The Why’s and How’s of Second Chance Hiring with Sue Mason and Catherine Goetz

Jennifer Brown | |

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This episode, originally recorded as a DEI Community Call, features a conversation between Sue Mason, Co-Founder and Executive Director of What’s Next Washington, and Catherine Goetz, Global Head of Diversity Recruiting at LivePerson. Sue and Catherine discuss the challenges and opportunities of making a commitment to operationalize second chance hiring in a heavily regulated field. Discover why AI and talent leaders need to be focused on accessing the talent pool of people with conviction histories, and how organizations can accompany operationalized second chance priorities as part of their DEI recruiting strategy.

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

SUE MASON: Having an industry take a look at the regulatory barriers and take a look at the background check barriers, and take a look at the processes and procedures without having somebody at the table who is directly impacted by them, is going to elicit a set of responses and a set of policies that might not really overcome the barrier. Because if you haven’t been impacted by it, if you haven’t been rescinded after a traditional job offer, if you haven’t tried to apply to a cell tower engineer job long after you were released and were told, no, even though you’d been working, you just don’t know what it’s like.

JENNIFER BROWN: Why do we struggle so much to change and with change? Because we are living in this VUCA world, volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous. We are unmoored from so much that was familiar and comfortable and we know deep down, and we may be in denial about this, that the change is permanent. What got us here, won’t get us there.

What we’ve leaned on, what has worked for us, somehow no longer resonates or feels like enough. It’s time for wholesale to change and it starts with each of us. We have been shown over and over, especially these past few years, that there is so much we haven’t known, or explored, or prioritized in terms of our own lived experiences and those of others. We’ve been shown that the workplace, like so many of our other systems, was never built by and for so many of us on the margins. This has caused widespread trauma and loss of human potential and we could never, and cannot now, let this continue.

We all have a once in a lifetime opportunity to address it and change it for good. This means moving forward without answers, painstakingly and with great care, writing a new script every day, we must become students again. Humbling ourselves to the pace and complexity of change, acknowledging the overwhelm of it and talk about our journey. Lead from that place, with empathy, grace, kindness, and openness. This is what will resonate. We have what we need if we pull from these sources. The one thing I know about this audience is that we want to evolve and accelerate. We want to transform and enable the transformation of others.

We want and need our systems, organizations, communities, families, to transform too. And we believe we can be agents of change, which is not just about the skills, but the will to do so. Hence, The Will To Change. Let’s accelerate our evolution together.

DOUG FORESTA: The Will To Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, bestselling author and leadership expert, on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards a new, more inclusive workplace reality. She’s a passionate inclusion and an equity advocate, committed to helping leaders foster healthier and therefore more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results, informed by nearly two decades of consulting the Fortune 500 companies. She and her team advised top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty. And now, onto the episode.

Hello and welcome back to The Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta. The episode you’re about to hear was originally recorded as a DEI community call and features a conversation between Sue Mason, co-founder and executive director of What’s Next Washington, and Catherine Goetz, global head of diversity recruiting at LivePerson.

If you haven’t already, I suggest that you take a listen to Sue Mason. She’s been on the program on episode 159, 100 Million With Conviction Histories By 2030, as well as episode 168, Banking On 100 Million Formally Incarcerated Talent. Both of those are great episodes and we encourage you to check them out if you have been already.

However, in this conversation, Sue and Catherine discussed the challenges and opportunities of making a commitment to operationalize second chance hiring in a heavily regulated field, and you learn why AI and talent leaders need to be focused on accessing this talent pool of people with conviction histories, as well as how can make operationalized second chance priorities, a part of their DEI recruiting strategy. All this and more, and now, onto the conversation.

SUE MASON: So Catherine, what I’d really like is for you to just introduce yourself.

CATHERINE GOETZ: Sure. Hi Sue and hi everybody. My name is Catherine Goetz and I am a mom and a partner. I also happen to be fortunate enough to have what I think is one of the best jobs in the world. So, I’ve spent my career really working to understand the distance between people and opportunity and to study some of the barriers and to ultimately move into roles where we can try to make a difference, and chip away at some of those barriers.

So today, I’m the global head of diversity recruiting at LivePerson. We’re a leader in conversational AI and helping brands more authentically connect with their consumers. So, there’s a lot of opportunity in the seat that I’m in today and in the organizations that I’ve supported over time, to really start to get our arms around what we mean when we say diversity, equity and inclusion. What we mean when we set goals and how to really start to operationalize those, particularly for people who have been locked out of opportunities, historically.

