Originally published on Avaya.com.
As someone who passionately advocates for female empowerment and corporate social responsibility (CSR), you can imagine my excitement when I was invited to visit the Phoenix-based contact center of B2B lead generation agency Televerde. I had been familiar with Televerde as a sales and marketing solutions company, but I soon found out it’s so much more. Four of Televerde’s five contact centers in Phoenix are employed entirely by women incarcerated at Perryville-Arizona State Prison Complex. Here’s what I experienced during my recent visit
Stepping Inside a Prisoner-Run Contact Center
The unsettling experience of entering a prison complex was immediately brightened by the smiling faces of Televerde’s contact center employees. Behind these smiles were infectious personalities, positive outlooks and ambitious attitudes that permeated the four walls of the facility. Underneath each woman’s classic orange jumpsuit was a deep propensity for learning, the kind that many organizations now consider their “steel bridge.”
Keeping this in mind, it didn’t surprise me to learn that 25% of these women continue to work with Televerde after they’re released from prison. Even more impressive, about half of Televerde’s Phoenix corporate office employees came from Perryville. Working in departments like IT, marketing, finance and HR, these women are qualified and educated with a GED at minimum. In fact, with Televerde’s support, numerous ladies have gone on to complete their bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and one Televerde alumna received her M.B.A. at Arizona State University and now heads the customer service organization, globally.
In conjunction with the two contact center managers appointed by Televerde to supervise the facility, these women were clearly helping to successfully run the operation. As I observed the contact center in action, I could see one woman acting as head of training. Another worked as a sales primer. These women were writing scripts, handling calls and managing data just like any other organization. They engaged in friendly conversations before starting their shifts. Each employee worked fluently and expertly in what looked like any other call center in the world.
I had the privilege of sitting down and speaking with these incredible women, where I learned more about who they were and how they came into this business. Each woman met Televerde’s work eligibility requirements: a sentence of 10 years or less for a non-violent crime, a specific level of phone articulation and personality skills, and at least six weeks of training. Each woman is paid a minimum wage for eight-hour shifts. In addition to training, Televerde supports these women by offering educational opportunities, mentorship, and career building skills as they transition out of prison.
It didn’t take long for me to see that this group of women had profound ideas about business, social responsibility, and female empowerment. Each of the women I sat with had far-reaching career goals. They desired to excel by continually developing their interpersonal and technology skills. They had countless questions about how to launch a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). As a female CMO working in the male-dominated tech industry, I was honored to help these women develop a foundation upon which they could continue to build.
Getting to the Heart of Operations (Literally)
My experience at the Perryville-Arizona State Prison Complex can be summed up in one question an employee asked during our group conversation: “Did your impression of us change when you came in and saw us in our jumpsuits?”
These dedicated women were noticeably concerned about what others thought of them. They wanted to be accepted and respected, despite the poor decisions they’ve made in the past. Televerde reminds these women daily that just because they’ve made poor choices doesn’t mean they are bad people. The organization’s unique rehabilitation and education model allows us to see ourselves in these women. In showing compassion, empathy and respect, Televerde pulls back the curtain to reveal who these women really are. They are indeed convicts, but they are also part of the 14 million Americans who desire a full-time job. They’re flourishing members of today’s growing labor market. They’re hard-working, forward-thinking individuals who simply arrive to work in a different uniform than you and I do.
The benefits of this movement are astronomical. Televerde is helping to actively lower the rate of jobless individuals with a prison record, which is currently as high as 60%. The organization is empowering women by helping them determine what kind of leaders they want to be as they work to complete their sentences. The brand is reversing the psychological effects of U.S. penitentiaries that drive so many back to prison. Above all, however, Televerde’s mission serves as a critical reminder of the things we all must be constantly aware and in pursuit of: compassion, intention, kindness and respect.