B Lab & Finding Humanity Podcast — Episode 1: Power of an Open Door
What if businesses removed barriers to employment and gave job seekers a fair shot at self-sufficiency? For the formerly incarcerated, unhoused, or people with limited education, getting a job can be extremely difficult. In 1982, Greyston Bakery piloted Open Hiring, a recruitment practice where simply putting your name on a list could get you hired — no work experience, background checks, resumes, or interviews. Now adopted and scaled by companies like The Body Shop, Open Hiring continues to unleash human potential and uplift populations that have been historically excluded from the workforce. In this episode, we explore barriers to fair employment, the economic and social benefits of equitable hiring practices, and why inclusive hiring is a step towards tackling poverty, inequality, and other global challenges.
Featured guests include:
Chidi King — Branch Chief, Gender, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO)
Joseph D. Kenner — President & CEO, Greyston
Antonia Tony-Fadipe — Inclusive Hiring Lead, The Body Shop
Juan Pablo Larenas — Co-founder of Sistema B and former Executive Director, B Lab Global
Listen to the first episode at findinghumanitypodcast.com, or wherever you stream your podcasts.
TRANSCRIPT: Episode One — Power of an Open Door
Joseph D. Kenner, President & CEO, Greyston Bakery: I would focus on the main character in the documentary, which is our employee Shawna.
Hazami Barmada, host, Finding Humanity podcast: Shawna Swanson is a single mom.
Joseph: She joined us about four years ago.
Hazami: Shawna’s eldest child is deaf and has cerebral palsy. When she was pregnant with her second child, She was put on bed rest and couldn’t return to the workplace. Without financial support, she couldn’t make ends meet.
Joseph: And she'll tell you, like, I wasn't a man, I didn't have the right experience. It was all of these different reasons why people did not want to hire her. And this is a woman with amazing work ethic.
Hazami: She put her name on a list for a job at Greyston Bakery, a company in Yonkers, New York, that sold brownies and other baked goods.
Joseph: She had applied, I don't know how many positions prior to coming to Greyston.
Shawna lost hope and considered the unimaginable — giving up her kids. But before she could finally do it, Shawna got a call.
Joseph: And as she will say when everybody said no, Greyston said yes.
Joseph: I'm proud to say, you know, four or five years later, she is still with us. She's one of our lead operators and she has all of her children with her.
Hazami: Can businesses help solve the greatest societal challenges we face? You’re listening to a Finding Humanity special series with B Lab, the nonprofit behind the B Corp movement. B Lab is transforming the global economy to benefit all people, communities, and the planet. In this series, we will explore how businesses can step up and shape a future that benefits us all.
In this episode, I will be joined by Juan Pablo Larenas, Executive Director of B Lab Global and Co-Founder of Sistema B. Juan Pablo is also an Ashoka fellow, and a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. I’m your host Hazami Barmada.
Joseph: There's about 10 million unfilled jobs right now as we speak, which is a record.
Hazami: That’s Joseph Kenner, President and CEO at Greyston Bakery. In spite of the significant volume of job vacancies, there are still over 7 million people in the United States actively looking for work.
Joseph: Something is wrong here, right? I mean, you can't have 10 million unfilled jobs and employers saying, I can't find anybody. Then you’ve got this whole swath of folks somehow unemployed
Hazami: According to the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, people with incarceration histories are four to six times more likely to be unemployed than peers without a record. But apart from those with criminal records, there are other types of applicants facing high barriers to employment.
Joseph: Folks that are homeless, folks that are dealing with substance issues, folks that are dealing with, you know, mental health challenges, wellness challenges, again, thinking about that broadly. But single parents, particularly single moms, folks with gaps in their resumes that are having challenges finding employment, how do we get those folks reintegrated and get them employed? [00:10:39][19.5]
Hazami: In 1982, Bernie Glassman founded Greyston Bakery after moving into a struggling neighborhood in Yonkers, New York.
