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4 Honest Questions and Answers About Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Woman speaking at a podium about diversity in the workforce

A diverse and inclusive workplace culture benefits both employees and the bottom line. Yet attaining workplace diversity remains elusive for many firms. How can companies ensure more inclusive hiring?

Get answers to common workplace diversity questions, learn about current best practices for diversity, and find out how careful use of background checks can support inclusivity.

Editor’s Note: GoodHire is a proud supporter of fair hiring practices, which includes efforts to include people of color in the workforce through diversity and inclusion programs that give those with criminal records a fair chance at employment. In light of recent events, we’ve updated a popular blog that was originally published in May 2017.

In recent weeks, demonstrations against police brutality have brought much-needed attention to the unfair, unwarranted and heartbreaking loss of life and injuries to people of color at the hands of police. The opportunity to come together to address systemic racism has perhaps never been so great, or so top-of-mind.

You would think that by the 21st century, issues related to inequality in the workplace, and society at large, would have become a thing of the distant past. You would, unfortunately, be wrong. In fact, as widespread unrest around the US in 2020 clearly illustrates, we all have opportunities to do better, not simply to avoid lawsuits or to comply with various federal, state and local requirements, but also because it’s simply the right thing to do.

In the workplace, discriminatory behavior not only hurts individuals, but hurts companies as well. Much research demonstrates the positive value that building a diverse and inclusive culture can have for organizations, including positive bottom line impacts, as this Harvard Business Review article points out

In addition, research from McKinsey & Company shows that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform the national industry median for financial returns. Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform. 

But as this infographic from Information Is Beautiful shows, a real diversity challenge exists in many workplaces that goes beyond gender. Minority groups barely register at many tech companies, as this 2020 Fortune article reports. In 2019, Black people represented only 3% of Facebook’s senior leadership numbers; only 2.6% of Google’s.

Infographic shows large technology companies and breakdown of employees by gender

Diversity and inclusion remains a hiring challenge in most industries – not just tech – though that’s not for lack of programs or attention.  

If approaches tried to date don’t work, what new ideas can companies try? 

Seeking Diversity And Inclusion Best Practices

That question is one that has baffled companies for decades as they have employed numerous efforts in an attempt to build inclusive cultures. But it’s a question with answers that remain elusive. There are plenty of reasons why, and plenty of people and organizations who have opined on them over the years.

One approach that has been gaining some traction, although it doesn’t explicitly focus on any specific protected classes, is increasing diversity and inclusion for one often overlooked group: people with criminal records

The 70 million people with records don’t qualify as a protected class. But the overrepresentation of minorities in the criminal justice system means that the EEOC takes a close look at how companies approach hiring from this pool. 

A flat-out ban on hiring people with criminal records would have a disparate impact on minorities. And that clearly violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the agency has said. And, for those same reasons, it affects diversity in the workforce.

Same Goal, Two Approaches

Background checks may be viewed as a barrier to employment by both employees and employers. When not done efficiently, they have the potential to lengthen the hiring process which could potentially lead to employees accepting jobs elsewhere. In addition, historically, background checks have had the potential to unnecessarily weed out candidates who might otherwise have made positive contributions to the organization.

Founded in 2012, GoodHire is reinventing background checks to help solve this particular problem for both employers and job seekers. 

GoodHire background checks let job candidates add context to their criminal records. That means they can explain the circumstances of the offense and what they’ve done since it occurred. 

This feature helps employers follow EEOC guidance for individualized assessment of candidates with criminal records. 

It also helps them see past the legalese to consider the candidate as a whole person. And it brings the candidates voice into the background review. 

“GoodHire invites the candidate into the process, and bakes in fair hiring and compliance for employers from the ground up,” shares Elizabeth McLean, GoodHire’s General Counsel. 

GoodHire is the first background check provider to offer a built-in way for candidates to provide context around a record.

Back in 2017, GoodHire hosted a session about Diversity & Inclusion with Leslie Crary, who was VP of Human Resources at Rubicon Bakers at that time. Rubicon Bakers is an example of one company that takes a different approach to recruiting those with criminal background records.  Interestingly, Crary told us that Rubicon had never done a background check. Instead, she said, “We go out and try to find people who have a background – who other people wouldn’t consider.” 

A former defense attorney, Crary had visited San Quentin State Prison to help inmates practice telling their stories through mock interviews. 

Rubicon Bakery started in 1993 as a project of nonprofit Rubicon Programs to help people rebuild their lives with jobs, training, and other services.  Andrew Stoloff bought the bakery in 2008 and turned it into a for-profit business that now employs more than 200 bakers – representing significant growth from its original 14 full-time employees. 

But the mission remains the same: Giving people a chance by offering a job and access to support through a network of nonprofit partners. 

This approach to hiring led to the discovery of some hidden gems. One woman, whose first job at the bakery involved putting things in packages, grew in her role to manage all production and a staff of 100. “She doesn’t have a college education, but she’s incredibly smart. We recognized that she could move things along,” Crary said. 

The bakery provides opportunity and employees offer a lot in return in terms of loyalty to the company. 

“When you hire someone who has had doors slammed in their face over and over again, they become a really loyal employee,” Crary said. “They believe in you. They frequently say I’ve got your back. And it’s true, they really do.”

