Struggling with Diversity? Become a Fair-Chance Employer

When it comes to diversity, business and HR leaders acknowledge they’re not where they aspire to be. Since 2020, much of the focus has been on racial diversity - in particular, the share of Black people among applicants, employees, and leaders. However, despite the focus and effort, organizations continue to lag on that dimension, as well as on most other dimensions of diversity.

What have many organizations not yet tried?: Fair-chance hiring. It is a tangible, tactical, and highly effective way to boost diversity across multiple dimensions simultaneously.

What is fair-chance hiring?
Fundamentally: The practice of assessing job candidates with criminal records on a case-by-case basis. It typically involves the Nature-Time-Nature test, which considers the nature of the offense, how long ago it occurred, and the nature of the specific role.

How does it tie to diversity?
The U.S. criminal legal system disproportionately impacts groups who are underrepresented across industries, roles, and levels. The overlap betweenmarginalization and criminalization is staggering:

  • Race. The lifetime likelihood of imprisonment is 1 in 3 for Black men and 1 in 6 for Latino men vs. 1 in 17 for White men. For women, it’s 1 in 18 for Black women and 1 in 45 for Latina women vs. 1 in 118 for White women. Disability. People in state and federal prisons are 3x more likely to have at least one disability than the general population. They face unique challenges, biases, and inaccessible services, which worsens their outcomes.
  • LGBT+. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are more likely to be incarcerated, be given longer sentences, and languish on probation or parole than straight people. 1 in 6 trans people have been incarcerated at some point, including nearly 1 in 2 Black trans people.
  • Veteran status. About 8% of people incarcerated in prisons and jails are military veterans, 77% of whom had an honorable discharge. (Note: The U.S. Military itself is a fair-chance employer.)

With the lens of Intersectionality (Credit: Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw), people who are part of multiple marginalized groups are even more likely to have a criminal record or to have been incarcerated. They are also more likely to face employment discrimination, regardless of their criminal record (or lack thereof). The barriers compound.

How big is the problem / opportunity?
19 million Americans have felonies. 1 in 3 Americans has something come up on their background check. Fair-chance hiring opens up opportunities to this huge - and hugely diverse - pool of candidates who are qualified, eager to work, and loyal to employers who see past their background and give them a chance.

The Takeaway
If you are excluding candidates with criminal records, you face an uphill battle to diversify your organization. To be blunt, without fair-chance policies and practices, you’re more likely to have a disproportionately White, able-bodied, neurotypical, straight, cisgender, and non-Veteran workforce.

In contrast, by be(com)ing a fair-chance employer, you can dramatically improve your efforts to diversify your recruitment and retention of people from broader backgrounds and identities. It’s a powerful way to move from intention to impact.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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