#WorkTrends: The Importance of Second Chances

Our guest on #WorkTrends this week is Michelle Cirocco, the Chief Responsibility Officer of the sales and marketing technology firm Televerde. She is responsible for extending Televerde’s business model to disempowered populations. We discussed criminal reform and its impact on the workforce, eliminating bias in the hiring process, and how organizations can connect with, and potentially hire, individuals with criminal records.  

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you never miss an episode. 

[2:33] We were founded 25 years ago based on the idea that by providing women in prison with jobs, training, and education while they were incarcerated 
[7:42] There’s 70 million people in our country that have a criminal record
[09:49] There is a big movement for organizations to take a pledge. It’s called the Getting Talent Back to Work pledge, and it’s a very simple, easy thing for anybody who is involved in talent acquisition to do. 

Today, we’re talking to Televerde’s Michelle Cirocco about how we can extend diversity and inclusion to everyone. Michelle Cirocco is the Chief Responsibility Officer of Televerde, a business-to-business marketing and sales outsourcing firm. This is Michelle’s story.

An Unusual Business Model 

To an outsider, Televerde sounds like a typical business-to-business demand generation firm. They provide sales and marketing support for small businesses to some of the largest technology firms in the world. What sets Televerde apart is its approach to staffing. Televerde’s leaders founded the organization the idea of giving incarcerated women with jobs, training, and education. At the end of their sentence, Televerde helps the women reacclimate by employing them at their organization or helping them find work through a job placement program. 

A Second Chance 

Twenty years ago, after she served six years in prison, Televerde hired Michelle. She was their fortieth employee. Televerde has worked with more than 3,000 incarcerated women over their twenty-five years in business. In their Phoenix, Arizona, corporate headquarters, forty percent of the employees started their career while incarcerated. Televerde offers these women a chance at a career without facing bias because of their past.  

The Conversation Around Diversity and Inclusion

According to Michelle, “We face what’s going to be one of the biggest talent gaps ever in the history of the world.” The number of available jobs outnumbers the workforce by more than one million people. So, organizations need to consider new options to fill the talent gaps.  

Untapped Resources 

Michelle says more than 70 million people in the United States have a criminal record. Criminal records indicates a conviction of some type of a misdemeanor or a felony. A criminal record might immediately remove a candidate from the recruitment process. If organizations want to fill empty jobs, they need to rethink the way they hire. As Baby Boomers retire, the talent pool shrinks and recruiters have fewer viable candidates. 

Give Qualified Candidates a Chance

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) created a toolkit of resources and research for HR professionals. SHRM launched the Getting Talent Back to Work Pledge. Organizations that take this promise say they will give all qualified candidates a chance at employment. 

The first step to eliminating bias, Michelle says, is to “ban the box.” The concept is simple. Recruiters do not ask potential employees if they have been convicted of a felony until later in the hiring process. That way, individuals can make it through the first round of recruitment without being immediately disqualified.  

I think you’ll be fascinated my Michelle’s take on diversity, inclusion, and this untapped workforce. 

Resources Mentioned in this #WorkTrends Episode

Michelle Cirocco on Linkedin and Twitter
SHRM’s Getting Talent Back to Work pledge

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Need to Ramp Up Innovation? Hire a Diverse Workforce

Do you need to ramp up company innovation? Need to boost ingenuity? According to research, the solution is simple: Hire a diverse workforce.

In a study, researchers at North Carolina State’s Poole College of Management considered this question: Do companies that foster diversity perform better in developing innovative products and services? Based on data from the 3,000 largest publicly traded companies in the U.S., the answer was clear: “The short answer is that they do,” says Richard Warr, co-author of a paper on the study. “The take-home message here is that a business which relies on innovation will benefit significantly from supporting diversity within its organization. It’s really that simple.”

The N.C. State study isn’t alone in its findings. A few years back the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), a global talent think tank, published a national survey on Innovation, Diversity, and Market Growth. CTI found that when leaders embody diversity — and an organization’s culture embraces diversity — a “speak-up culture” emerges that harnesses point-of-pain insights to meet the needs of underserved demographics. And it’s this culture that exerts a measurable impact on the bottom line.

