A Revolutionary Approach to Recruitment

The CEO of Greyston explains why hiring the formerly incarcerated can be a win/win.
By: | September 24, 2018 • 4 min read

Back in the early 2000s, life for Dion Drew was bleak. Having sold drugs for over two decades, he was on the streets and saw jail or death as his likely outcome. In his words, he had no hope. He was incarcerated for four years and, after getting out, found himself continually rejected by potential employers. He wanted to do the right thing and improve his life, but society wasn’t giving him the opportunity. Dion is not alone. There are currently 70 million Americans with criminal records, millions of them being overlooked for employment because they are formerly incarcerated.

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Here’s another fact to consider: Around 8 percent of U.S. adults suffer from chronic underemployment—that is, they want to work and, in most cases, are very capable of work, but they can’t find jobs. That’s nearly one in 10 of us. This shouldn’t be that surprising when you look at the resources being invested into screening out potential and much-needed new talent. In 2016 alone, U.S. companies spent upwards of $758 million on background checks to do just this. Meanwhile, the overall yearly employee turnover rate in the U.S. is 42 percent—in other words,  almost half of all positions in this country have to be refilled within one year!

Jackie, a Greyston employee at the company’s bakery in Yonkers, N.Y.

We regularly hear about the shrinking talent pool of available employees, the importance of creating inclusive company cultures, changing job roles relating to the future of work, the pressure to reduce recruitment costs, and the need to attract millennials to purpose-driven organizations. Yet there’s a real disconnect here between the business problems we’re encountering, the existing hiring practices we’re supporting, and the action and accountability (or lack thereof) we’re seeing.

Why are we excluding millions of people like Dion, who want to work but aren’t being given the opportunity when we so desperately need them?

Remove Outdated Hiring Practices

Unconscious bias is a very real thing. So, of course, is conscious bias. Take hiring individuals who are formerly incarcerated or homeless, for example. Some of the main concerns include workplace safety, theft, a lack of reliability, and people viewing it as an act of charity or a token gesture. But there are clear benefits, too. From a societal perspective, hiring people currently excluded from the workforce lowers the rate of recidivism and homelessness, boosts the economy, contributes to safer communities, breaks the cycle of poverty, helps address food security and housing issues … the list goes on. From an organizational perspective, hiring those formerly incarcerated or homeless, or those with limited prior work history, increases the available talent pool, improves retention, workplace resilience, productivity, nurtures entrepreneurial spirit, lowers recruitment costs, attracts values-driven millennials, and it can create a more diverse culture. There’s a strong case for business improvement if only we could let go of hiring practices that have become outdated.

So, what’s the solution?

Human capital strategies need to shift significantly in order for us to achieve an inclusive and thriving economy. Leaders in HR and talent acquisition need to encourage progressive management teams to take a stance against bias and racism and stand up for fair and inclusive workplaces and communities, and stay accountable. Organizations of all sizes can do this, starting with small steps. According to a recent poll by the Charles Koch Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management, hiring more people with criminal records is a solution managers and employees would embrace: 80 percent of corporate executives, managers and employees reacted positively or neutrally to the idea and 90 percent of corporate execs and hiring managers reacted positively or neutrally to the idea, which suggests change in this area will be explored and likely welcomed.

The Rise of a New Model

At Greyston, we’ve seen these benefits first-hand, as have other companies including Virgin, Chipotle, Dairy Queen, American Express and Walmart, to name a growing group of progressive employers hiring formerly incarcerated individuals. The Open Hiring Model is based on the concept of radical inclusion, trust and zero judgement. You hire without asking any questions. The Model is driven by the belief that being given the dignity of work should be a universal basic human right. It enables employers to accept an individual based on current actions and future potential, not judge them on their past. It creates opportunities for everyone: women, men, people of color, people of all faiths and sexual orientations, immigrants and refugees, veterans, the economically disadvantaged, the formerly incarcerated and all others who may have been excluded from contributing to the health and strength of society.

Greyston, a world-class bakery, has been practicing Open Hiring for 36 years and has seen the direct positive impact this radically inclusive approach has on individuals and communities. Today, Dion is a team supervisor at Greyston, providing for his young family and saving for the future. His is one of the 3,500 jobs Greyston has created and his family is one of 19,000 families positively impacted by Open Hiring model. From a business perspective, over the past four years, Greyston has doubled revenues at the bakery and we’ve proven that there’s no more risk to hiring someone formerly incarcerated than there is to hiring someone else.

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The recent launch of The Center for Open Hiring at Greyston will help drive widespread adoption of this revolutionary approach to recruitment. It’s a place for visionary leaders and management teams to create and evolve radical change in human capital management, promote racial equity at scale, and create a more inclusive economy. It will provide partners with education and training, advisory services, and research and program options. These will include immersive learning experiences in social innovation, social justice, and change management; advisory services that support organizations in creating and implementing their own human capital strategies; the ability to observe a “living lab” (Greyston bakery) that demonstrates the positive impact Open Hiring can have; research, analysis and development of Open Hiring programs and practices.

We believe this model holds the potential to change the world—one company, one job, one person at a time.

Mike Brady is President & CEO of Greyston