Joseph: He saw and the members of this community saw that there were so many folks on the streets that were not only unemployed, but they wanted to work. But they had a barrier where there was reentry substance at this time, HIV AIDS, something was keeping them from getting a job. And he saw that as a grave injustice, that you have people that want to work but cannot and were prevented from working because of one or more of these barriers. And he saw that as being wrong.
Hazami: Bernie built Greyston bakery to give people a chance at meaningful employment. You simply put your name on the list, and when a job opens up, they will hire you. No background checks, no interviews, and no resumes. They called it Open Hiring.
Chidi Kingi: I think it's very important when we're looking at issues concerning discrimination to look in a very focused way on the structural and systemic barriers that operate to exclude people based on various grounds of discrimination. [00:11:24][22.1]
Hazami: That’s Chidi King, Branch Chief of Gender, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the United Nations’ International Labor Organization or the ILO.
Chidi: The structural and systemic barriers that we see in recruitment processes are very often assumptions that are made around people's talent, people's ability, the contribution that people can make, which are based on just prejudice rather than any scientific or empirical value.
Chidi: We need to make sure we're not excluding huge numbers of populations who have very real contributions to make.
Hazami: In 2019, the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act was passed in the US. Essentially, the law prohibits covered entities, including federal agencies, from requesting information on arrest and conviction history until a conditional job offer has been extended to the applicant. This legislation aims to help qualified workers with criminal records compete fairly for employment.
Joseph: I say open hiring is inclusive hiring in its purest form because we don't ask any questions.
Hazami: That’s Joseph again.
Joseph: We don't care whether you're reentry, single mom, homeless, all you got to do is put your name on the list.
Hazami: Joseph says that they hope to see other businesses replicate the open hiring model in some form.
Joseph: We believe that we don't want to be unique, so we want others to do what we do. So I want this to become a common term. [00:16:39][5.8]
Hazami: One of these companies is The Body Shop, an ethical retail company founded by British Businesswoman and human rights activist Anita Roddick in 1976
For over 45 years, The Body Shop has been selling cosmetics and body care products globally.
Antonia Tony-Fadipe: Open Hiring itself, it's very different to the traditional ways of recruiting.
Hazami: That’s Antonia Tony-Fadipe. Toni is the Inclusive Hiring Lead for the UK and Global Functions at The Body Shop.
Toni: It replaces scrutiny with trust.
Hazami: The Body Shop job applicants are only asked a few simple questions: Are they legally authorized to work in the country where the job opened? Can they lift up to 25 pounds or 50 pounds for employees in their distribution center, and can they work for up to 8 hours a shift?
Toni: We initially introduced it through the hiring of our seasonal customer consultants, and this was done in our distribution center in North America. And in 2020, we introduced it to our retail business as well in North America and Canada.
Hazami: Before joining the company, Toni worked as a prison officer in London. There, she helped prisoners that were approaching release find jobs and training opportunities. While Toni is now working in a different industry, she is still able to help underrepresented individuals access economic opportunities.
Toni: We believe that education and access to employment are the greatest equalizers, and it's something that we're able to further support through our open hiring model.
Hazami: In 2021, The Body Shop committed to expanding Open Hiring across their five biggest markets, including Australia and the UK, and to partner with regional NGOs working in underemployed communities.
Juan Pablo: There's a very direct incentive on having better hiring practices and also more ethical hiring practices.
Hazami: That’s Juan Pablo Larenas.
Juan Pablo: I’m currently the executive director of B Lab Global. B Lab Global's vision is to build an inclusive, regenerative and equitable economic system for all the people on the planet. And we are better known to be the creators of the B corporation. And we certify B Corps all over the world.
Hazami: Certified B Corporations — also known as B Corps — are businesses that meet high standards of social and environmental performance. These businesses also satisfy transparency requirements and make a legal commitment to balance profit and purpose. Both Greyston Bakery and The Body Shop are Certified B Corps. Today, there are more than 4,000 B Corps in 77 countries and in 153 industries. And these numbers keep growing.
Juan Pablo: When the purpose of the business is consistent to labor practice, positive labor practices that has immediate effects on the productivity of the workers because they feel more committed, they feel more engaged with the business.
