You can also listen on iTunesStitcher, and Google Play.

Margie Lee-Johnson, Vice President of People at Checkr, joins the program to discuss how Checkr is disrupting the background checking industry. Margie reveals the business case for fair chance hiring and explains how Checkr can help companies find untapped talent. She also discusses Checkr’s own diversity and belonging initiative, and some takeaways from their company-wide engagement survey.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • Margie’s diversity story and the diverse influences in her childhood (2:30)
  • How Checkr is disrupting the background checking industry (6:00)
  • The business case for hiring individuals with a criminal record (19:00)
  • Checkr’s diversity and belonging initiative (26:00)
  • The importance of fair chance hiring (27:00)
  • The need for employers to create a culture of safety and belonging (30:00)
  • What employers need to think about when doing background checks (33:00)
  • How fair chance hiring can be an extension of diversity and inclusion strategy (34:00)
  • How Checkr learns from community partners (42:00)

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

JENNIFER BROWN: Margie, welcome to The Will To Change.

MARGIE LEE: Thanks, Jennifer. I’m excited to be here.

JENNIFER BROWN:  I am thrilled to have you and your expertise in front of our audience on The Will To Change. I know that they are going to learn so much because I learned so much hearing more about your work at Checkr as the head of people at the company. The topic of our conversation today is going to be, Managing and Mitigating Bias in the Background Check Process.

I know it might sound like a very niche conversation, but as you and I got to know each other a bit more and I read more about fair chance hiring, I was consumed with the thought that this is yet another giant untapped pool of talent. And bias, as it does in so many core HR processes, is playing a role of screening certain people out at a systemic level. I just loved the story of what you’re doing about that at Checkr. I can’t wait to bring that story to The Will To Change audience.

And so Margie, welcome and I’d love for you to share a little bit about what you consider to be your diversity story and perhaps if you can connect the dots between that and why you’re so passionate about your mission today at Checkr?

MARGIE LEE:I am biracial. My mother is white. My father is Black. I was born in the early ’70s. Yes, I’m going to date myself.

JENNIFER BROWN: I can relate.

MARGIE LEE: When I was coming up I was pretty much raised by my mother and my aunt, so I was this biracial kid that was raised by my white mother. I’m originally from a town in Illinois, a suburb of Chicago and there weren’t a lot of kids like me, so I spent a lot of my life being very different from folks. It’s interesting, fun facts, I was talking to my mom about this recently and I don’t really remember knowing that there was difference between us and my mother shared with me that when I was about four or five, we were on a road trip and we stop at this truck stop in Indiana. And as we were sitting in the booth, I looked around and I whispered to my mother that, “We’re the only Black people in here.” And my mom goes, in that moment she realized that, “I have no idea that we’re different.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, that’s adorable.

MARGIE LEE: I did move to California in the late ’70s. My experience in California was dramatically different. I went to a school that was very diverse. There were other bi-racial kids. There were kids from… that had parents who immigrated here from Asia and Vietnam, and there were kids with Mexican heritage and Filipino heritage, and that was just a really new experience for me. I think that’s the first time I started to realize that I was different. And then actually, it was pretty cool and acceptable.

As part of my life story, my mother was always very open. I had all these influences growing up of people from different cultures and different backgrounds, and so I just grew up with a sense of differences in people’s stories and their histories were quite special.

My mother was a bartender at a little bar in San Jose, California right by the airport. As people would float through her bar, and she’d have conversations if they didn’t have a family, or people to connect with, they just always ended up at our table.

I had this collection of folks, quite honestly, from all over the world. There was one couple I really remember quite clearly. I was about eight or nine. They were British and hitchhiking across America and ran out of money in San Jose, California. And so, they stayed with us for about a month as they were earning money to get back home. And yes, I adopted a British accent for about three or four months.

JENNIFER BROWN: We all did at some point. I remember those days.

MARGIE LEE: I thought I sounded so smart.

JENNIFER BROWN: It was very cool.

