BAN THE BOX PHILANTHROPY CHALLENGE

Ban the Box is a national movement for full restoration of rights of people who have conviction or arrest histories, especially those who have served time in prison. As the name implies, Ban the Box focuses on eliminating questions that require job seekers to disclose conviction or arrest history when completing employment applications. These questions—which often take the form of check-boxes—taint the hiring process with a focus on an applicants’ past mistakes rather than their skills and competency. With wildly disproportionate impacts on people of color and men of color in particular, this is a modern-day form of discrimination that limits opportunities for re-entry into society and stabilization of families and communities.

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In 2015, the Executives’ Alliance (EA) joined the grantee partners of many of its member foundations in pushing for change and adoption of “fair-chance” hiring policies that eliminate or delay questions about conviction or arrest history. First, 27 foundation presidents wrote a letter urging President Obama to Ban the Box in federal government hiring and the hiring processes of the 170,000 federal contractors that employ a full 25% of the nation’s workforce. Next, the Alliance launched the Ban the Box Philanthropy Challenge and the micro-site www.bantheboxphilanthropy.org, leading a group of nearly 50 foundations in a commitment to adopt fair-chance hiring practices. The EA also challenged all foundations in the country to do the same, establishing a new standard for the philanthropic sector. Soon thereafter, the EA initiated plans to create a fair-chance hiring toolkit in order to respond to requests for technical assistance and to deepen impact and results in the philanthropic sector, even among foundations with longstanding commitments. When Daryl Atkinson learned of the planned toolkit, he challenged EA Executive Director Damon Hewitt to engage the community of formerly incarcerated people who are directly impacted. “Ban the Box [was] birthed out of the formerly incarcerated community,” said  Atkinson, the inaugural Second Chance Fellow at the U.S. Department of Justice and himself a formerly incarcerated person. “For us, it made perfect sense that we would be brought in to give our expertise to make the most quality toolkit possible.”

In response to Atkinson’s challenge, Hewitt invited the leadership council of the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Families Movement (FICPFM) to serve as formal consultants to the EA and to co-author the toolkit, which provides guidance for human resource professionals to ensure that people with records are free from discrimination during the hiring process. HR officers are encouraged to reconsider which questions about records are relevant and when to ask them, as well how to evaluate the answers. The creation of the toolkit, “Fair-Chance Hiring in Philanthropy: A Step-by-Step Guide,” represents a shift in the relationship between philanthropic institutions and formerly incarcerated people. Said Glenn Martin, President of JustLeadershipUSA: “The EA not only ensured that the formerly incarcerated partners were given credit for their intellectual property, but they positioned us as equal partners throughout the entire project, often insisting that we take the lead.” Susan Burton, Executive Director of A New Way of Life, is one such leader.

She felt that women of color had largely been left out of the movement, pointing out that in the state of California Black women represent only 3% of the general population but 33% of the incarcerated population. This, Burton contended, has an extreme impact on children and families through what she called “the unraveling of communities by the mass incarceration of women.” At Burton’s suggestion, formerly incarcerated women were explicitly included in the language of the toolkit. For the EA, the toolkit represents immense potential for two-fold impact. If member foundations align business practices with their racial equity values and engage directly-impacted people in the process, they can inform their philanthropic work with first-hand employee experience of the justice system while simultaneously offering valuable jobs to formerly incarcerated people. The example set by philanthropy could extend to grantee networks, civil society, and even the private sector. But the ultimate goal of the toolkit is what Atkinson termed “deeper cultural change.” Maurice Emsellem, Program Director of the National Employment Law Project and a co-author of the toolkit, agreed. “The impact of the toolkit,” he said, “should be measured both by the number of people with records hired and by its ability to help the foundations to humanize people with records and [to] value their goals and aspirations.”

LESSONS LEARNED

  1. Philanthropy cannot work effectively on behalf of directly-impacted people without working hand-in-hand with affected populations.
  2. There are critical actions philanthropy can take beyond funding to achieve important policy objectives aligned with their missions and values.
  3. We as a philanthropic field must practice looking inward and holding ourselves accountable.
  4. Philanthropy has untold influence over the public and private sectors. We must leverage that influence.

RESOURCES

Learn more at the Ban the Box website.