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Event Recap: Fair Chance Hiring | 2.29.2024

Nearly 1 in 3 U.S. adults are effectively cut out of the labor market or severely limited due to a criminal record. This conversation explored some of the challenges people face who continue to suffer the penalty of workforce barriers due to their past mistakes after serving their time. We not only create injustice and intergenerational poverty but also miss out on tapping into the potential for workforce opportunities in health care.


On Thursday, February 29, 2024, HC3 hosted the most recent installment of the Future of Work Series in partnership with the Corporate Coalition of Chicago’s Fair Chance Hiring Initiative. This conversation delved into the challenges experienced by individuals enduring workforce barriers as a consequence of past mistakes post-incarceration, highlighting the perpetuation of injustice, intergenerational poverty, and the untapped potential for opportunities there are in health care careers.



Steph Dolan, Program Director, Corporate Coalition



Cynthia Bailey, Associate Director of Workplace Development, Advocate Health Care

Franklin Cosey-Gay, Executive Director, Community and External Affairs, Urban Health Initiative, University of Chicago

Liz Jones, Corporate Partnerships Lead, Cara Collective [MP2] 

 Watch the Webinar:

Event Recap

(Responses condensed for clarity and brevity)

Discussion Themes:

·       How to start fair chance hiring work

·       Practices for fair chance hiring

·       The importance of relationships between employers and community partners

·       Sustainability and retaining talent

·       Challenges and barriers to fair chance hiring

Moderator’s Remarks

Steph Dolan (SD): Steph leads the Corporate Coalition’s Fair Chance Hiring initiative. In this role, Steph collaborates with employers, prioritizing fair chance talent acquisition as a central priority in their talent acquisition and retention strategy. These companies are committed to refining their approaches to hiring, recruiting, retaining, and advancing individuals from this talent pool, recognizing it as a strategic imperative for their organizational growth. Steph engages with these employers through a cohort model, facilitating an exploration of best practices in fair chance hiring and retention. This approach includes connecting them with similar-minded employers and providing insights into the real-life experiences of job seekers.

Panelist Introductions Cynthia Bailey (CB): Cynthia operates within the Advocate Health system structure, leveraging her extensive career experiences in HR. Throughout her career, Cynthia has encountered prevalent hesitancy among many employers to adopt fair chance hiring practices. In her role at Advocate Health, she actively engages with communities to attract talent and collaborates internally with colleagues to facilitate and manage equitable promotional opportunities. Cynthia leads the implementation of "Restorative Pathways," an external program recognized as Advocate Health's Fair Chance hiring initiative in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Franklin Cosey-Gay (FCG): Franklin, a lifelong South Sider, holds a position at the University of Chicago Medicine (UCM). Raised just ten blocks from the historic Park Manor community hospital, he has strong ties within the neighborhood. Franklin is dedicated to highlighting the work of the Urban Health Initiative (UHI) and its connection to fair chance hiring. He actively promotes UCM’s Violence Recovery Program, a hospital-based violence intervention initiative. Operating within the UHI, which functions as the public health arm of the University of Chicago Medicine, Franklin operates under the leadership of Brenda Battle, the Senior Vice President for Community Health Transformation and Chief Diversity and Equity Inclusion Officer. The UHI’s efforts are guided by these essential pillars: diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), transformation, and strategy. As the Executive Director for Community and External Affairs, he oversees four domains: the Violence Recovery Program, community benefit, community relations, and volunteer services.

Liz Jones: Liz is the Corporate Partnerships Lead at Cara Collective, which she describes as a  Chicago-based workforce development organization with a national reach. The organization assists individuals facing poverty or homelessness, encompassing various challenges. Liz's role involves working closely with employer partners, such as Advocate Health and the University of Chicago Medicine, within and beyond the health care sector. She facilitates connections between these partners and the talented individuals emerging from their programs and social enterprises. Liz also engages with Cara Plus, an advocacy-focused initiative, to share insights and learnings gained at Cara with other employers and workforce organizations.

