

  • Develop a written policy on the consideration of applicants with criminal records in your company. Whether or not your company is required to comply with new local or state Ban-the-Box laws, your business must be prepared to conduct and document an individualized assessment process. The EEOC’s employer guidance describes all the angles companies need to think about to reduce the risk of both discrimination claims and negligent hiring claims.
  • Partner with your background check provider. Use SHRM’s great guidance for selecting a vendor, and make sure they can give you personal customer service. This may include limiting the information on the background report to relevant crimes and timeframes for specific job duties, in accordance with the Fair Chance Hiring policy your company has developed.
  • Develop relationships with local reentry and workforce development organizations.  Don’t go it alone! Organizational partners can help develop pipelines for qualified, pre-screened candidates, and even collaborate to develop training programs in the hard and soft skills your company needs. Such partner organizations can also be great for your company’s employee volunteer programs, for example, helping job seekers with criminal records with resume review or mock interviews. This builds morale and reduces stereotypes and stigma, paving the way for a welcoming and inclusive Fair Chance Hiring strategy.
  • Situate Fair Chance Hiring as part of your company’s diversity and inclusion strategy. While a criminal record can affect anyone regardless of race, there is a disparate impact on African American and Latino populations and this is why the use of criminal records in employment screening can be subject to litigation by the EEOC. From this perspective, Fair Chance Hiring can be an opportunity not only to increase workforce diversity but to move the race conversation forward in a business context, strengthening employees’ ability to recognize and overcome bias and to relate across differences.

If you had the SHRM General Session Stage and 60 seconds, what expert insight or wisdom you would share with 15,000+ HR professionals?

Don’t underestimate the incredible power that the Human Resources profession has to change lives and transform organizations! Thank you for seizing this moment to make a better world through better workplaces!

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