In this episode of The Forum Podcast, Rehana Lerandeau, (Human Impact Partners) explores fair chance hiring and the challenges, barriers and bias formerly incarcerated people face when seeking employment.
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A growing number of companies have put diversity initiatives into practice, especially when it comes to hiring. But people who have been incarcerated are still significantly overlooked.
One way to build equality in our society is by providing equal access to jobs. AI background check company Checkr saw how gaps in the criminal justice system negatively impact Black people and contribute to systemic racial discrimination in our country.
Checkr made it the company’s mission to address the bias and racism ingrained in each part of the system, from arrest to conviction to re-entry. With October being Diversity Awareness Month, Margie Margie Lee-Johnson, VP of People at Checkr can specifically discuss:
- The benefits of fair chance hiring for employers and wider communities
- What companies can do now to adopt fair chance hiring (drawing from Checkr’s first-ever fair chance hiring playbook)
- Understand the challenges, barriers and bias formerly incarcerated people face when seeking employment
- Understand that practicing fair chance hiring not only leads to more diverse talent, but it addresses a larger issue related to recidivism and should be part of more company’s diversity initiatives
- Understand how companies can build a fair chance hiring and retainment plan
>> The forum on workplace inclusion’s 2021 podcast series is sponsored by Best Buy. More diversity in tech means more ideas that can change the word. Learn more at bestbuy.com/moreofthis.
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>> Hello, and thank you for tuning in to the forum on workplace inclusion podcast series brought to you by Best Buy. I am Ben Rue, Program Associate here at the forum. We’re excited for today’s podcast, Fair Chance Hiring with Rehana Lerandeau, who is currently the Senior Program Associate at Human Impact Partners [inaudible] Senior Fair Chance Program Manager at Checkr Inc., at the time of our interview. A growing number of companies have put diversity initiatives into practice, especially when it comes to hiring. But one demographic that still significantly overlooked our people who have been incarcerated. One way to build equality in our society is by providing equal access to jobs. AI background check company Checkr saw how gaps in the criminal justice system negatively impact black people and contribute to systemic racial discrimination in our country. Checkr made it the company’s mission to address the bias and racism engrained in each part of the system from arrests to conviction to reentry. In this podcast, Rehana will help you understand the challenges, barriers and biases formerly incarcerated people face when seeking employment, understand that practicing fair chance hiring not only leads to more diverse talent, but it also addresses a larger issue related to recidivism and should be part of more companies’ diversity initiatives, and understand how companies can build a fair chance hiring and retainment plan. Rehana is a dedicated fighter for vulnerable talent with a track record of successful programming and thought leadership. She has experienced curating cultural experiences and building business transformation services to support the successful hiring of reentry workers and diverse talent. Rehana has supporting experience in event planning, project management, program management, public speaking, and marketing and communications. Thank you so much, Rehana, for being here and being part of our 2021 podcast series. Can you explain what fair chance hiring is?
>> Yes, definitely. I think that’s an important step. And I think maybe some folks might have heard the term second chance hiring before. The two are used kind of interchangeably. We stick to fair chance hiring. And what that means for us at Checkr is just that everyone, regardless of their background, has the right to be fairly assessed for a role that they are qualifying for. So, what that really comes down to is a simple understanding, belief, philosophy, principle, whatever you want to call it, that all people have the right to work. We really just want to help employers realize that with upwards of 77 million Americans who have a criminal record, we can’t just disenfranchise that large of a subset of a population from work. So, how do we make fair, balanced, and safe decisions to make sure that people are getting work in the right places? Because right now, you know, it’s just really not happening for talent with records. In fact, talent that have records have an unemployment rate that’s about five times that of those without. So, to make a comparison, what we call fair chance talent, or talent with records, that’s about 27% unemployment, which is 2% over the peak of the Great Depression era, which we’ve been hearing a lot about in this moment because we’re almost a year into the effects of the global pandemic known as COVID 19. We’ve seen a huge increase in unemployment rates that have become comparable to the Great Depression era. And for fair chance talent, this isn’t new. These are the conditions that they’ve been in. That statistic was pulled in 2008. So, at least since then. This is something that folks have been, have been dealing with. So, when we are kind of looking to implement fair chance hiring, or when we say what is fair chance hiring, we’re asking employers to kind of disrupt that disenfranchisement in a way that’s equitable, in a way that is safe, and in a way that’s fair and that recognizes the deep stigmas and disadvantages of these populations have been dealing with for decades.