Juan Pablo: The way they show up in work is completely different. And that has a lot of positive outcomes.
Hazami: Juan Pablo shares that as a society, we have a lot of mistrust in people.
Juan Pablo: I see this quite a lot in Latin America. We just do not trust people that we don't know.
Juan Pablo: There's this bias that sadly we put everyone in the same basket and we judge them.
Hazami: Juan Pablo says that, in many cases, the business model of companies and their hiring practices are related.
Juan Pablo: They assume that with their existing hiring practices, they will have X percentage of turnover. And the business model relies on that. It’s what limits companies.
Hazami: Open hiring drives employers to go out of their comfort zone.
Chidi: Part of the reason why discrimination, a lack of diversity, persists in enterprises in workplaces is that we tend to recruit from what we know.
Hazami: That’s Chidi from the ILO again.
Chidi: It could be word of mouth recruitment, for instance. It could be ok well, we just recruit from a particular educational establishment because that's just what we've done forever.
Hazami: As Chidi alludes to, there are various barriers to replicating Open Hiring.
Joseph: The challenges really for most companies is really understanding just how much power you actually have, the one lever that we don't have to seek congressional approval or regulatory approval on as business leaders is employment. You have to make that decision. You CEO, COO, CHRO, have to make that decision. And in that commitment, really, that this is what we're going to do. And I've seen that with our local hospital CEO who said, you know, I want more of our folks coming from Greyston, from their training programs, and he gets the buy in from his management team. And then the folks at the line level, you know, first you have to make the commitment, but you do have to get that buy in from the middle management and then the line workers as well. So it's a process that you have to go through. I would say I would say it's a challenge, but it's a process.
Joseph: So to me, the biggest challenge is just understanding all the power that we have as leaders to make these kinds of changes, to enforce them and reinforce the change that can be made. But it really starts with the leadership. And then from there, it's about getting the buy in and then making that commitment and making that investment to make this work.
Hazami: New practices like open hiring are a work in progress.
Joseph: We don't say it's a perfect model. We're perfecting it. But some of the challenges we learned early on and Bernie learned this, which is why at one point in time, Greyston had a low income housing portfolio because Bernie saw that the people that we were hiring didn't have places to live. We then found that a lot of the folks in the area were having challenges with child care. So we had a child care facility. We've now transitioned those programs to now only focus on workforce development, training and replication, but those are some of the challenges you had with folks, the way we've innovated and address some of those issues. Number one, we now have and this is something we started about five or six years ago, we have a social worker, a case manager that we call a resource specialist that sits in our bakery and addresses some of these other what I like to call nontraditional HR issues. So helping folks find housing, helping folks deal with child support, child care, domestic violence, substance issues, all of those other connections that they need to. Make because let's be honest, you know, the personal does spill into the professional, so we want to make sure that you're thriving personally because that helps you and it helps us professionally.
Hazami: Joseph says that a misconception about Open Hiring is that it eliminates employee standards.
Joseph: The one thing we eliminate is the barrier to entry so that the resume, the interview, all of that is, background checks, that is eliminated. What is not eliminated are the standards and the accountability. So when you get here, it is incumbent upon you to adhere to all of the other traditional employee relations practices and procedures that we have here. So, you know, insubordination, coming in late, adhering to our goods manufacturing practices, that is sacrosanct. We do not bend on those.
Hazami: Cost is another factor that employers look into when introducing a new or different practice within their organizations.
Joseph: The other thing is that this is somehow a new, more expensive program, or some folks try to build this as a cost saving program, which I don't like to do, but it is a cost reallocation program. So we instead of investing all the resources and human resources, let's take those same resources and invest in a resource specialist. Let's invest in training. And all the other time that we spent keeping people out, let's figure out how we bring people in and keep them in.
Hazami: According to research, it takes an average of 30 to 50 days to hire someone, depending on the industry and position. Other studies show that the average cost per hire is $4,000.
