Including People with Criminal Records in Diversity & Inclusion Discussion

Bringing People with Criminal Records into the Diversity & Inclusion Conversation

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve joined CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion. This is the largest CEO-driven business commitment to advance diversity and inclusion (D&I) within the workplace.

As a female in business, I’ve had a vested interest in evolving company D&I strategies since I began my career. Now as CEO of Televerde, this interest is felt even more deeply – not just for myself, but for a growing team. Seventy percent of our workforce is incarcerated at the women’s correctional facilities in Arizona and Indiana. These women have been remarkable additions to our company and validate the talent pool that’s sitting behind prison walls, largely being ignored by society even after their release. I believe business needs to address this. To this end, I plan to use my participation in CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion to help raise awareness of unconscious bias, while also helping other companies understand what’s at stake when we deprive disempowered populations of career opportunity. The two go together. Let me give you an example.

In a discussion on gender equality, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used a symphony orchestra to illustrate the effects of unconscious bias. When Ginsberg was growing up, she observed that there was never a woman in her hometown orchestra. The music critics thought a violin sounded different played by a woman (by the way, this was the thinking of most symphony orchestras at this time). Change came in the 1970s-80s when orchestras started to hold “blind” auditions. They would use a screen to conceal candidates during preliminary and second round auditions (imagine “The Voice,” but more elegant). I think you know the end result. Female participation started to increase. Today, it’s more than 30 percent in some orchestras. So much for the “men play better than women” theory.

I think about this story a lot because it reflects what we’re dealing with today as it relates to women and men with criminal backgrounds. Being convicted of a felony carries with it some of the worst stigmas imaginable, which have consequences that can endure forever. The felony checkbox that we include on applications is, in fact, a scarlet letter because it automatically excludes qualified candidates based on their past mistakes. Imagine if our worst mistake was stapled to every resume we submitted for employment. There are many people who wouldn’t be where they are today if this were the case. Eliminating this box is analogous to putting up an audition screen. It enables fair chance hiring where people are judged based on their talent, skills and experience, which is really what everyone deserves.

I am looking forward to taking this conversation to the next level with my peers in CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion. I’m also excited to collaborate with them on elevating in the workplace qualities like empathy, respect and understanding so everyone is finally welcome regardless of their backgrounds, perspectives and experiences. This is a world I not only want to be a part of, I want to help create.

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