SUE MASON: I love that. And so when it comes to DEI, when it comes to your job and your career, what motivates and inspires you?

CATHERINE GOETZ: What a good question. I think like a lot of people, first and foremost, I am a shameless optimist. I really do, I believe in the potential people.

SUE MASON: Same.

CATHERINE GOETZ: Right? And I think that when you have an opportunity to see folks surprise themselves, and surprise maybe folks who are making decisions about what comes next for them, and you see that happen over and over, you really start to validate that a lot of what stands in our way is our own. So, I think particularly in this work and in recruitment, anytime you can help to make a connection, or you see someone really accomplish something big, or take that next opportunity, or stretch themselves, it’s a good day. So that’s really, it’s what gets me up in the morning, is why I do this work.

SUE MASON: I love that. I love that. It is a good day when that happened. So what are some of the triumphs and challenges that you see in the DEI space? Triumphs first, please.

CATHERINE GOETZ: This is also a good question. And especially for folks who are connected to the Jennifer Brown community. I think we’re all in the throes of both all the time, for sure. So I think there are a lot of things that have happened over the last two years that have really been impactful. So first and foremost, I think a huge triumph is just watching companies start to sit up and pay attention and seeing this become a much more coordinated conversation is a big deal, and it creates an opportunity for us to really start to drive more systems thinking and really think about impact. But I also would say that on a micro scale, some of the biggest wins, I think are really around learning. Folks are having conversations that they have historically either never thought to have, weren’t comfortable having, didn’t have access to and I think those conversations are really being kind of positioned, coming from folks with lived experience, in ways that I really haven’t seen.

So a lot of times when we talk about corporate initiatives, or inclusion, or diversity, it really starts at the top. And that’s true in terms of building consensus and buy-in, but we also need to make sure that when it comes to how and how it really changes the individual experience, those voices are really centered in the discussion. I think that that’s starting to really happen, which is really encouraging.

SUE MASON: Nice. You know I agree with that.

CATHERINE GOETZ: I know you do.

SUE MASON: I push that a lot, so it’s great to hear that from you. So why do you think that being able to access people with conviction histories, including formerly incarcerated talent, is so important right now?

CATHERINE GOETZ: Oh my goodness. Well, first of all, even if you’re not paying attention, you know what the market is like right now. We’re naming it just like all disasters, we’re naming this the great reshuffle, or the great resignation. I think across the board, regardless of industry, people are really suffering because they’re losing talent. But I also think that the other thing that’s important to ask ourselves is why is that?

So when it comes to thinking about this huge talent pool, people with conviction histories and Sue, I would love it if you, as part of this would share some of those important statistics, but we’re talking about 70 million plus. Shortly soon to be a hundred million people, on one hand who are systemically locked out of opportunities on one side, and on the other side we’re saying, “Oh, we can’t find great talent.” Those two things do not make sense.

I think the other thing that we talked about last time, and I’m sure you can add a lot more context too but from a policy perspective, there’s the infrastructure bill coming forward. So what that means in addition to there being more job opportunities, is there’s also a lot more training opportunities. So if we’re thinking about making sure that we have the right folks with the right skillset, really to carry us into the future, if we’re locking a hundred million people out of opportunities today, they’re also being locked out of education, out of training, and we’re really sealing the fate for our collective future. I think that’s such a big deal and so when you put it in that context, we can’t talk about … and I hear you say this all the time, so I’m going to just reemphasize it-

SUE MASON: Do it.

CATHERINE GOETZ: … because I think it’s worth repeating, but we can’t talk about equity and we can’t talk about being inclusive and really focusing on diversity if we’re not acknowledging this really, not only massive, but really important part of our workforce, particularly because we’re a country where we over-criminalize people of color. We incarcerate more people than anybody in the world. So I think to that earlier comment about being systems thinkers, we have to carry the logic all the way through if we really are going to champion DE and I as part of the foundation of how we operate and do business, as not only an industry, but as a workforce on the whole.

SUE MASON: I love that you are bringing in the statistics. So, we are trying to make a correlation with the inability to find labor and the massive amounts of people that have been over-criminalized and incarcerated in this nation. A lot of people don’t realize that there’s a direct link to that.

So, just to ground our audience in that, there are currently 77 million people with a conviction history in this nation, there’ll be 100 million by 2030. That will be one in almost two working age adults that will be applying for roles at your company.