Learn more about how fair chance hiring is a win-win for businesses and employees.

Diffusing Myths And Learning From Each Other

There are, perhaps not surprisingly, a number of myths, misconceptions and unwarranted concerns that companies may have about hiring those with criminal records. The reality, though, based on the experiences of companies like Rubicon Bakery, tells a different story.

1. Does bringing people together from difficult backgrounds reinforce bad behaviors?

“I’m not going to say we don’t have challenges,” Crary said. “I haven’t done a statistical analysis, but it doesn’t strike me that we have any greater challenges with our ‘mission’ hires with other hires. We may just be lucky, but I haven’t seen it.” 

Crary’s experiences reflect several studies showing that people with criminal records perform at least as well in the workplace as people who don’t have records. 

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Pritzker School of Law found that “ex-offenders who did get hired were no more likely to be fired later than non-offenders. And they were less likely to quit – saving their firms a significant amount of money in employee turnover costs.” 

That finding supports two earlier studies. One followed employees in San Francisco, which enacted a ban-the-box law in 2014. The other compared the performance of US Army soldiers who had felony convictions with those without felonies. 

The biggest barrier to rehabilitation is unemployment. Here are seven reasons to say yes to hiring someone with a criminal record.

2. What value does diversity – of all types – bring to organizations?

There’s plenty of data to support the value that diversity can bring to organizations – including having a positive impact on financial performance. That value can be diminished, though, when employers use automated systems that focus on attributes that may have unintended side effects for job seekers. 

For instance, requiring educational levels that really don’t reflect the real needs for the job. Formal education is only one way to evaluate candidate skills.

While  some specialized positions do need a degree or certificate (doctors, accountants, mental health counselors, etc.) many roles do not require this, even positions like CEOs and executive directors. Not being inordinately focused on degrees makes sense for another reason. As Crary said: “We know the education system is inequitable and leaving behind many people; don’t screw them a second time with a degree requirement if the position is not specialized.” 

Diversity matters – all kinds of diversity. The ability to build a diverse workforce can be hindered if requirements are too stringent and have a disparate impact on various types of employees. That can impede organizations’ ability to capitalize on the value of diverse viewpoints, backgrounds and experience. Today’s organizations increasingly recognize that the greatest insights and innovations come not from teams of like-minded individuals, but from teams with a wide range of diverse viewpoints and perspectives. The more complex the decision, and the more competitive the market, the greater the value of these diverse inputs.

That diversity can take a variety of forms – from gender, race and ethnicity to age, educational experience and income levels.

3. When it comes to inclusion, how do you foster an environment where people who come from different backgrounds know you value their ideas?

Despite years of effort to build diversity, many employers struggle to foster inclusion for those diverse candidates. 

A 2020 study by O.C. Tanner found that when leaders are able to effectively connect employees to each other through a strong culture of communication and inclusion, they can achieve stunning results. For instance, they can:

  • Increase the odds that employees will be promoters by 250%
  • Increase the likelihood that employees will rate their employee experience highly by 405%
  • Increase the likelihood that employees will be engaged by 845%
  • Increase the odds that employees will have a strong positive perception of leadership by 1674%

Those numbers are truly staggering. Unfortunately, many organizations fail to achieve even a fraction of these results. Why? The problem here often arises when organizations think of achieving a diverse workforce as the goal. In fact, it’s just the first step. 

Companies often point to data that shows that they have hired people of color and feel that their job is done. But inclusion is not about simply hiring people that fall into certain categories—it’s about welcoming these people, including them, sharing power and helping them make their way to the C-suite.

Diversity marks the first stage. Inclusion means creating the infrastructure that promotes a sense of belonging among the diverse employees.

4. When you set out to hire candidates whose beliefs align with your mission, how do you avoid disqualifying people with different backgrounds?

Though an article in Forbes declared “the end of culture fit” back in 2017, many companies still consider it in the hiring process. 

Still, the notion of culture fit can stand as a reason to turn down candidates who are different. When that happens, unconscious biases surface. 

Employers need to work to find the right balance between seeking employees who will positively contribute to their culture while ensuring that they aren’t somehow, however inadvertently, failing to build a workforce that reflects different backgrounds, different thoughts, opinions and life experiences.

One important caution for employers is to be aware of the tendency to hire people who are like you. A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article says: “Most managers have a tendency to hire people who remind them of themselves. This tendency harms diversity and inhibits team performance.”

While it’s important to hire employees that will fit well within your culture, it’s also important to ensure that your staff is diverse and that they reflect your culture and values in different ways. As the authors of the HBR article say: “The only way to think about talent inclusively is to embrace people who are different from you and others already on your team.”

Cultivating A Diverse And Inclusive Workforce 

If your organization is among the many striving to increase diversity and inclusion, consider these ideas:

  • Be open to hiring people with criminal records. 
  • Consider equivalent experience for educational requirements.
  • Go beyond hiring for diversity’s sake to ensure that diverse employees feel they belong at your company and have opportunities for managerial, partner, and power-sharing positions.
  • Balance a desire for culture fit with cultivating diversity of thought, background and experiences.

The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

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