>> Wow, thank you for that clarification. Those astounding numbers. That’s just baffling, like mind boggling. So, so, right off the bat, thank you for the work that you are doing to improve that for so many people. Now, how does fair chance hiring relate to diversity and inclusion, because we are the forum on workplace inclusion here.
>> Right, yeah, it’s a, it’s a great, it’s a great question, and I think it’s something that gets me excited about fair chance hiring, because I think when you first engage an employer saying, hey, have you ever thought about hiring someone with a criminal record, it’s like, err, you know, it’s people aren’t quite, they get some kind of, you know, shock or hesitation, not only because the stigma associated and the lack of education associated with talent with records and deeper analysis on the conditions that we’re in as a workforce in the U.S. during this time, but also because it sounds like a heavy lift. It sounds complicated. It sounds like you’re going to have to hire someone and rule out a program and do all of these things to access this talent and make your workplace for equitable for talent with records. But what I love about the angle or the strategy of folding fair chance hiring into your diversity and inclusion initiatives are that for one, if you’re already doing D&I work, you already have the function within your hiring practices to hire talent with records. You’re just adding a new demographic. Right? So, thinking through, do you have goals or targets, what types of recruitment sources are you looking for to find this, these different types of diverse talent, and adding fair chance talent or talent with records to, to that project. And then the really brilliant and beautiful thing about it is that when we look at who has a criminal record in this country, we see disproportionate numbers of black people, brown people, often people who are living in poverty or are low income, we see higher numbers of people who are gender diverse, we see high numbers of people who are queer, gay, lesbian, et cetera. And we’re seeing increasingly more and more women and actually youth. So, those buckets that I just described are what D&I employers are looking for. Right? We’re looking to increase the number of black and brown people in our organizations, we’re looking to diversify even our age ranges in both directions, we’re lacking to get more gender diverse folks. And these are the people who get caught up, right, these are the people who get caught up in our justice system and end up with criminal records. So, all that is to say if you start your D&I process with criminal records, not only will you be solving for, in my opinion, our most vulnerable populations, but you’re naturally going to kind of scoop up talent that hits these other buckets of diversity and inclusion that you’re already targeting.
>> What, I guess, does Checkr do to ensure that once those people are in the door that it’s equitable for them, that they, you know, because there are various groups, and with criminal records, and like, you know, you know, people who are unemployed, or who are homeless or low income, like it’s going to be a very different experience based on where, what different group that person, that person with a criminal record is coming in from.
>> Yeah. That’s a great question. And so important. And I think, you know, foundational to any work that an employer wants to do in terms of retaining talent with a record. And that’s what we should be shooting for, right, is actually sourcing, recruiting, retaining, growing, and developing all of our populations, whether your talent has a record or not. So, in order for us, or what Checkr has done in the past to work towards this, with our fair chance talent specifically, is for one, we have target metrics. And I think that that’s something that can be I guess not controversial, but requires a little bit of a deeper dive. So, we have committed to maintaining 5% of our full time employee base that they have records, or were previously incarcerated. So, what that does for me as the program manager isn’t, you know, oh, I’m trying to like check this box, I’m just trying to pull people in to meet this goal. That’s not, that’s not what we’re trying to do. For me, it’s an indicator of what’s going well and what isn’t. So, once we reach that 5%, suddenly there’s a dip, I get to take a closer look and say, okay, did we lose a bunch of talent with records? Oh, no, we didn’t lose them, we just hired actually really aggressively, and we couldn’t keep pace. So, that means that we need to actually further develop our ability to source and recruit more talents. We actually hired someone to do that. He’s a fair chance development manager. So, it can help give you an indicator on like is the program working or not, and how do you kind of adjust and tweak to make sure that’s happening. Other more I guess like culturally responsive things that we’ve done is we make sure that our talent with records has solid mentorship if they need it, that they have folks who are advocating for them and trying to help them progress through the company. We have a 54% promotion or department change rate at Checkr so our folks aren’t coming in and stagnating, they’re actually growing and developing in a lot of different ways. And I know there are [inaudible] I could go on and on, but I think the last, the last one that I’ll mention is both legally and culturally, it’s important to have a solid confidentiality policy. So, we don’t share the stories of our previously incarcerated folks or our talent with records ever unless they actually say, hey, I want to share my story at this off site, or I want to share my story with this employer, or I want to be kind of a success story to show other employers what they could be doing and how they could access really amazing talent like myself. But if people don’t want to share, we don’t. And that has kind of created a space where we, well, where I as part of my role has done a lot of cultural work with our talent who don’t have records to make sure that people are deepening their understanding of the systemic issues that if they have fear triggers, we’re talking about it together, not demanding that our talent is like proving that they have a right to be here, or things like that.
