Episode 295: Second Chance Hiring and DEI with Cheri Garcia

According to the SentencingProject.org, nearly one in three adults in the U.S.—or 70 million Americans—have a criminal record, including those who were arrested but not convicted. For many, a criminal record creates a significant barrier to employment, even when the record includes only a misdemeanor arrest or conviction. Regardless of their qualifications, people with criminal records struggle to participate in the American workforce and contribute to their families and society. There’s a cost for employers as well, who are unable to benefit from the talents of tens of millions of qualified candidates.

Episode 295: Second Chance Hiring and DEI with Cheri Garcia (@Luminous_Cheri)

I spoke to Cheri Garcia, Founder & Recruiter at Cornbread Hustle, a staffing agency for second chances. Cheri is passionate about helping people with criminal backgrounds and individuals in recovery find transformation through employment or entrepreneurship. Cheri was named to the 2021 Dallas Business Journal 40 Under 40 list of emerging entrepreneurs, and won five of six awards in The Pitch by United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, including Social Innovator of the Year

I asked Cheri what led her to founding a staffing agency for second chance hiring. “I am an addict and alcoholic in recovery. In high school I decided to try methamphetamines to lose weight and have energy. Methamphetamines is also known as meth. That quickly made my life decline and I was deep in addiction for two years, then dove straight into entrepreneurship once I got clean…I developed alcoholism, but despite that I wanted to put my entrepreneurial skills to the test and help people in prison with starting their own businesses. Two and a half years ago I came to the realization that I was an alcoholic when I got a DEI and ended up in the backseat of a cop car myself. As a CEO, I now had a criminal charge and I was able to get sober and turn everything around. My company became that much more successful because I was able to walk in the shoes of someone who has a criminal conviction on their record.”

“Year two is when things got more clear and made me realize how much alcohol interfered with my success.” - @Luminous_Cheri, Cornbread Hustle #WrokologyPodcast #DEI Click To Tweet

“Right as COVID hit, it was a year into my recovery. I was so resilient because I had already been through so much. I thought for sure that we were going to struggle with this. But I got hazmat suits, learned everything I needed to know about the virus, and decided that we were going to be experts on cleaning and there was a high demand for it. We lost no business; we got so much business because people were getting unemployment – but people who just got out of prison were not getting benefits and companies decided they were okay with second chance hiring. I’m grateful that I had the knowledge and business acumen to pivot in that spot.”

How Second Chance Hiring Factors into DEI

I asked Cheri what HR leaders should understand about hiring people with criminal records. “People with convictions on their records are a giant talent pool and employers are struggling to hire. Even our clients who are background check friendly are struggling to hire. Addiction doesn’t discriminate, I have been arrested 14 times and I am a white female. Minorities are incarcerated at a much higher rate. The population of people with criminal records tends to be larger for minority groups.”

“I put humanity into the story, into the script. I just hired a man who was making ten dollars an hour at a furniture store because of previous felony convictions and now he’s a recruiter making six figures. The individual stories matter more than the statistics and can help change the narrative in organizations who are looking to be more diverse.”

I asked Cheri to share an example of how her agency works with companies. “We work with Linux, and they asked us to come out to their HQ in Arkansas, and wanted to hire up to 250 people with criminal records, but they only wanted to go through us because they know that we know the stories behind the people. They put us in front of their leadership to demonstrate how they can hire and manage people in their warehouse roles, explain our process and how we work, but also so that I could share my story and give them examples of why our turnover is 50% less than most programs. Their jobs could be so much more than a manager or supervisor, they could be the light for someone else. We’ve had nothing but great reviews from the hires they made.”

A 50% reduction in turnover is huge. This is the conversation starter with your executive team. “Every place is different,”  said Cheri. “We have a couple of warehouse environments that aren’t so great…it’s just a hard job, doesn’t pay a lot, but across the board our turnover is less than the industry average. We have one client that doesn’t call our employees ‘temps,’ they call them ‘EOTs’ or employee owners in training.’ They tell our employees on the first day that they are going to be part of the family. They’re very invested in their employees.”

From an employer perspective, this is an opportunity to grow your workforce and expand access to job training and education to a broader pool of individuals who would have previously not been considered for employment due to a criminal record. However, the value for employers isn’t just a broader pool of talent from which to select candidates. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 82% of managers report that the value second chance employees bring to their organization is as high as, or higher than, that of workers without records. And 66% of managers at companies that have hired people with criminal backgrounds rated these employees’ quality of work as comparable to those without criminal records.

I’m glad to have Cheri share her expertise with us on this episode of the Workology Podcast.

Listen to the full podcast for more, including how Cheri’s agency works with employers to minimize risk, avoid liability, and set up programs for recruiting employees with a felony conviction; how empathy can fundamentally change workplace culture and positively impact diversity initiatives, and how they prepare candidates with felony convictions for workforce re-entry. 

Connect with Cheri Garcia.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

– Cheri Garcia on LinkedIn

– Cheri Garcia on Twiter

– CornbreadHustle.com

– Episode 292: How to Make a Meaningful Impact in DEI

– Episode 288: DEI Metrics and Benchmarking

– Episode Transcript

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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