MARGIE LEE: But that was the collection of my life were these, always having a variety of people around, so it just became ingrained. I think that’s one of the reasons that I feel so connected to people and very open to hearing their stories and their experiences and led me down, I guess, my career path of being on the human resources or the people team.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s a common story. I think a lot of us are innately interested in what makes people tick and how to unleash potential. And then, we get really fascinated with the workforce and the workplace and how that can be a laboratory, or as you call it, “a Petrie dish,” for innovative practices. So, you did have a stint of tons of heads of people, senior director at Twitch and Netflix, and Sony PlayStation.

Tell us about what Checkr does, and if you can describe to us the history of the background check industry. I thought that was really interesting. Is it an innovative industry and perhaps, what is so unique about the way that Checkr is looking at the role of bias in the hiring process?

MARGIE LEE: Checkr, I think is really interesting. We’ve completely disrupted the background checking company, or industry rather. So, background checking companies, some of them have been around for a very long time. One in particular is actually over 100 years old. It was more of a process by which people were screened out of employment opportunities.

Our two founders immigrated to the United States. They’re both from France. They were working at a gig economy start-up and realized that the old guard of background checking companies it was very difficult to really get anything done. They weren’t technologically advanced and they just had this old school approach to the process. They figured, “Hey, we could probably do this better and use technology to dramatically improve the quality, the accuracy, and the time,” and so they founded Checkr a little over five years ago. And so, we’re a technology company first. They really built it thinking about how do they speed up the process to enable companies to make much quicker decisions with more accurate information? It basically led to this real transformation of the industry.

But what was really unique and interesting about Checkr was, in small companies people wear a lot of hats. When I mean small companies, I mean five, six, 10 people that had some pretty significant customers at the time. So, Checkr was running the background checking process for Uber and Lyft very early on, so we’re talking about thousands and even millions of background checks that are being run by this small team. And so, they would pick up the phone and talk to customers and pick up the phone and talk to candidates who were going through this consideration process. What they realized was as they were interacting with these candidates were that, they were just being excluded from opportunities because of some type of criminal conviction, or perhaps an arrest record that just didn’t make sense. It shouldn’t be a reason that they would be excluded from employment.

They heard a lot of stories that they really struggled with. Stories like, “This happened 10 years ago. I’ve never had an issue since then, and I just want to make money, so I can, you know, feed my kids or afford a place to live.” They recognized that you know what, this process of background checking is really screening people out. It’s eliminating people from employment opportunities and that shouldn’t be the approach. And so, they reached out to a handful of folks locally that they knew weren’t able to find employment because of their background checks and they asked them to just come in and get coffee and have sandwiches and talk to us about what that experience was. After people realized it wasn’t a hoax or some weird-


MARGIE LEE: … kind of call, they started showing up. This small team of folks started to listen to these stories and they realized they needed to shift the way that they were processing the information, but also shift the way that people started to consume or think about the information. And that led to a lot of very different and innovative approaches in how we present information to the customers or use their data.

We built a lot of tools to remove the bias from the process. We do a lot of work in terms of talking about once you have the information how do you think about it, so you can make really thoughtful decisions? So, it really has leapt to this very epic shift in terms of how people are talking about it and it’s not a tool to screen people out, but it’s really trying to understand the past and to build a better and a more fair future for folks. And so, I think now that the conversation is starting to change, we’re really starting to see momentum and pretty excited about it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, I’m very excited about that. I mean, you and I were talking, America is fully employed. We have really low unemployment and it’s a war for talent and that just continues to rage. And then, we’ve got one out of three Americans with a criminal conviction. So, when an employer has a narrow view of what a candidate needs to look like, they are literally missing out on this giant potential candidate pool. There is a very strong business case for doing this in addition to, I think the social justice aspect of why this makes so much sense and is so important. So tell me, you use AI and it’s AI based, right?


JENNIFER BROWN:  I am so fascinated how tech can actually save us from our own biases by literally knowing what we’re, what is going to trigger our biases and literally removing it. We’ve seen the resume, the name on the resume studies, right?


JENNIFER BROWN: Of blinding resumes, the practice of doing that. And all of a sudden seeing that more diverse candidates make it through the pipeline that aren’t named, John, for example.


JENNIFER BROWN: Does it remove the criminal background details and is that what works about it? I’m curious, is that okay with the clients you work with? How do they receive that? Do they welcome a tool that does that, so that they can be more fair in their own hiring, or is there a learning curve that you have to take them through about why this makes sense in addition to all the other ways that recruitment is biased, which are legendary?

