Today’s fluid job market poses both challenges and opportunities for employers.
Your company’s background check policies may be making it harder to create a diverse, inclusive workplace. By making hiring decisions based on criminal background checks—without exploring the details of a candidate’s conviction—you could miss out on a qualified, hard-working employee.
Learn what GoodHire is doing to remove inequities in the hiring process.
Diversity. Inclusion. Equality.
With the steady stream of diversity in hiring reports flowing out of companies, it feels like more people are talking about these issues than at any time in recent memory.
Honestly, though, the highly politicized and sometimes divisive public discourse – and even the hiring numbers – can feel discouraging. And while talking about the issues is one thing, meaningful action requires something more.Among hiring professionals, the dialogue around these topics often centers around two questions:
- How can employers convince the majority to care about diversity and inclusion?
- What’s one thing companies can do to improve their diversity program success?
These questions have no easy answers. In fact, each company may come up with several different answers that work for its culture.
I’m sharing my thoughts on these questions here, and I hope to hear yours.
How can employers convince the majority to care about diversity and inclusion?
In learning how to lead a company over the past 10 years, I’ve found that the most effective way to win anyone over is to build on what you have in common. At our core we’re united by our humanity, no matter how categories – race, gender, age, class, religion, political affiliation, and so on – seem to divide us.
That means we can use our human capacity for empathy to understand what motivates the people we’re trying to persuade and adjust our messages to resonate.
For example, when asking the CFO for budget to support a diversity program, you might choose to focus on well-documented business cases from groups like the Harvard Business Review.
Other audiences may be better persuaded when you find a way to humanize the issue, taking it from abstract discussions of groups and categories to individual stories or opportunities for shared in-person experiences.
After all, how many politicians who once opposed gay marriage, for example, changed their position after learning that someone in their family is gay? It’s hard to remain indifferent or even opposed to something that affects people you know and like. How many of us haven’t, at least once, felt a flicker of what it’s like to be in the minority.
We’ve seen this humanizing approach work in our early efforts to fight the systemic inequalities that traditional background checks perpetuate. When we first ask employers if they’d be willing to hire someone with a criminal record, the impulsive answer is often no.
But when the question changes to include the human story behind the record, the answer typically changes, too. Organizations working on fair-chance hiring find good results when they rephrase the question: “Would you hire someone with a criminal record who spent time in prison fighting California wildfires or building the furniture used in your children’s schools?” It takes the focus away from preconceived notions about prison populations in favor of an approach that considers the real person.
Understanding the context of a criminal record, including what the person might have done in prison and since the conviction, builds awareness and naturally leads to greater compassion and more empathetic hiring practices.
The key is to see people for who they are, and help others see them too. Find a way to include and address their voices, concerns, and ideas, and you’ll build a network of people who care about other people.
What can companies can do to implement a system change that accounts for inclusion?
Many companies already implement solid strategies – employee resource groups and transparency reports were repeatedly mentioned as essential.
I’d like to address a less-obvious problem: that your HR department’s background check might be a hidden factor perpetuating inequality in your organization.
This is an area where we have special insight, as GoodHire aims to reinvent background checks. That means I’m biased toward solving this particular problem, of course, but it also means I’m thoroughly committed.
Because most employers run background checks during the hiring process, a conviction can follow people around for years, making it difficult to find employment or even housing.
Unfortunately, the racial disparity in our criminal justice system is beyond question. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men. Latino men are also incarcerated at higher proportional rates than white men. This inequity is mirrored in the criminal records checked by employers.
That’s why we’re working to change the background check system by giving a voice to people who have repaid their debt to society.
Giving job seekers with criminal records the power to tell their own more complete story in their background check results will help employers see past the record to the real person behind it.
We’ve made it possible for people to save their stories directly in their background check results. This lets them document the circumstances around their conviction, including any steps they’ve taken since, and share it with any employer.
That’s the step we’re taking. The parallel for employers is to remove questions about criminal convictions from job applications, and to consider each job applicant with a criminal record individually, as a real person – flawed as all humans are – rather than part of a faceless group.
What you find in doing so might challenge you, surprise you, and even inspire you.
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.