In 2019, the University of Chicago set a goal of expanding hiring from nine surrounding neighborhoods. In conversations with community partners about this goal, the Office of Civic Engagement came face-to-face with an issue they hadn’t considered: Despite the fact that the university had adopted a strong fair chance hiring policy, workforce-ready residents of surrounding neighborhoods believed they were not eligible to be employed there due to a criminal record.
“What existed was a communications and community relations issue that needed to be addressed,” said Alyssa Berman-Cutler, Executive Director of Community Development. "We uncovered a problem and had a solution that was in our control." Leaders in the Office of Civic Engagement realized they needed to spread awareness of the university’s policy internally and externally.
Finding the right language
The solution was straightforward but far-reaching. Over the course of a year, the Office of Civic Engagement worked with the Human Relations and Legal departments to draft language about UChicago’s fair chance hiring policy and integrate it into their talent management software, Workday. This language has since been included in every job posting and disseminated to hiring managers across the university.
“All offers of employment are contingent upon a background check that includes a review of conviction history. A conviction does not automatically preclude University employment. Rather, the University considers conviction information on a case-by-case basis and assesses the nature of the offense, the circumstances surrounding it, the proximity in time of the conviction, and its relevance to the position.”
“It’s a good lesson in terms of internal communication—that has to be part of addressing external barriers,” acknowledged Berman-Cutler. “We had the policy, but it’s not enough unless it’s disseminated throughout the culture of the organization.”
Putting policy into practice
The policy—now made visible—has gone a long way in strengthening relationships and building trust with UChicago’s community partners. According to Liana Bran, Director of Expansion Strategy for the employment-focused nonprofit Cara Collective, “The University’s inclusive policy, and the intentionality behind how they communicate it, demonstrates to partners…that UChicago welcomes talent with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences like our participants.”
Community partners have responded by referring talented fair-chance applicants, many of whom have become successful hires. Overall, UChicago has seen a notable increase in job applications from its surrounding nine neighborhoods, where 30% of current employees reside.
“My hope is to continue to bring the surrounding community into the university,” said Heidi Spring, a talent acquisition manager for HR, “so that ultimately the university is more representative of the very diverse community that surrounds us.”
Fair chance hiring practices are impactful—allowing organizations to expand their talent pools while increasing employment opportunities for the nearly 1 in 3 justice-involved U.S. adults. For more information about the Corporate Coalition’s work to expand fair chance hiring, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.