By Kate Wendleton
I’m so lucky. My family would never be considered activists, but they have always been blind to race, color, religion, sexual orientation and whatever else there is. I rarely even notice hair color or height!
Yes, there was real-life segregation: When I was in grade school, we went to the white school and walked by the black school every day. But it wasn’t that simple. In the little row of only six stores in my neighborhood, the pharmacist/pharmacy owner was black. His wife and grown children worked in the store. We had sodas at his soda fountain, in retrospect an ironic twist given that blacks were denied sodas at white-owned soda fountains at that time. The corner deli, two stores away, was owned by a Jewish family.
It might not seem like much, but these owners were some of the most visible people in our small community. There were only 13 people in my eighth-grade class, which included one African-American boy and one real-life Gypsy who lived in a Gypsy camp and took a bus to school. I visited that camp many times, watching them make chairs to sell and listening to them sing around the campfire.
What an interesting world. The people of my childhood — again, I’m lucky — were sweet and trusting. People did not need to lock the doors to their houses. I don’t remember any negative incidents involving race or creed.
In my environment, the trusting and openness were broad-based. In 1980, my parents, who had already had nine children, took in a Vietnamese family (husband, wife and brother), who stayed with our family for three months while an agency and my parents found them an apartment near us. They remained part of our immediate family for many decades.
Hire people who are smart, highly motivated and grateful for the opportunity:
You’ll wind up with a diverse workforce.
Today, my family includes just about every race and creed. My parents are Catholic, and their extended family now consists of Catholic, Christian, Muslim and Jewish. We have black, white, brown, Asian, Latino, and probably whatever else there may be. We have an Iranian head of Information Technology (who started as a waiter when he came to this country), an African-American brain surgeon (who went to Harvard for undergrad and the University of Pennsylvania for medical school), a Latina micro-biologist, others I’m probably forgetting, and all of their multi-colored children. My sister, Patti, who is a white, blonde Catholic, married Moe (short for Mohammed), an Iranian Muslim. They have three beautiful brown-skinned children who went to Jewish day school. When the girls were young, they would ask, “Aunt Kate, do you celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas?” So touching and innocent. My sister and her husband wanted them to be blind to color, race, and faith, just as we older ones were.
Now my husband and I are in the process of adopting an African-American young man (21 years old) who has aged out of foster care. He had been living in the house in Wynnewood, PA, that The Five O’Clock Club uses for our Remington Achievers program. He fits right into our extended family, where the attitude is, “Come on in.” And he is not the first in my large family to be adopted.
And, as I have mentioned in earlier editorials, I have a brother who could have been classified as having a disability. However, he has done so well with his life and has so worked around his disability that it is not relevant at all.
I hope it’s not relevant to you when you’re hiring. I hope you will enjoy the pride and excitement I have when I am around my diverse family by having that pride and excitement from diversity in your workplace. I hope you intend to hire with diversity in mind. After all, if you hire with diversity in mind, you would be hiring my family. I will be grateful that you are not prejudiced against them, but instead are able to see their true worth and see them as just other qualified persons who happen to be of a different race, gender, religion, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation or has what might be called a “disability.”
Job Hunters Landing More Offers More Quickly
We can see our job hunters getting new jobs faster than they have during the past 18 months. Many are getting multiple offers. Others are taking jobs that may not be exactly right, but they continue to work with us to land that perfect job.
Fortunately, we go far beyond onboarding and many clients stay with their coaches for executive coaching well into that new job — just to make sure that things are going well.
The New Diversity: A Broader Definition
If you are in a position to hire, now is your chance to be smarter about it. We at The Five O’Clock Club have found many superstars in the making when we make an effort to hire former offenders who are committed to doing something positive with their lives. The onboarding for some could take as long as six months because, after all, some had never seen a cell phone, used modern-day computer programs, or ridden on today’s transportation system. But nothing can stop someone who is smart, highly motivated and grateful for an opportunity. It wasn’t long before these diamonds in the rough began to shine and kept on moving up. Annual pay raises didn’t make sense when a person was making such progress yet some received raises far more often. But the organization benefits the most!
Don’t overlook hiring former offenders. That is, if you have the smarts and the guts to do the right thing.
Of course, now it is the law in many states that you cannot discriminate based on a person’s criminal record, and I can tell you that you can get very talented and devoted people if you make an effort to hire the best and the brightest who are classified as ex-offenders. We never ask why they were in prison, although it may be relevant in some cases (such as a drug company hiring someone who was convicted of a drug-related crime). And some industries, such as banking, are not allowed to hire ex-felons. But that makes it so much easier for the rest of us to pick and choose the best.
Why consider former offenders for your workforce? First of all, they have paid their debt to society—so let’s be fair. Please remember the number of people who have been unfairly convicted of crimes:
- The Innocence Project (www.innocenceproject.org) has freed 252 people who were eventually exonerated based on DNA evidence.
- 17 of the 252 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row.
- The average length of time served by exonerees is 13 years. The total number of years served is approximately 3,196.
The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongful convictions was 27. (Source: The Innocence Project website.)
After serving an average of 13 years in prison, many were unable to get their lives back or even find a job, even though they were declared innocent. It seems that no one wants to hire someone who has been in prison — even one who is proven innocent. Life isn’t fair — but we can be.
And what about other incarcerated people where DNA is not an issue? There is no equivalent Innocence Project to help them. The Five O’Clock Club has never regretted hiring any former offender. We work with organizations who refer the best to us. Because we are relatively small we can hire only a few, but it has worked to our benefit.
Hiring former offenders does not fit the standard definition of diversity, but why not develop some pride in having a truly diverse workforce — including former offenders? You can be a leader — ahead of the crowd. You can capitalize on the talent that’s out there.
That’s the way America is going. Immigrants keep on coming and, in the not-too-distant future, whites will be the new minority. This means that your customer base will not be white. Better to have a diverse population to serve your diverse customer base. It’s smart business and it’s the right thing to do anyway.
Take a look at our motto on page 2 of this magazine. Be brave. Be good. Show others the way.
Kate, President and Editor-in-Chief