Panel Discussion

SD: Please share a little bit about your organization’s practices for fair chance hiring. How did your program get its start? And what type of roles do you hire for?


A: Cynthia and Franklin shared insights into their organizations' fair chance hiring practices. Cynthia discusses her organization's program, which was initiated three years ago in response to a challenge from the mayor of Charlotte. The organization, a significant health care employer, partnered with a community organization experienced in working with justice-involved individuals. Overcoming initial challenges, they developed a cohort model with 3 to 4 cohorts annually, each consisting of 10 to 15 participants with criminal backgrounds.


Franklin outlines his organization's fair chance hiring journey, driven by community pressure to establish a level one trauma center on Chicago's South Side. The organization, UCM, recognized the need for cultural capital in staff to connect with affected communities. This led to adapting hiring practices within the hospital and implementing a credible messenger model. Their program, the Violence Recovery Program, emerged from the broader hospital-based violence intervention program. Both speakers highlight the rewarding nature of their initiatives.


SD: Can you talk about 1 or 2 of the barriers UCM had to overcome to implement your program?


FCG: Franklin explains that UCM faced notable barriers in implementing its program. As a non-profit organization, they emphasized the importance of conducting a community health needs assessment every three years to maintain their status. While the hospital supported the model requiring ambassadors to build trust within the community, internal challenges included initial skepticism about individuals who needed to have traditional backgrounds or training. However, the value of these individuals in engaging with survivors of violence and bereaved families became evident, helping overcome working-level barriers. Additionally, biases and stigmas associated with victims of violence posed challenges, but having credible individuals representing that background played a crucial role in changing the narrative within the working space over time.


SD: Liz, in your role at Cara Collective, how do you work with partners, especially in health care, to recruit fair chance talent?


LJ:  Liz emphasizes a relationship-based approach in working with partners, especially in the health care sector, to recruit fair chance talent. She highlights the importance of understanding partners' specific needs and requirements, including both explicit and implicit aspects of job descriptions. Focusing on demand-driven strategies, Cara Collective aimed to match job seekers with the skills employers need, avoiding a charity-centric approach. Liz stresses the significance of navigating legalities and diverse background check requirements, particularly in health care, where regulations could vary by state. The organization collaborated closely with participants, managing expectations regarding background checks. Liz also emphasizes leveraging solid relationships with partners to increase the chances of recommended fair chance talent successfully passing through the pre-hiring process, ensuring value for job seekers and employers.


SD: Cynthia and Franklin, Can you talk about how you recruit fair chance talent into the roles you seek to fill?


CB: Cynthia details the recruitment process in Charlotte, primarily through their community-based organization (CBO) partner. Initially, the CBO contacted probation offices and halfway houses, gathering applications on their website. As the program expanded, teammate referrals became a significant source, with employees recommending individuals who would benefit. The community partner continued outreach to various locations, but teammate referrals dominated. Cynthia highlights the unexpected source of Social Security offices promoting the program to individuals recently released from prison, resulting in successful recruits.


FCG: Franklin emphasizes community guidance and support from the beginning, acknowledging the role of the community advisory council. They engaged with organizations like Communities Partnering for Peace, a collaborative addressing individuals at the highest risk. Their program's goals include preventing reentry and promoting comprehensive recovery, requiring collaboration with community-based organizations focused on psychosocial needs. Franklin shares a unique recruitment story where a potential candidate, mistaken for a violence recovery specialist in a hospital, was eventually hired. He envisions the program being led by an actual survivor of violence in the future.


SD: How do you ensure a strong, trusting working relationship between employers and community development organizations?


CB: Cynthia emphasizes the importance of genuine care and passion for building trust with community partners and participants. She highlights the need for committed individuals who understand the highs and lows of the participants' journeys. Cynthia also shares challenges in building trust, such as participants initially relying on the community partner for conflict resolution instead of following the workplace protocol. Over time, trust has been built with teammates, participants, and the community partner, ensuring fairness in treatment.