Joseph shares that this is starkly different from the experience of their partners, where the cost of hiring is in the hundreds, not thousands, of dollars, and turnover rates can drop dramatically.
Joseph: I think it's about 4100 dollars to hire someone, our partners, it's about 130 because it's a phone call and, you know, calling somebody up and telling them to come in as opposed to spending all of this time interviewing and background checks which is not foolproof either. But the key piece of this, and this is from our partners, you know, you look at somebody like The Body Shop, they cut their turnover rate by almost two thirds because they brought in folks that were going to be loyal to them because no one else would give them a chance. [00:30:08][56.8]
Hazami: Toni from The Body Shop says that when companies post an extensive list of requirements for an entry level position, applicants are discouraged to apply. And when employers take a chance on a person who has not been given a fair shot at employment, they could get loyalty and dedication in return.
Toni: From working inside the prison — it was a male prison that I worked in — some of the guys there they definitely felt really hopeless. And even, you know, when employees were coming in to meet with them, they felt like, oh, it's just a tick box thing, you know, they're not really here to offer me the opportunity. And I just think, you know, by providing opportunities like this, we are providing hope. People see having a criminal record as a barrier that makes you, you know, unemployable. But that's not the case.
Hazami: Open Hiring breaks down employment barriers for marginalized populations, as well as those who may have gaps in their resume. Ultimately, opening doors to a wider candidate pool can lead to a diversity of talent.
Toni: Just for example, some of that hasn't been in employment for ages in North America and in Canada. When they initially brought it in, they had someone that had previously been a doctor in their home country. But when they migrated to North America, their qualification wasn't recognized as much and you know, when they were applying for other roles, they were seen as overqualified. So open hiring meant that, you know, they were able to come in. They found The Body Shop to be such an amazing place for them to work.
Toni: Being diverse, being inclusive, you know, creating ways for different people to come into the business and also ensuring that it's a safe place for the individuals to feel free, to be themselves is so important.
Hazami: When it comes to impact, Joseph wants to underscore how Open Hiring has transformed the lives of people to which companies like Greyston have opened their doors.
Joseph: In terms of the impact of open hiring, I like to put it in people terms and in human terms. We have about 110 folks that work at the bakery, 70 of whom are the open hires.
Joseph: Everybody has their own challenge — domestic violence, housing, substance abuse — but all those folks are working. And again, it's not without the challenges. I don't want to think that the open hiring is just, you know, Kumbaya, Pollyanna, you know, social work program. It is a business strategy, but it is an intentional — and that's a key piece — it’s an intentional business strategy. It's an intentional human capital approach. You got to be invested in it and you've got to want to invest in your people and give them the tools to succeed. And that takes time. That takes effort.
Hazami: Joseph says that the open hiring model is not unique to the U.S. and companies globally are starting to practice inclusive hiring.
Joseph: I do think we have a ways to go. And that is part of our challenge to get 40 to 100,000 jobs over the next 10 years involved in open or inclusive hiring. We want this to be more expansive. But it has to be more again, with millions on the sidelines. We've got to get more partners
Hazami: Joseph calls on the largest employers in the world like Walmart and Amazon to have a conversation, and together, tackle this issue.
Joseph: From an economic development standpoint, when you think about the income that will be generated from these folks working, the savings, getting folks off public assistance and diversion from justice involvement, those are all savings that everybody benefits, society, the government, the business. You get good people, the people themselves that are working and the families that they support and the communities that they live in. Everybody wins when people are working.
Hazami: So I want to look towards the future. What do you think the future is of open hiring?
Joseph: I believe the future of open hiring is tremendous. One, because so many folks are now talking and business leaders and organizations, whether it's the Business Roundtable, the World Economic Forum, I'm a part of, you know, Conscious Capitalism and the B Team. All of these different organizations are now raising this up as an issue because everybody is struggling with this idea, this challenge that we're having of getting good workers and just finding workers.