>> Wow, that is really wonderful. I’m just blown away by the awesome work that you guys are doing, that you all are doing. So, what are the benefits of fair chance hiring?
>> So many.
>> I know this is another one where you could go on forever. And it seems kind of obvious. There are quite a few that seem obvious. But what are the top?
>> Keeping within our time limit.
>> Yeah, definitely. I’ll start with, you know, what I call like back pocket stats to get employers comfortable with the idea. So, in 2018, a study from SHRM, or the Society of Human Resource Management, found that 82% of managers and 67% of HR professionals felt that the quality of fair chance talent is about the same or higher than that of workers without records. So, I think that’s an important place to start. And our motto is that we’re lowering, excuse me, we’re lowering the barrier, not the bar. So, we don’t have a different interview process for our talent with records. We don’t have different expectations or goals. The point is to lower the barrier of the stigma of the record and make an individualized assessment using the nature time nature test. So, what is the nature of the charge? What’s the time that’s passed? What’s the nature of the role? Do they together present a risk or not instead of these kind of more and more wholistic biases that can creep in. But once we lower that barrier, everyone is expected to hit that mark. We do give time to ramp, especially some of our talent, you know, this is their first job after 20 plus years of incarceration, they come in not knowing how to turn on a computer, and we give them time to ramp. And usually within 30 to 90 days, they’re outperforming their peers. So, long way of saying this is a strong talent pool. This is not a, this is not something that you’re going to engage in coming from a place of deficit. This is going to be an asset that’s practiced to your program. This is also a really great way, especially for us, we’re a background check company, so having this diversity of opinion, having this diversity of experience, specifically around employment and criminal records, who better to lead and champion that work than people with criminal records who have become employed by us, right? So, we really get the benefit of their leadership and perspective. And I think also maybe one of the last, one of the last things I’ll mention is that this population is extremely loyal. The turnover rate is much lower than workers without records, because when, when, I mean, it depends on your culture, you know, I think Checkr has an amazing culture, we have a lot of growth opportunities, it’s a good place to work. But we see a lot of loyalty from this talent. And then the actual last thing I’ll mention, I know we’re trying to keep an eye on time, I think the biggest benefit to engaging in fair chance hiring now is that businesses are not going to be able to avoid it in the future. Right? You know, we know that as a society we are at the height of mass incarceration. We know 95% of those folks are coming home. We know there are already 77 million Americans with a record. I think of that as a third of our workforce. So, a third of our workforce has a record. And if things like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the EEOC, have federal mandates in place to, you know, protect this talent, there’s no way that businesses are going to be able to simply avoid engaging with this talent pool, nor should they, both for legal and compliance reasons. If I was a businessowner, I wouldn’t automatically reject a third of my strong workforce pipeline. It just doesn’t make sense. So, the biggest benefit is you’re really future proofing your business, and you’re preparing for what is coming down the pipeline in terms of our workforce, whether, you know, whether we like it or not, this is the consequences of, you know, decades, if not hundreds of years of criminalization and incarceration. We have to kind of adjust and have businesses take part in writing those wrongs.
