Orange is the New Black, Good is the New Fair

Employee working at Give Something Back , a shot from   Hiring People with Records Can Help Your Bottom-line , produced for the A Good Hire Campaign sponsored by the  San Francisco Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights  and the  National Employment Law Center . 

Employee working at Give Something Back , a shot from Hiring People with Records Can Help Your Bottom-line, produced for the A Good Hire Campaign sponsored by the San Francisco Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and the National Employment Law Center



By now, most of you have heard the communications mantra to meet people where they are. Are our campaigns missing out on messaging that can drive more progress?

Here are three ways we could be talking more effectively to promote change:

1) Meet those who hire where they are. Talk about “a good hire” and “untapped labor supply.”

For our campaign, we interviewed human resource directors and managers who hire for medium size firms in the Bay Area. We heard their hiring priority is to find the right fit for their company – someone who is productive, responsible and a cultural fit. They spoke to us with pride about finding “that right fit” for their companies.

“When I make that right hire – when someone works out really well – and the manager is satisfied, that is when I feel good, because I’m doing what I’ve been hired to do. And when I make a hire that doesn’t work out, I feel awful – and it makes for a difficult situation for everyone. That’s my challenge – and when I conquer it – I feel great.  Then I know I’ve earned my paycheck and made progress for my company. That’s what gets me to work every day.”

Many described to us their critical HR “instinct” – inner judgment – that enables them to “look someone in the eye” and get a good read on whether they’d be a good hire for their company. * Surprisingly, quite a few didn’t even depend on background check companies to make their decisions on whether to hire someone with a record. (Background check companies investigate a candidate’s background, including criminal histories, but these checks can be incorrect.) The directors and managers we spoke to depended on their instinct—based on many years of experience with hiring and firing—to make judgments about a candidate’s contribution potential. 

“I’ve fought hard not to do background checks in part because we have a good process of determining who people are. What their skills and experiences are – whether their character will fit in our culture – we don’t need to know, want to know about their records. I don’t care that a designer had a DUI at 22. We’re not perfect – but I think we feel good about the energy and work we put into our hiring process.”

Campaigns using “fair chance” or “second chance” messaging emphasize that people who have criminal records deserve fairness – rather than spotlighting their qualifications and fit for a job. Advocates point out that it is unfair and illogical for someone with a record to be prevented from earning a living. We dwell on how all of us deserve a second chance.

This is not to say to avoid talking about second chances. Just don’t start the conversation there.
Kevin Yip playing with his 22 month old son, Dominic King Yip. From SF Chronicle's "  Apple changes policy, no longer bars felons for construction jobs .".

Kevin Yip playing with his 22 month old son, Dominic King Yip. From SF Chronicle's "Apple changes policy, no longer bars felons for construction jobs.".

We need to first address the motivation of the employer. They seek someone who can be the good hire – the good fit. That’s their objective. In some way, we have been framing it as our “second class” candidates deserve just as much of a good look as others. But what we’re missing are the stories and message that our candidates are good candidates – that they can be productive, they can be responsible and in this improving economy, where firms are now hiring as in the Bay Area, an untapped labor supply.


Take a look at this Six Reasons to Hire  Person with A Record or for some ideas how.


2) Address fears – don’t ignore them.

As pointed out in a recent post by Robert Perez, our partner in the campaign, people who hire struggle between their desire to be fair and their fear of hurting their company by making a bad hire or endangering other employees. We are not advocating that we adopt a polyanna-ish approach where we ignore these concerns. Not at all.  In fact, another aspect of many campaigns is they generally ignore people’s fears and tell success stories that don’t address these worries. In our campaign, instead of short snippets of employers raving about how good their employers are who have records, we took the approach of longer stories where these worries are part of the story.

Watch our video on Smoke Berkeley.

3) look for people who will go public.

Quite a few of the employers we spoke to were happy to share their commitment not to succumb to preconceived notions and instead make their own judgments. But only a select few were willing to go public. Few were willing to be cast as a “employer of criminals.”

With the Apple retraction, we have a chance to gain more iconic and important employers speaking openly about hiring people with records. That would be a powerful step for our movement. When well-known brands are talking to fellow employers, business people talking to business people, the ability to influence is greater than when we advocates do.

Watch Mike Hannigan, CEO of California’s third largest office supply company talk about his business and bottom line.


Have you worked on a local campaign? What’s been your experience?