It was not long ago when inclusive hiring (sometimes called second-chance hiring) was all the rage across the U.S. In February, U.S. unemployment was at 3.5 percent, the nation was reckoning with its mass incarceration problem, and various business organizations were busting myths about what’s involved with hiring people who have criminal records. The Ban the Box campaign, around since 2003, was also gaining more supporters.
Fast forward a few months and now, almost no one is talking about inclusive hiring. And speaking of rage, there's currently a different form of it sweeping across the U.S.
One company that has not shied away from inclusive hiring despite the current crises is Greyston Bakery, which has long been churning out brownies in Yonkers, New York, and includes Ben & Jerry’s amongst its customers.
TriplePundit recently caught up with Joseph Kenner, who has been with Greyston since early 2018 and was named CEO of the company this past April. For Kenner and his executive team, no other employee engagement option exists other than inclusive hiring. From Kenner’s point of view, the convergence of COVID-19, the protests stemming from the murders of Black Americans including George Floyd, and the current economic crisis makes hiring the most vulnerable even more of an imperative, especially since many people with criminal justice histories never got a “first chance” at employment in the first place.
“If anything, when looking at the current environment, what we’re now seeing makes it more important that we find solutions to build a more inclusive economy,” Kenner told 3p.
Greyston has already gone above and beyond its mission of employing the last hired and first fired to bake brownies. Two years ago, the company opened the eponymous Center for Open Hiring, a space where business leaders can learn more about the “open hiring” human resources model. Greyston and the staff running the center are spreading the word on inclusive hiring however they can. Next, they'll host a seminar on Tuesday, July 14. The event has the goal to show leaders the value of investing in employees, “rather than screening them out.”
Open hiring seeks to turn the human resources model on its head. Most companies expend their resources screening out people. But with open hiring, companies commit to training, learning, development, benefits and a culture of support. The process is simple: In Greyston’s case, applicants are asked for the name, contact information and if they can stand on their feet for a full day’s shift. Plus, Greyston employees need to be able to lift 50 pounds, as baking 8 million or so pounds of brownies and blondies a year requires moving around lots of huge bags of flour and sugar.
Those aforementioned numbers are what Kenner focuses on, as Greyston saves the numbers for products, not people. “It’s not just about numbers, but really, opportunity and access. What does a more inclusive workforce look like for them and what tools will achieve it for them. We have the answer with open hiring,” Kenner said.
At a time when companies are making bold statements about standing with Black Americans and promising to build more diverse workforces, Kenner and his company doesn’t have to pledge anything – it is hiring now.
“I applaud the statements that are being made by the various corporations in support of hiring more people of color. However, statements alone will not solve the problem,” he told us. “What I hope will happen is that business leaders will be more intentional about the problem they are trying to solve. And then, how will they measure their impact?”
As corporate America has decided to march in lockstep with the protestors flooding the streets in American cities and towns large and small, it’s easy for nagging doubts to cross one’s mind as they read more press releases and promises. Kenner came across during the interview as hopeful, optimistic, yet guarded.
After all, it’s easy to promise — the hard part in business is the delivery. “What is the timeline for measuring their impact? And then what are the metrics of success? Because of the central role businesses play in our economy, management teams can have an immediate impact by accessing the one lever that they control: hiring. You don’t have to ask for anyone’s permission; just open the door.”
At a time when government is flailing and other institutions are hamstrung by the lack of funds, the reality is that the closest things they have to boots on the ground are Zoom and other video conferencing services. Hence business can step in and lead during this crisis with its collective pocketbook.
At the moment, vague promises to change by 2025 are not enough. For workers who are willing to put in the hours, such long-term plans won’t help them at all. “What we’ve got to do is going beyond addressing the symptoms and address the disease; right now, many folks don’t have opportunity and access. It’s a merry-go-round until you address these core issues,” Kenner added.
After decades of imprisoning people at increasing rates, approximately 1 in 3 U.S. adults currently has a criminal record that would appear on a routine background check. Promises alone will go nowhere close to putting a dent in that statistic, but a more open hiring system, such as the one that has worked out well for Greyston, is certainly a start.
Image credit: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.