>> Yeah. And as you mentioned too with COVID, so many people have become unemployed, and sadly unemployment is usually what often attribute for, or leads people to crimes, even petty crimes for survival. So, what can companies do to implement fair change hiring?
>> Yeah, definitely. I’ll just get the shameless plug out of the way first.
>> Yeah, that’s why we’re here.
>> Yeah, download our fair chance playbook. It is a robust and thorough resource to, to get you started on implementing fair chance hiring no matter the size of your organization. There are a lot of very detailed blueprints on how to start this practice coming from people who have done it ourselves and people who, our whole business is to help you hire more people and do it safely. So, who better to help get you on the road towards fair chance than Checkr? And then I think there are other smaller things that are, that are equally important if you do have a diversity in belonging or a diversity in inclusion program, you know, talk to whoever is leading that and say, hey, you know, have we considered talent with records, go to the prison policy initiative and grab some statistics to show, you know, the need and the opportunity for engaging with this population. Find some internal stakeholders, whether they’re your executive level leadership, or the people who will kind of help you do the work, find one team with a manager who has open positions who is passionate about this and try and get one placement that will really, really, really help you on the road. And I think that something that Checkr did well that I can’t recommend enough is we didn’t try and reinvent the wheel when we kind of organically came to the decision that we wanted to be an intentional fair chance employer. We looked to the people who have been doing it for years. So, we reach out to our community based organizations like Deny as Nationals. We worked with Defy of Northern California out in San Francisco. We also looked at the Center for Employment Opportunities. We worked with legal services for prisoners with children. We worked with Root & Rebound. And we actually went out and said hey, we want to do this work, can you, can you guide us, can you mentor us, can you coach us. And so we got to make those community partnerships that really made us avoid some pitfalls, and also helped us tap into really strong talent pipelines. So, I think if there is one place to start, download the playbook, find your local community based organization who is already doing this work and give them a call and tell them your intentions.
>> Great. And you might have, you might have said it and I might have missed it, but how can people access the fair chance playbook?
>> Absolutely. If you go to checkr.com, that’s C H E C K R, dot com, and scroll down a little bit on our homepage, it’s got a big beautiful graphic with a cover of the playbook. And it’s an easy download right onto your laptop.
>> Great. Thank you. And we will be including the link to the playbook and a couple other resources in, on our website along with the recording of this podcast. So, we’ll have that direct link. When you partner with employers, what are some of the biggest mistakes they’re making that they might not even know, might not even realize when it comes to making sure they are giving everyone a fair chance?
>> Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question. And I think a couple of the biggest mistakes that employers are making start with the job description and the interview. So, one strategic intervention that Checkr made is we actually looked at our job descriptions and made them more fair. And the way that we did that was as a first pass, we removed things that were really buzzworthy. I think especially in the tech industry, there’s a tendency to, you know, use our industry buzzwords, and it kind of turns into this barrier where if people from different industries or who have never worked this type of job don’t, don’t understand the terms, one, the job description can be intimidating, or two, we kind of do this subconscious like do you know the right passwords or not. And it might creep into your assessment of the talent. So, instead of saying things like, I don’t know, what’s a good example, maybe like able to thrive in a high, fast paced environment, we might break that down to be something more like able to manage your own time throughout the day, balancing e mail responses, phone calls, and like regular check ins with your manager. Like actually change the language to describe what they’re going to do on the job. Another leveler that we did is that we looked at the different tiers of the jobs. So, our entry level, mid level, and then senior level. And for entry and mid level, really, really looked at, well, do we need them to have a certain education level? Or do we just do that because everyone does that? Like what’s the actual reason behind this? And can we remove it? Do they actually need three years of sales experience, or can they have something that’s similar and transferrable? So, looking at those types of things that someone who’s maybe been incarcerated for 25 years would just look at the job description and go, dang, I’m not qualified, but it actually has nothing to do with their ability to do the job. And we might make those adjustments. So, I call that kind of leveling the job description, and then in the interview process, really breaking it down to be a