Innovation’s Key: Embracing 2D Diversity

CTI examined the importance of two-dimensional (2D) diversity, shorthand for inherent and acquired diversity. Inherent diversity is what you’re born with, including your gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation and religious background. Acquired diversity refers to the awareness or skills you’ve acquired due to life experience, as well as the “experiential intelligence” that broadens your understanding, such as cultural fluency, generational savvy, gender empathy, social media skills and language skills.

But here’s the really interesting part: CTI’s research discovered that when leaders combine acquired and inherent diversity within their teams, their companies reap clear market gains. Promoting 2D diversity was found to create a 70% greater likelihood of capturing a new market, and a 45% greater likelihood of improving market share.

Why 2D Diversity Is Effective

Why does this work so well? Because leaders who possess inherent or acquired diversity are far more likely to see the potential benefit of ideas presented by non-majority team members, and they champion these ideas into implementation.

By contrast, when leaders lack either type of diversity, they tend not to value ideas they don’t “see a need for” — typically ideas presented by women, people of color, LGBTs and millennials. Leaders without acquired diversity are often unreceptive to innovation that doesn’t resonate with their own cultural experiences.

More positively, companies that promote robust employee diversity and inclusion initiatives, and whose leaders possess either inherent or acquired diversity or both, will nurture a work environment in which:

  • Everyone feels empowered to speak up, and everyone gets heard.
  • Team members feel empowered to make decisions.
  • It’s safe for all team members to propose unique ideas.
  • Leaders accept advice and implement the feedback they receive.
  • Leaders offer actionable feedback to their teams.
  • Leaders share credit with team members for their teams’ successes.

It’s easy to see how creating an environment where inclusive behaviors are the norm makes it 75% more likely that employees would have their marketable ideas implemented, as CTI discovered.

The ROI of D&I

A diverse workforce brings unique perspectives, observations, insights and skills, all of which ultimately affect a company’s bottom line.

In the report Global Diversity Primer, four Cisco senior executives compiled data proving the business case for diversity and inclusion. Their number crunching reveals that D&I investments pay off in a variety of areas, including problem solving, innovation, productivity, customer loyalty and financial growth. For example:

  • Of 28 teams studied, diverse teams solved complex tasks better, revealing a higher level of creativity compared with homogeneous teams.
  • Companies that practice inclusion by tapping the knowledge and experiences of diverse employees meet their product revenue targets 46% more often, and their product launch dates 47% more often, compared with similar companies.
  • Hiring employees who match the diversity of consumers pays off in customer loyalty. For example, the 2008 spending power of the LGBT community in the U.S. was estimated at $712 billion — and an estimated 78% of that community, along with their friends and relatives, would switch their brand loyalty to companies known as LGBT-friendly.
  • Diversity leads to bottom-line gains: In research conducted on 506 U.S. businesses, each 1% increase in gender diversity led to a 3% increase in sales revenue. Meanwhile, European companies with gender diversity at the management level saw a 17% higher performance rate in their stock compared with companies that lacked such diversity.

A New Approach to Diversity and Inclusion

Reaping these benefits, however, isn’t a plug-and-play exercise. True diversity and inclusion requires a whole new approach, a broader and richer mindset to see the inherent value in normalizing the presence of all kinds of people within your organization.

To attain diversity means to develop a workforce with representatives from many different groups, including race, gender, age, sexual orientation, abilities and cultural background.

Lip-Service Approach: A company hires one or two people of color (or based on other aspects of diversity) and makes a formal announcement to tout that “diversity” has been achieved.

Beyond-Lip-Service Approach: The company takes a critical look at business imperatives and hires stellar diverse talent to meet business needs. These diverse hires are welcomed based on their merit and unique contributions, and they’re seen as key to the organization’s success. For example, the company might hire qualified Hispanic American advertising professionals to design a multimillion-dollar campaign for Product X aimed at communities of color.

To attain inclusion means making it possible for individuals of different groups to succeed by creating a workplace that values who they are and what they offer. An inclusive workplace provides opportunities for all individuals to develop to their full potential.

Lip-Service Approach: An official “Everyone is welcomed here!” corporate declaration is sent out when, unofficially, everyone knows the way to get ahead is to conform with the standards created by the dominant paradigm of corporate life. In other words, the company operates under a “get in where you fit in” philosophy.

