After years of exclusion, people with non-traditional work histories are finding new job opportunities thanks to businesses that are embracing more inclusive hiring practices. That approach means that applicants who have experienced homelessness, incarceration, addiction, as well as refugees and those with a pending immigration status, can have a much better shot at meaningful employment.
The trend arguably began decades ago with Open Hiring, a business model pioneered by Greyston Bakery. The commercial bakery, located in Yonkers, New York, produces those chewy chunks you look for in Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream, along with other delicious brownie treats. It also hires people without asking for a resume, interview, or background check.
The inclusive business model has been so successful that the bakery recently launched the Open Hiring Center, a collaborative learning space that “elaborates, improves, and defines” Open Hiring, and aids other companies as they seek to eliminate barriers to employment.
“Our recruitment process is based on the principle of non-judgment and radical inclusion,” Mike Brady, president and CEO of Greyston Bakery, said. “We believe every single person coming through the door of Greyston Bakery has the potential to be successful on the job, so we want to offer everyone an opportunity.”
“Our recruitment process is based on the principle of non-judgment and radical inclusion.”
Typical recruitment practices tend to sift out people from marginalized communities, especially those who were formerly incarcerated. A 2017 ACLU report showed that of the 70 million Americans with a criminal record, nearly 75 percent remain unemployed a year after release. When these people are repeatedly excluded from employment opportunities, it can lead to stubborn cycles of poverty.
Greyston is one of several businesses advocating for an inclusive employment approach. Ovenly, a New York City bakery, and Hot Chicken Takeover, a restaurant chain in Columbus, Ohio, rely on what they call . That term refers to a business practice whereby applicants without traditional resumes, interviews, and reference letters are given equal consideration as their peers with such credentials.
This isn’t a trend exclusive to small businesses either. Companies as large as Starbucks, Target, and Walmart don’t conduct a background check until the end of the hiring process, at which point the job applicant is given time to advocate for themselves and explain what might have caused a long gap in employment.
This approach can make a big difference for applicants. Research suggests they’re more likely to apply for a job when they aren’t immediately asked to check a conviction history box. Meanwhile, giving an applicant time to advocate for themselves is an example of the kind of personal contact shown to counteract an employer’s initial stereotypes.
At Greyston Bakery, potential applicants are encouraged to walk into the factory and write their name down on a list for employment. They are judged not on their employment history but on their ability to work.
“When we have a job available, we take the next person off the list and give them a chance to work — no questions asked, no background check, no reference check, no interviews,” Brady said.
New employees go through a 6-10 month paid apprenticeship, which includes lessons on machinery, teamwork, and language classes.
Dilara Casey, head of marketing at Hot Chicken Takeover, said the company considers work history but includes other questions that could help people with alternative resumes have a competing chance.
“In addition to work history and general information, the application process also determines their work readiness and culture fit through a series of questions,” Casey said.
Not only do Greyston Bakery, Ovenly, and Hot Chicken Takeover want to make it easier for people with complicated histories to get a job, but the businesses also offer new employees a number of services to help them thrive. At Hot Chicken Takeover, employees are given assistance via work benefits, including interest-free cash advances, flexible scheduling, and counseling. Ovenly offers its employees regular professional development trainings, transit benefits, and free meals.
“Having a clean record doesn’t necessarily indicate that an employee is honest or trustworthy.”
Skeptics of fair-chance hiring might worry about employees with a criminal record or a non-traditional work history. Some research, however, suggests that there may be a link between criminal history and increased workplace performance. A study published in 2018 showed that members of the military with incarceration histories were promoted more quickly — and to higher ranks than those with no conviction record.
“I get that question a lot,” said Casey, referring to whether her employees with criminal histories were more likely to steal or cheat. “Having a clean record doesn’t necessarily indicate that an employee is honest or trustworthy. And on the flip side, a tarnished record doesn’t necessarily indicate that an employee isn’t honest or trustworthy.”
In the restaurant and food industry, where the average turnover rate was 73 percent in 2017, practicing fair-chance employment seems to help a business attract and keep loyal talent.
“Seventy percent of our employees have what we call an alternative resume,” Casey said. “Our turnover rate is 39 percent — that’s almost half of the industry average.”
In addition to addressing stereotypes around incarceration, fair-chance hiring has the potential to combat racial bias. An experiment conducted in 2004 by Harvard sociologists showed that white men with criminal records received a call back 22 percent of the time while their black counterparts were called only 10 percent of the time.
“We don’t like to use the word second chance because many of these people never got a first chance,” said Agatha Kulaga, co-founder of Ovenly. “They are consistently my hardest working and most reliable employees.”
While by no means a panacea for bias in employment, open hiring and fair-chance hiring are ways businesses can effect positive change in their communities. When companies consider a candidate based on their relevant skill set and not their histories, they can expect to build a loyal, dedicated workforce.