Written by Tamra Ryan, CEO
In April we held our 17th annual graduation celebration, Ready, Set, Grow. I love this event because of the opportunity to celebrate the most recent graduates of Women’s Bean Project’s program, and even more so because we get to reconnect with graduates from years ago. As I caught up with graduates in attendance, I heard stories of new jobs, promotions, and staying with the same employer for years. It was all very heartening, since in many ways the greatest evidence of the work we do is whether the changes the women make while at the Bean Project “stick.”
One of the best updates I heard was from Corina, a graduate of Women’s Bean Project from 2019. While at the Bean Project Corina was determined to not allow her past drug use and criminal record define her. She set a goal of going to school to learn coding and was focused on making this dream a reality. We connected her with several resources that eventually led her to receive a scholarship to Turing School of Software & Design. Her team’s capstone project was to develop an app that allowed people to search for resources like housing on their phones and have the screen stay static even after the connection to the internet was no longer available. Corina was passionate about creating this app because of challenges she had in accessing resources when she was struggling in her addiction. Upon graduation from Turing, Corina got a great job as a backend developer for Aetna Health, a job that she was excited about and that paid well. But Corina was over the moon excited to tell me about her new job at Checkr, a company that has built a platform to make background checks easy for employers. Perhaps more importantly, Checkr is a fair chance employer and encourages other companies to be fair chance employers as well.
Fair Chance Employment
Historically, most employers have filtered out any applicant with a criminal background of any sort. Fair Chance employment, also known as Second Chance employment, is the practice of hiring people with criminal records. Roughly 70 million US adults have some form of criminal record. That equates to almost 1/3 of US adults who, without work, often fall back into criminal behavior and are likely to end up on public assistance. In fact, the annual loss to the GDP from excluding formerly incarcerated people from the workforce is estimated to be between $78 and $87 billion.
The good news is that large, influential employers across the country are beginning to shift the narrative and begin hiring talent with criminal records, including JPMORGAN Chase, Koch Industries, Walmart and Home Depot. As these employers pave the way, the hope is that smaller companies will find it easier to hire fair chance employees into their organizations as well. Honest Jobs, launched in 2019, is a national job marketplace for people affected by the criminal justice system. Employers can use the platform to conduct their fair chance hiring and job seekers with backgrounds can use the platform to be matched with jobs.
This evening on the news I heard that at the end of March 2022 there were 11.5 million job openings. This means there are nearly two open positions for every person seeking employment. With fewer employees than there are jobs, employers cannot afford to exclude a third of prospective employees.
Clean Slate Legislation
I was pleased to learn this week that in our home state of Colorado, legislation called Clean Slate has passed both the Senate and the House and will now land on the Governor’s desk for signing. Clean Slate is intended to streamline the process by which eligible convictions and charges are automatically sealed. While many types of nonviolent records are eligible for sealing, only 5% of Coloradans are successful in their attempt to seal because of barriers created by the process. Clean Slate clarifies and streamlines the process for record sealing, opening the door for many adults who were previously overlooked to secure employment.
The combination of Clean Slate legislation that will seal eligible records along with fair chance hiring has the potential to significantly change lives. A charge or conviction in one’s past should not be a life sentence to joblessness. Given that a key indicator of rearrest is being unemployed in the year prior to the arrest, hiring employees with records breaks the cycle of rearrest and incarceration. Everyone deserves the opportunity to feel the dignity of work.
At Women’s Bean Project, we dream of a day when employers hire based on talent and potential rather than background. Employers find their fair chance employees are more productive, have less turnover and get promoted faster. In a tight job market, this sounds like an employer match made in heaven.