What I want to focus on though, is that of the 77 million people, currently 70 million no longer have any criminal legal system involvement. These are not people that have recently released or recently convicted, we’re out here living our lives and being denied employment and career opportunities. So, I’ll circle back a little bit on the infrastructure bill and heavily regulated sectors, because I think that that’s an impact too, but my next question is, so why should DEI and talent leaders be focused on this now?

CATHERINE GOETZ: Yeah, I mean, I think it really is a continuation of the time that we’re in. We have an opportunity now where people are paying attention. Bills are passing that are creating opportunity. I think we have more leaders in this space than we have historically, that are really dedicating their careers to DE and I, and so I think if we want to do that authentically, we to pay attention to the root cause of some of the reasons that we can’t find the talent pools that we want. We also have to take accountability and start to invest in creating those pipelines in a more meaningful way. So I think that if this combination of market and social factors isn’t enough to do it then we have to ask ourselves if we’re really interested.

SUE MASON: That’s a good question, mic drop moment right there. So how do, or would, a company operationalize second chance priorities as part of their DEI and diversity recruiting strategy?

CATHERINE GOETZ: Yeah. This is really where I think it gets tricky for a lot of folks in seats like mine, particularly in talent acquisition. So, I’ll share what I’ve learned and I’ll caveat it with, I don’t have all the answers and I think every company is different, but having worked in larger organizations that were in heavily regulated spaces and now in smaller companies that maybe are more nimble in some places, but are probably less systems or process driven, more entrepreneurial, I think that the approach can differ. But the most important thing is that you get a deep understanding of what the reality is for your business.

So if you think about where you’re hiring, what roles are you hiring in? What are the skills and requirements for those roles, and what’s your background check policy? I think that you need to understand those things and then the very next question has to be why. Why is this required? What about this tells us that this particular combination of skills or experiences is the right path? And what about someone’s background would prohibit them or preclude them from being successful? If you can understand that, then you have created a path for yourself, or at least if there are barriers, if there are regulations in place or other restrictions, that you know what you’re working with.

I think the second piece of this, and I’m sure that we can talk about it a little bit later in our conversation too, but is then find partners. Find the people who can help you make sense of, this is what’s hard. You’ll get so much more context and hear from people who are doing similar things and that can really help to give you the insight around, are we structured in a way to take on a pilot? And can we find one hiring manager and really start to build some shared experiences that can help us to scale this over time? Or are we in an organization where maybe we have industry-wide influence and is there an opportunity to start in a space that could change things for many companies?

But I think if you don’t ask those fundamental questions and then partner with the right organizations to give you that extra context, I think ultimately it can feel really frustrating, or you can experience setbacks that make it feel like it’s less possible than it is.

SUE MASON: I would agree with that. I think again, you and I keep talking about operationalizing the commitment and the commitment is different than the policies and procedures that need to be changed, put into place, to execute you the commitment and that’s where I’ve seen personally working with companies, where there seems to be the biggest disconnect, is people are offered employment, they are otherwise qualified, condition on a background check. So often, that’s where everything stops. The rescission happens and is the rescission the right thing to do? Are we really taking a look at whether this is the correct choice? I think there’s a lot of work and some reflection and some policy and procedure changes that could be made, that would help people secure the talent that they need. Again, let’s remember, folks are offered jobs are otherwise qualified. And so how do we move through that? What is the actual process of that? And you’ve been really great about that piece of it. So I was going to ask you if you would tell us about your work trying to meet your diversity goals in a heavily regulated sector? Because you come from the telecommunications sector, now you’re in, I think, a different sector in tech, right?

CATHERINE GOETZ: Yep.

SUE MASON: And so I just want to hear your experiences because I think that this is one of the largest barriers for people.

CATHERINE GOETZ: Yeah. I mean, I think that one of the things about working in a really heavily regulated sector is that oftentimes, these are organizations that are pretty matrixed. So, my experience was very much that we were hiring in a lot of different places and a lot of different functions, and those roles had different restrictions.

So I remember coming into this and really being new to this conversation and thinking, “Oh, we should be able to build a pilot and get this done,” and curate it in a way that we typically do with other recruiting activities and realizing that there’s a lot of spaces where folks are subject matter experts in their particular function.

So, I was asking those questions about, “Okay, where are we recruiting or what would keep someone, from taking an opportunity if they have a past conviction history?” And even though the organization that I was part of, I think has done a lot of work to try and make these decisions individualized and contextualized to the person, it was really hard to get an answer on how does it actually work?

