By Stephanie Hammerwold
After months of planning, I am happy to announce the opening of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find gainful employment. My business partner Tim Pershing and I have talked for a long time about starting a nonprofit, and we are excited to see it come to fruition. Pacific Reentry Career Services is a combination of our work experience over the years and a cause we feel strongly about—giving people a second chance when it comes to finding meaningful work.
Why We Focus on the Reentry Community
Prior to my HR career, I worked in a domestic violence shelter and earned my MA in women’s studies. I have always had a passion for being an advocate for those who are often cast aside by society. I believe in second chances and helping those in need. At the same time I was starting my career in HR, I was also volunteering my time as a weekly art/writing workshop leader in the women’s jail in Santa Cruz. When my workshop participants found out where I worked, I started to get questions about how to handle a criminal conviction when applying for work. That was my first time realizing just how big a barrier criminal convictions can be in the journey to get one’s life back on track following incarceration.
Throughout my years in HR, I have hired hundreds of people, and I noticed that many candidates with criminal convictions could make excellent employees. Often people just need a chance to have a stable income to help rebuild their lives and reduce the chance that they will recidivate. In the last few months volunteering in the reentry community, I have heard story after story about how getting a job was the key to success, and often the formerly incarcerated are so happy to get a job offer that they commit themselves to working hard and keeping that job.
Recent studies have shown that those with criminal records may actually be better than those without. Yet the myth persists that employers should be skeptical of those who check yes to the criminal conviction question. To this end, a big part of what we do at Pacific Reentry Career Services will be working with and educating employers on the benefits of hiring the formerly incarcerated.
How this is a Continuation of our HR Work
Hiring is a big part of HR, and advocating for those whose applications often unnecessarily end up in the reject pile is a natural progression of what I had been doing in my corporate HR roles. As an HR professional, I have always had an eye out for candidates who others might dismiss. I also know how important it is to properly vet and screen candidates to ensure the best person for the job is hired. When we get too hung up on perceived red flags, we sometimes miss all the other parts of someone’s story that might make them a good employee. A number of times I would go to the table for an external candidate or a current employee up for a promotion because I was able to see something amazing in them that others were missing due to perceived shortcomings. Often my fighting for a candidate was rewarded with an employee who worked hard to prove that they deserved the job or promotion. With this nonprofit, I hope to bring that same level of advocacy in matching employers with potential employees they might have otherwise overlooked.
Aside from educating employers, we will also work closely with formerly incarcerated women to help them plan and prepare for the job search and continue to mentor them throughout the early days of a job, thus giving them access to support from business professionals who are invested in their success.
And, if you are still looking for HR support from the HR Hammer, be sure to get in touch. I am still available to help with employee handbooks, training and general HR help.