Joseph: I can tell you from a Greyston standpoint, it's our 2030 vision to see this happen. We want to see more folks talking about stakeholder capitalism. We want to see more innovation in the human capital management space. But more importantly, we want to see people get employed through more inclusive hiring because this is an economic development challenge that we have right now. I think it's nationally and I think it's international as well. If you have the World Economic Forum talking about all these things. So I think the time is right. And if anything, that if we can find a silver lining or some positives out of the pandemic and the social unrest is that this whole reexamination of economic development in this country and beyond.
Hazami: According to Joseph, Greyston’s goal by 2030 is to unleash about three billion dollars of economic impact through Open Hiring. But more than economic benefits, Open Hiring also intersects with solving other challenges humanity faces today.
Juan Pablo: We have huge problems like the climate crisis and inequality. Inequality is embedded in many ways and discrimination still happens. Companies and businesses are by far the most important employer in humanity. Businesses employ the biggest amount of people in the world, in every single country. If companies are not willing to embrace principles related to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion to become anti-racist and so on. There's no way that as society, we will be able to overcome these problems.
Hazami: In order to achieve the goals of Open Hiring, Joseph shares the role that public private partnerships play.
Joseph: Partnerships is very key to this, because at the end of the day, what are we talking about? We're talking about poverty. And poverty is a very complex issue. And as I said at one point in this discussion, there's no one silver bullet. You must have government involved, education sector, the criminal justice system, community based organizations and the NGOs. All of these folks have to be involved because they all play a role — schools — they all play a role in this. Families — talking about culture. They all play a role in addressing this issue. So it's not a there's no one person. There's no one organization. There's no one entity. Everybody's got to be at the table figuring out what can their contribution be to this discussion. And I usually focus on business and I try to say to folks, you know, let's not try and boil the ocean here, but let's figure out how your particular organization in your particular context can employ someone. And contribute to the community that you're in and contribute to the staff that you already have, really, and invest in them, figure that out. I mean, there's so many issues, whether it's, you know, climate, diversity, equity, and inclusion, there is all these other issues but figure out your place.
Hazami: To create an inclusive and diverse workforce, Chidi from the ILO says that legal frameworks and social policies exist. And for the most part, the tools are there.
Chidi: Very often what is needed is a scaling up of what already exists. It's political will. It's looking at the power relationships that come into play in all of this because ultimately, if we wanted to take to boil it all down, what lies at the heart of discrimination, what lies at the heart of inequality is about imbalances in power relationships, who has a seat at the table, who has access to economic and other opportunities, recognizing that dealing with these issues is fundamental.
Hazami: Alongside governments and civil society, it’s important to recognize that the issues businesses are trying to solve are complex and nuanced. But when it comes to elevating humanity, everybody can contribute.
Joseph: You can start somewhere and you have the ability to start somewhere. You could start with literally one job. And really that's all it takes. Let's get started there.
Hazami: If you'd like to hear more empowering stories from Finding Humanity or to learn more about this episode, visit our website at www.findinghumanitypodcast.com. Please subscribe, rate, and review the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. Your ratings and reviews help Finding Humanity reach new audiences, so we thank you for your support.
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In our podcast, we cover pressing — and at times controversial — social and political issues. The views and opinions expressed are those of the interviewees and do not reflect the positions or opinions of the producers or any affiliated organizations.
Finding Humanity is a joint production of the Humanity Lab Foundation and Hueman Group Media, this series is produced in collaboration with B Lab. For this series, we’d like to thank Hannah Munger and Rachel Sarnoff. To learn more about B Lab and the B Corp movement, visit bcorporation.net.
Our Co-Executive Producers are Camille Laurente and Hazami Barmada, Associate Producers are Fernanda Uriegas and Tanny Jiraprapasuke, Policy and Background Research by Karolina Mendecka and Tanny Jiraprapasuke. Mixing, editing, and music by Maverick Aquino.
For this episode, I’d like to thank Joseph Kenner, Antonia Tony-Fadipe, Chidi King and Juan Pablo Larenas.
I’m your host, Hazami Barmada. Thanks for listening. And I look forward to seeing you in the next episode!