MARGIE LEE: We are pretty forward with our customer education process. And trust me, all of us at Checkr love to talk about it, so you talk to anyone at Checkr about what our mission is in fair chance hiring and put us on a platform and we’ll certainly talk about it until we go blue in the face or until you quit listening.

But what we do is, we’ve built tools inside of our platform. One of them is called, we call it a Positive Adjudication Matrix. It allows customers to really proactively think about what matters in their type of business. So as an example, we’re a tech company. We don’t drive trucks. We don’t have a lot of interaction with customers. We really have a lot of precious data that we need to protect, and that’s really where we concentrate our efforts when we think about background checking. So if someone has a DUI or if someone may have had some type of petty theft charges in an example, those are things we think about the nature of the crime and we think about the nature of the work that we’re doing here that we don’t really need to see it. So, we would use our Positive Adjudication Matrix to screen out those types of charges, so we don’t even see them.

So, when we take that candidate through the background checking process, the matrix will automatically say, you know what, these charges don’t apply. They don’t make sense given what Checkr has defined as their type of work or what areas that they’re particularly concerned about, so we would just see them come through that filter and it would screen out those charges. So, 99% of the time when I’m looking at a candidate, I just want to make a quick decision and use the best information. And if there are those types of convictions that don’t matter to me, I don’t need to see them because if I do see them, it might shape my perceptions of that individual even though they’re not relevant to the job.

We’re all human and we all have our own personal set of filters we apply to information. But our approach is, look, if you don’t need to see it, it’s not important to the job then we won’t show it to you. It’s your decision to make those criteria decisions. So, it speeds up the process. Number one, I don’t have to look at all this noise. And number two is, I’m not biased by looking at that information. We encourage all of our customers to set up these Positive Adjudication Matrices to speed up the consideration process. But it also again, it removes that bias.

We also encourage all of our customers to go through our on-demand training on being a fair assessor. There are a lot of decisions that still sit in the employer’s hands that comes through that PAM matrix, so they still have to look at it. And so, we try to give them as many tools in terms of how to consider that information fairly and how to make what we believe to be our really compliant decisions, but also really fair decisions. They have been taking advantage of becoming a fair assessor and going through the certification process that we offer at Checkrs. We think that’s one of the easiest barriers of entry to becoming a fair chance employer is going through and using some of these practices.

And one of those we call, it’s a Nature-time-Nature test. So, you look at the nature of that particular charge, you look at the time that has passed since that specific incident happened, and you look at the nature of the job. And if someone is going to be driving on behalf of your company then maybe a DUI is important information. But if not, why would you consider it thinking of the nature of the job? So, that’s how we try to help everyone who uses our platform make really informed decisions, compliant decisions. But also think of it in this lens of fairness and what’s appropriate.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s a great description. But how does this relate to Ban the Box? Maybe you describe how the law follows and develops slowly around things like this? You and I talked about Title VII and EEO, how change occurs in our own understanding of a certain issue and then the ability to address it, not just by private companies, but by the law as well. What is Ban the Box? How widely is that being practiced and what do you see? Do you see a lot of momentum around this topic?

MARGIE LEE: So, Ban the Box was a movement. A lot of employers, it’s just a normal course of their hiring process would ask candidates to check a box that, yes, I’ve been arrested or yes, I’ve had a criminal conviction, and usually there were a couple of lines where they can give, describe the nature of your conviction. It was this immediate barrier to really seeking employment. Before you even came in for an interview, or you were even considered for a real opportunity there was this box that classified you as being a really big risk.

It was disproportionately impacting people of color. It was disproportionately impacting people that had a lower socioeconomic status. It’s still in practice in a lot of areas. A lot of jurisdictions have taken, have actually banned the box, so there is no more check the box requirements. As an example, Denver just recently banned the box, which I’m excited about. But you want to talk about a biased candidate experience, before you even walk in the door, you walk in and you have a box saying that you are a big risk to this employer.

It doesn’t even give people the ability to really talk about what their story is, or to even be adequately qualified to go through a real candidate consideration process for the job. So, while the Ban the Box doesn’t mean an employer can’t look at your background. What it means is, you consider all of your candidates on this level playing field. You make a decision as to whether or not this candidate is qualified to do the job and then you run the background check.