LJ: Liz underscores the significance of regular communication and transparency. She stresses the importance of adapting communication styles to fit the partner's preferences and being reliable. Liz emphasizes the value of actions over words and the gradual process of building trust. She shares instances where strong partnerships led to open conversations about background check challenges, enabling mutual understanding and future collaboration.


FCG: Franklin provides historical context, highlighting the impact of the carceral age on communities and emphasizing the need for trust-building initiatives. He discusses the importance of implicit bias training, cultural competency training, and trauma-informed practices within the organization. Franklin highlights the role of non-punitive working environments, trauma-responsive leadership, and ongoing support for staff dealing with trauma. The organization's commitment to training and equity extends to partnerships with external entities, ensuring a holistic approach to building trust within the community and among staff members.


SD: Cynthia, what roles are you hiring for within the cohort model? What is the cohort and the support that comes with it?


CB: Cynthia outlines the hiring process within the cohort model for their fair chance hiring program at Advocate Health. The community partner vets individuals before they are presented to Advocate Health. After acceptance, candidates are paired with an accountability partner who ensures basic needs like transportation, food, and housing are met. During the training phase, individuals are matched with an Advocate Health mentor for their first six months of employment. They emphasize offering a career path rather than just a job, exposing participants to various organizational roles. Initially, the program targets roles like registrars, patient transport, nutrition, environmental services, and warehouse positions. Cynthia stresses the expectation for growth, assigning a success coach to help participants navigate their career path and providing a robust support system to ensure their success.


SD: What are some of the supports, whether they're wraparound supports or additional programming you've seen, that you think are particularly innovative or helpful that you'd like to lift up?


LJ: Liz highlights the importance of comprehensive support structures at Cara Collective, emphasizing a one-year retention coach for graduates and ongoing communication with participants during their first year on the job. Advocating for collaboration with employers, she praises Advocate's Success Coaching program, providing wraparound services for employee retention challenges. Liz also stresses the significance of promoting available resources to employees and cultivating empathy and trauma-informed approaches in management. Finally, she advises organizations to shift fair chance hiring from an individual project to an organization-wide initiative, ensuring it becomes integral to training and organizational culture.


CB: Cynthia offers three critical pieces of advice for employers interested in fair chance hiring. Firstly, she recommends the Society for Human Resources Management's (SHRM) free certification, "Getting Talent Back to Work," as a valuable resource for HR departments. Secondly, she highlights the book "Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Business and the Community" by Jeff Korzenik, which provides an excellent business case for second-chance hiring. Lastly, Cynthia emphasizes the importance of individuals within an organization who have a passion for fair chance hiring, asserting that their commitment is crucial for successfully implementing modest change initiatives.


FCG: Franklin emphasizes the importance of creating development opportunities, highlighting a constraint in funding that often limits such opportunities for staff. He suggests connecting work to training and technical assistance to generate income that can be directed back to staff for professional development. This approach would enable individuals to access training, education, and other resources for their professional growth within the constraints of program funding.


SD: Do you have any stories about how you had to engage with legal to navigate some of the regulations or get legal buy-in to pursue this?


CB: Cynthia shares insights about involving HR, talent acquisition, and workforce relations early in the process, emphasizing the importance of thorough exploration and a decision tree approach. Legal ambiguity initially posed challenges, especially concerning state laws and EEOC regulations. However, by engaging stakeholders and addressing concerns proactively, they were able to navigate the complexities and reach a more stable position. The importance of internal networking and seeking buy-in early in the process is highlighted as a crucial strategy for success. The speakers also acknowledge the benefit of external collaborations and cohorts, such as the Fair Chance hiring cohort in Chicago, as platforms for shared learning and support among organizations pursuing similar initiatives.

Additional Resources for Fair Chance Hiring:

  • Getting Talent Back to Work Certificate, SHRM Foundation (Learn more here)

  • Untapped Talent, Book written by Jeff Korzenik (Learn more here)

Fair Chance Hiring Overview_Fall 2023
Download PDF • 202KB

Five Actions for Fair Chance Hiring_For WF Showcase
Download PDF • 187KB


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