Beyond-Lip-Service Approach: The company develops an onboarding practice that connects new hires immediately with mentors, support and resources to allow for their successful integration into the corporate culture and to set them up for success. There are ongoing and routine check-ins so leaders can take the pulse of the employees’ experience throughout their first 18 months on the job. And there are dedicated talent-management opportunities for diverse populations, including succession planning, with widely communicated goals and benchmarks.

Is your company ready to move to this new mindset? What steps can you take today to make diversity and inclusion a priority?

5 Reasons You Can’t Afford to Overlook the Power of Diversity

First, the good news. Diversity in the workplace is increasing, which gives organizations greater access to talent. It also generates a more inclusive corporate culture that mirrors the society in which we live. The not-so-good news? Diverse workplaces are not always easy to achieve, for many reasons. Some geographical areas are more conducive to diversity recruitment than others, and a commitment to diversity can often be overlooked the higher up the corporate ladder you go.

Here are five trends we’re observing today. Let’s take a closer look:

  1. Workplace diversity is improving.

More than half of workplaces report a rise in diversity over the past five years, according to XpertHR’s Diversity in the Workplace Survey, published in 2016. Having a more diverse workplace has affected corporate policies for the better, too. Companies with diverse workplaces are more likely to permit unpaid time off for employees to observe religious, cultural or ethnic holidays.

  1. Businesses are recruiting with diversity in mind.

The XpertHR survey found that companies hire for ethnic and racial diversity first, with military veterans a close second. However, the study also identifies some obstacles to diversity recruitment efforts, such as lack of minority candidates in some geographic areas, lack of time or other resources to move such recruitment efforts forward, resistance to change and the persistence of unintended biases that can manifest in a “like-hiring-like” phenomenon.

  1. Business leaders realize diversity is not optional.

Many corporate leaders recognize inclusion and diversity as essential criteria for attracting and retaining top talent. The 2016 Diversity Competencies for Leadership Development Survey from the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School found that top business leaders see an inclusive corporate culture as being an important factor in attracting and retaining employees, as well as a means to improving innovation and collaboration among its ranks.

  1. Minorities are fast becoming the majority.

Within 20 years, projected growth among Asian, Hispanic and multiracial groups will put traditionally underrepresented populations in the U.S. majority. As HR experts observe, the companies that do best are the ones whose employee base has a similar demographic makeup to that of their customer base. Beyond the benefits of mirroring the country’s demographics, there are also performance benefits. According to global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., companies with ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to outperform businesses that don’t have this diversity. The performance benefits are even higher — 53 percent — for those who are in the top quartile of executive-board diversity.

  1. Diversity is lagging in the C-suite.

An unfortunate exception to the diversity trend is occurring in C-level positions. Women are sorely underrepresented, with a Korn Ferry Study finding only 24 percent of C-suite positions being held by women. The top-most position, CEO, has just 5 percent representation from women. A recent study by Peterson Institute for International Economics confirmed just how important gender diversity can be, identifying a 15 percent increase in profitability for companies that have a 30 percent share of women in C-suite positions. The representation of minorities in high-level positions is even bleaker. There have been only 15 African-American CEOs in the history of the Fortune 500, and just five currently hold the top role.

While companies may be recruiting and hiring with diversity in mind, they also need to ask themselves: Where do we go from here? Don’t assume that your corporate culture is immediately conducive to diversity. These steps can help ensure that it is.

  • Implement workplace diversity initiatives. According to the XpertHR survey, many companies are moving forward with such initiatives as the formation of affinity groups, instituting mentoring programs and/or career development and focusing on supplier diversity.
  • Embrace other points of view. Hiring a diverse workforce is only the beginning. It’s also important that you actively seek advice, opinions, and ideas from a wide range of employees to truly be inclusive.
  • Create diversity-friendly policies. Some examples include flex-time and telecommuting opportunities, which are helpful for young parents who are juggling career and home life. Make sure your office is physically accommodating to those with disabilities. And be cognizant of religious holidays and cultural celebrations that may be important to your employees.
  • Strive to change diversity in the C-suite. Recruit employees with advancement potential in mind, and focus on professional growth and employee development so that you have qualified minority and female candidates to choose from when top positions open up.

Corporate leaders can feel justifiably proud that diversity is more prevalent than it’s ever been before. However, that shouldn’t cause them to lose sight of the undeniable truth: We still have a long way to go.

This article was first published on Entrepreneur.