A woman holds a tray of blondies.
Miss Jackie holds a tray of Snickerdoodle Blondies at Greyston Bakery Greyston Bakery

With New Hiring Models, Corporations (Including Amazon) Can Spur Positive Change

Everybody, including the formerly incarcerated and refugees, deserves a spot in corporate America. CEOs should develop hiring models that reflect that.

While much of the spotlight this November has been on electoral outcomes, Jeff Bezos and Amazon’s two new headquarters are also in the headlights. Like citizens, businesses also have the power to take action in a way that will positively affect society. Will one of the most lucrative companies in the world be a force for positive change in its new communities?

When Greyston Bakery opened in Yonkers, New York, in 1982, the city had the highest per capita homeless population in the country.  Our founder Bernie Glassman who died earlier this month, said, “If we don’t offer something back to the community when we create a business, we’re only taking from the community,” and from those ideals our successful Open Hiring Model was born.

It’s time to focus our attention on corporate America to see what role companies and leaders are willing to play in invoking positive change.

A recent study by Edelman concludes that 64 percent of people want CEOs to take the lead on change rather than waiting for government or non-profits to initiate it. CEO activism is becoming a real expectation. As ever, the economy remains a high priority for the nation and with the GDP growing and unemployment shrinking, corporate America is in a stronger position than ever to drive positive change. It is our business imperative to stamp out inequality, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and other forms of oppression in the workplace, giving all people the dignity of work and opportunity.

At present, upwards of $3 billion is spent each year on outdated human resources practices that filter people out of the workforce, practices such as background checks and credit checks that have no bearing on a person’s potential success on the job. Tremendous value and talent can be unlocked in an enterprise by investing in human capital models that trust in human potential.

Greyston Bakery is proof that radical trust and inclusion works. We’ve been practicing our Open Hiring Model for 36 years, giving jobs to those who face barriers to employment—the formerly incarcerated, refugees, those with limited education, veterans—no questions asked. You put your name on a list and when you get to the top, you get a job. It’s that simple. We trust that everyone, if given an opportunity, has the potential to succeed. We provide people with the tools and support to be successful on the job, without regard for their previous education, skills or background. Those that can do the job continue with Greyston as long as they want, and those that can’t are supported to find their next opportunity. And those that work hard and move on to different jobs elsewhere are celebrated.

We believe our model should be the norm not the exception: Sustaining exclusionary hiring practices is no longer a viable strategy. Instead, we need to create regenerative business practices. Practices that merely “sustain” a status quo, continue to deplete our environment and communities, while regenerative practices strengthen our environment, communities and economy.

To advance widespread adoption of our Open Hiring Model, we’ve recently launched The Center for Open Hiring at Greyston, and we are working with progressive partners to lead the charge and build an inclusive economy.

It is now possible for any progressive business to find new pathways to talent that generate an easily measured return on investment, build positive community impact, and see improved brand value, all at once. After all, billion-dollar unicorns such as Airbnb and Uber are proof that designing for trust works. In 2007, no one would have ever let a stranger stay in their house overnight. Joe Gebbia started Airbnb that year with a belief he could build a system that would change that.

By designing for trust, Gebbia created huge income opportunities for regular Americans to rent out their homes when they might otherwise be empty. In turn, he created a business worth $31 billion. This same opportunity to create value is available to every business if they look past the underachieving human capital models built for a very different time.

At Greyston, our model is more than three decades old, but other companies have been developing their own innovative models to foster inclusion in recent years. At the UN General Assembly in September, companies including IKEA, Microsoft, H&M and Hilton, pledged additional training, investment and jobs for refugees, recognizing their talent and contribution to society. IBM, Cisco, and Salesforce also recently pledged to improve the lives of refugees through employment opportunities, in a partnership with the Tent Foundation which is led by Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani.

We are also seeing the birth of specialist recruitment agencies such as Amplio that exist to connect companies with a base of dependable refugee workers across America. Following the proven return on designing for trust as shown by these and other progressive companies, global tech giant Slack this year announced an apprenticeship program for the formerly incarcerated, in partnership with The Last Mile, giving the formerly incarcerated an opportunity to put their learned skills to use to better their lives, and to boost the economy.

This support and investment in diversity extends beyond refugees and the formerly incarcerated to companies like Microsoft exploring how AI technology can benefit those with disabilities, and companies like EY building disability policies into their businesses to attract and retain a broader, dependable workforce.

We can no longer afford to leave those who have been systematically excluded from the workforce behind. The next wave of sustainable change must center around developing all people in our community, with new models for cultivating human capital.

No single business can eradicate our social problems, but if corporate America comes together, taking steps to address social injustice, we can improve the lives of millions of people while generating massive economic impact.

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