skills based assessment instead of looking for what I call the golden resume. So, who has the right lingo? Who has the, you know, exact perfect ladder climb industry experience? And actually think through who are the skills required to do this job well. Let’s pull them out and let’s test for it in the interview instead of looking just to see people who have the right experience. So, that’s one big area in terms of even if you adjust your hiring practices to lower the barrier, if you’re still interviewing in a way that is not equitable for folks, your talent’s never going to make it through. Right? The second thing is filtering out irrelevant charges. So, let’s say you do that while you improve the fairness of your job description. You’re conducting a skills based interview. And now you make an offer. Hopefully you’re in a ban the box state, meaning that you can’t run the background check until after you’ve made a conditional offer of employment. So, now a record comes up, and what do you do? We really encourage looking into the job type and filtering out charges, which you can do through our product, or there are other ways to do it with different background check providers, and filtering those out so you’re not even considering them. Right? So, we’re moving that opportunity for bias to creep in. And I guess what I mean by that is if I ran a truck driving company, and you applied at my truck driving company, before I even started interviewing, I might say, you know what, I really care about DUIs, but I don’t need to see anything else. So, you could have a record, and if it isn’t a DUI, it’s not even going to come through. So, I’m able to fairly assess you and fairly assess that, you know, you are not a risk to take on because you don’t have the charge type that’s deeply relevant to my business. So, that’s another important intervention for people to make. And then I think the last one I’ll mention is just taking the time, even if a charge does come through that’s severe, or violent in nature, or maybe kind of is adjacent to something that would seem risky, don’t make assumptions. Ask for context. Ask for more information. It is perfectly fine after the background check has been run to reach out to the candidate and say, hey, you know, we just wanted to talk through this. Can you give us more information on this charge type? Do you have any evidence of rehabilitation? We really want to hire you on, but we need to do our due diligence. All of that is totally appropriate.
>> Great. And, I mean, that last point is really great to know, because you never know what a lot of employers don’t know what they can ask, can safely ask. So, and I know you touched on this a little bit just now, but could you go more in depth of how does Checkr implement fair chance hiring in its practices?
>> Yeah, absolutely. So, as I mentioned earlier, we have a goal of 5%. And we are really aggressive in trying to maintain that 5%. Since COVID hit, our percentage has dropped to about 4, because of growth of hiring, we haven’t lost a ton of people or anything, but we haven’t been able to keep up with that. But part of our implementation and our practice is not moving the marker. Right? So, we’re a little behind, and we’re still dedicated to get back to 5, 6, 7, have that percentage grow, and look into more closely like are our talent placements who have records being managed appropriately, you know, do they have HR support? Are they able to navigate conditions of parole well? Et cetera, et cetera. So, those are some things that we’re implementing. And we’re seeing really good results. Our population has had an 84% retention rate over the past two years, which is much higher than our talent without records. And on our most recent engagement survey, we also had 100% engagement from our fair chance talent. So, 100% of our talent with records thought that they would be with Checkr in another two years, which was extremely strong, especially compared to our base population. So, it was really wonderful. In terms of other practices that we, that we implement, I’d say we’re just trying to get better. You know? We have leveled our job descriptions and we’re trying to make them even more equitable. We are doing a lot of trainings on how to improve skills based assessments. And our bounceback committee, which is an internal volunteer committee in partnership with our fair chance development manager, has started creating learning pathways for reentry talent to find strong pipelines of training to get them skilled out and then placed into, into roles at Checkr. So, these are the types of things that we’re trying to work on and develop to improve our practice.
>> Well, thank you so much again for being here. And thank you so much for having this conversation. Unfortunately, we are at, that was our last question that we have time for today. But thank you again, Rehana, for being here. And thank you to all our listeners.
>> Thank you, Benjamin, so much for having me, and for taking the time to learn a bit more about fair chance hiring. We were really happy to participate.
>> Of course. It truly was our pleasure. If you’d like to learn more about fair chance hiring, visit Checkr at checkr.com. You can also find our podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, and Stitcher. Thank you, again, to our sponsor, Best Buy, and to you for listening. Have a great day.
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