I think the other piece of that, and Sue we’ve talked about this before, is that often the background check, maybe almost always, I know it’s been the case in my experience, but the background check process is usually done by a third party. So you get visibility to a point and then after that, for the protection of the privacy of the candidate, and for the protection and liability of the business, there’s a barrier there to really understanding well, what is keeping us from moving forward? Or what could we do that is maybe more policy-oriented?

So, I think that you have to know that it’s going to take some dedicated effort to fact finding. But I think on the other side of that, what I learned is that you can definitely build a coalition of those folks to drive a common conversation.

So for example, in my telco experience, in the wireless experience, we were part of an industry that’s really trying to reevaluate this, while we worked on the standard recruiting process and really getting more understanding about what’s working or what might be prohibitive, we were also having policy conversations with our supplier diversity teams and with our government affairs teams to say, “Hey, we’re think about this systemically, we’re identifying the points along the way where we can really push this boulder uphill.” How do we bring people together to build that confidence so that we can say, “We know where the problem is, and now we want to start to figure out what we can do to change it.”

So, we found a lot of success in momentum, and honestly it’s such credit to the folks who across these different areas of subject matter expertise, were really dedicated. They understand the problem, because they understand the assignment and they’re doing important work, but coming together and really talking about where can we raise this, whether it’s in policy discussions on the hill, or in supplier diversity and wireless infrastructure association discussions, where we can really galvanize support for something very specific to make change.

I don’t know that that’s necessarily true outside of heavily regulated sectors. But I do think there’s more opportunity there to build coalitions, to drive more industry-based change than perhaps in smaller organizations, where the path is probably more building a relationship, starting a pilot, helping someone to land an individual opportunity and then starting to scale that.

SUE MASON: So, I’m going to say something bold here. I love the way you look at things. I love the way that you have this broad take. One of the things that you’ve said before is if we’re not doing this with directly impacted at the table, it’s not going to work. So, having an industry take a look at the regulatory barriers and take a look at the background check barriers, and take a look at the processes and procedures without having somebody at the table who is directly impacted by them is going to elicit a set of responses and a set of policies that might not really overcome the barrier because if you haven’t been impacted by it, if you haven’t been rescinded after a conditional job offer, if you haven’t tried to apply to a cell tower engineer job long after you were released and were told, no, even though you’d been working, you just don’t know what it’s like.

So I love the strategy. Your overall strategy around pilots directly impacted, and the people within an industry that are impacted because that’s, who’s included as well, right? So people inside the company, people outside the company and definitely the ones that are harmed by current policy. So, I want to know what you have learned about how to start to meet these diversity goals that include people with conviction histories.

CATHERINE GOETZ: I mean, I think what you just said is spot on the most important thing, that at least in my path through this I’ve discovered, and it’s that sentiment around, let those who have lived it lead it, because to your point, we can look at all of the process and the system, but without being directly impacted, we don’t really have the perspective on where the breakdown happens, right?

SUE MASON: Right, right.

CATHERINE GOETZ: I also think, especially in this moment, just tying back to that question that you asked earlier around, why now? Companies are really focused on experience, on candidate experience and on employee experience, because people have more options than ever. So, how do you figure out what the experience of a candidate or a person is in the organization? You ask them.

And so I think step one about where to start, is find the right partners. So here’s my shameless plug and I think that there are a number of organizations out there that folks can partner with, but I think that What’s Next Washington and having the privilege to sit on the Employer Advisory Council, and Sue, work with you and team and hear from other folks who have either lived these experiences and talked about their barriers, and just the things that are plain unfair that we know, I think at a top strategic corporate level, we know aren’t right but when you meet somebody who tells you, “This happened to me and here was the impact and here’s how it left me feeling.” I think that’s really what … that’s the staying power. Right?

SUE MASON: Yeah.

CATHERINE GOETZ: And so I think it’s really, really important that you find the right partners that can help to guide that. One of the other things that has been of huge benefit to me personally, is the network of partners that you all have. So, once we get to that place where we understand, okay, we can make sure that the business gets real firsthand experience and understanding of what work needs to be done and why, but then also if you want to build a pilot, I can pick up the phone and say, “Hey Sue, I’ve got this opportunity for software engineers. Help me.” Right?

SUE MASON: Yeah.

CATHERINE GOETZ: And you connect me to [Unloop 00:24:23]. Or, “Hey, I need good advice about a company who has started a pilot,” and you can connect me to somebody from the Inclusive Recovery Project. I’m trying to have a conversation with HR and our broader team around what’s the playbook. I think having access to things like the Get Fit Guide are so, so important, so that we’re not creating, to your earlier point, solutions in a vacuum that really aren’t responsive to the needs of the communities that have been locked out.

SUE MASON: I just love hearing that, thank you.

CATHERINE GOETZ: It’s true, it’s so helpful.

SUE MASON: It’s so great. So I’ll tell you what, so I’ll just for the audience, I’ll explain a little more about the Employment Advisory Council that What’s Next Washington convened last year. So we’re a small, nonprofit, and we know we can’t do this work by ourselves and we always want to collaborate. And again, we always want the directly impacted at the table. That includes people with conviction histories, but it also includes people in these spaces. So DEI, HR, and other executives that are interested in this problem and making an impact in criminal justice reform around employment. So, we reached out to some pretty heavy hitters and got so many yeses and were so excited and we convened this Employment Advisory Council and we met four times last year. We’re convening again next year and basically what we’re doing is we are learning about what impact we can make together as people interested in this topic and who might have some power within their organizations or networks, to come together and create some priorities and strategies.

So, tell us what your experience has been being on the EAC? I know it’s in its very nascent stages, and why would it be important to be a part of something like this?

CATHERINE GOETZ: Yeah, I mean, honestly, I think it was really … It created the access to have conversations that I’d never had before. And to hear from such wonderful people who have really tangible experiences that allowed me to start to connect dots, I can do something about that. This shouldn’t be true. And so I think, a big part of it has definitely been that and just being able to build relationships and carry those voices through our work. I think the other piece too, is really just the peer component.

It’s not a huge group, but it’s a big group of really talented people from companies big and small that can help us to think about, “Okay, when you have this conversation, what did you learn?” Or, “I’m thinking about presenting it or positioning something this way, who am I missing?” So I think that kind of mind share is really, really helpful and important. And also, I think that what you all have done is created a really safe space. So, the other piece of it is that I didn’t feel like I had to come in and … I think I even asked at one point, I’m like, “Are you sure? Are you sure I have the right perspective?” But I think what this experience has really empowered me and probably other members to do as well, is to realize you don’t have to know everything and you really shouldn’t be speaking on behalf of things that you don’t understand, but you can bring what you do know.

So it’s really allowed me to focus on what do I know about talent acquisition? What do I know about organizational structure? What I know about getting buy-in that can really help us in this space? And then the opportunity to learn from all those folks Who have similar or different sets of experience and skill sets, is really invaluable.

SUE MASON: It is. I appreciate the council as well. You know, I will say to the audience as well, it’s a national group, it’s from all over the country. There are some people with conviction histories, but most people don’t, from a broad range of industries and experiences, and it has been really an interesting place to learn from each other. I appreciate your thoughts of about it, I feel the same way. So, I think we’re going to wrap it up here. Your last question is, what is your advice for other DEI executives trying to implement change?

CATHERINE GOETZ: I’m going to reiterate this one because I think it’s important. It’s probably the most important. Find the right partners. Let those who have lived it lead it. I think it’s foundational. I think the second thing is less about direction but it’s really just, be okay knowing that you’re not going to know all the answers. I think that we tend to really like in business to solution, to solve problems. So, be prepared. This is a systemic issue and there are things we can do in our own organizations to make a really big difference, but you’re going to have to be deeply curious and you’re going to have to keep asking why. I think when you know that from the beginning, it makes this journey, and even those times that you may get faced with a barrier where you have to figure it out, how is our third party vendor structuring background checks? Or whatever it is that may feel hard, I think you’ll be prepared to ask the right questions of your partners, to really help you overcome them.

SUE MASON: I love that. I think too, the only thing I would add is play the long game. Don’t give up, this is not easy.

CATHERINE GOETZ: Totally.

SUE MASON: People do not totally want to make this change. We haven’t always done it this way. It’s really only been in the last 20 years that we’ve been using these policies and practices. And to my mind, if we created them, we can undo them. So it is easy to give up and say, “Well, it’s a lot of work and things are working fine,” but I think eventually we’re going to have to meet this challenge. And so, play the long game.

CATHERINE GOETZ: I love that. Absolutely.

SUE MASON: Yeah. I just want to thank you and acknowledge you and appreciate you for all of the hard work. You really have stuck and stayed. You’ve made this commitment and haven’t walked away from it and have tried to figure it out. I just applaud you for all your efforts and I thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.

CATHERINE GOETZ: It’s my pleasure.

JENNIFER BROWN: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the feature of work and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.

DOUG FORESTA: You’ve been listening to The Will To Change, uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast and iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening and we’ll be back next time with a new episode.