And then if there is a specific conviction history that is concerning to you then you obviously, hopefully are going through individualized assessment, the Nature-Time-Nature, talking to that individual to find out what their story is. But you’re really making a thoughtful and informed decision on a qualified candidate as opposed to just not even looking at them because they checked the box.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. Thank you for that. I know that criminal justice reform is a hot topic in the upcoming presidential election. I was curious, how does fair chance hiring differ or connect to the topic of criminal justice reform? What would you say those connections are for those of us that are trying to connect some dots here?

MARGIE LEE: So, criminal justice reform is really looking at the process and this systemic approach to profiling individuals, the mandatory minimum sentencing that a lot of people think are really unfair and unjust. I think it’s a little bit separate from fair chance because fair chance employment is really thinking about after people have been system-impacted, so either incarcerated or been convicted, or even arrested, it’s really looking at how they are considered for employment. So, it’s after that justice specific impact has taken place. It’s looking at how they get back into the workforce.

So, it’s important to realize that there are 2.2 million people in jail or in prison in the United States. That’s a 500% increase in the last 40 years. And as you mentioned, Jennifer, one out of three Americans have a criminal record. That’s a lot. But what’s important to remember is 95% of incarcerated people will come back into society and they’re going to need gainful employment. If we really want to stop that cycle of coming back into society and having another type of conviction, or arrest, or some type of criminal incident, which lands people back into prison to break that structure, that cycle, people need to find gainful employment.

90% of arrests and convictions are really crimes of necessity. It’s people trying to feed themselves, or trying to manage their addiction. The only really way to break that cycle is to give people ability, the ability to take care of themselves, and fair chance hiring is looking at that. It’s giving people a fair chance at employment. It’s giving people the opportunity to really be able to take care of themselves and their families in a way that’s healthy and contributes to society. So yeah, it’s a little bit different from the justice reform. It’s really thinking about after people go through that cycle and the system, how they have a chance at really bettering their lives and bettering the lives of their families after they’ve been system-impacted.

JENNIFER BROWN:  System-impacted, that’s a new word for me. I like that. I’m going to utilize that. I shared with you that I have the opportunity to go to Indiana soon to be part of a women’s panel for, at a women’s correction facility talking about our businesses. Televerde is the name of the company that actually enables that employment opportunity both while they’re incarcerated, and then when these women come out. Televerde also employs a lot of these women as they come out and they end up being incredible. I mean, their stories are so incredible about how these women flourish in these roles and thrive and are highly loyal. I was just really moved to learn that, and I can’t wait to go and meet them and be re-inspired about what’s possible.

What you said just now, I really took note of it, which is 90% of convictions are crimes of necessity, food, basic needs, addiction. I know you just did a prison visit yourself in Colorado and you shared a really heartbreaking conversation you had with one of the younger inmates. I wondered if you would share that?

MARGIE LEE: I have a hard time talking about it without tearing up, so I will. So, one of the things that we do, so we’re a pretty mission forward company. It’s a lot of the reason why people come to Checkrs. They really are completely bought into the mission and really want to make a difference. And so, we partner with a group called Defy Ventures. They work with companies, and they take them in to visit prisoners who are going through their program for these folks that are currently incarcerated to help them build skills, entrepreneurial skills, so when they come out of prison that they might be able to either find work or build their own businesses.

About a month ago, gosh, it’s been about a month ago, we went on a prison visit in a level five correctional institution in Colorado. We went through this classroom experience with about 30 men that are incarcerated. Part of it was sitting down and talking about what their childhood traumas were and how it’s shaped their relationships and their decisions in their life as adults.

This one gentleman shared with me that as a kid his parents were both addicted and one of his biggest moments in his life was a friend of his taught him how to steal. This is where I get… He said that him learning how to steal was just this momentous moment because he didn’t have to be hungry anymore. He could feed his brother. Things that I’ve really never had to worry about as a kid was how was I going to feed myself? And then to have this sense of need to take care of a sibling because you were both hungry is just… It’s hard to fathom.

This gentleman shared with me that he made a terrible mistake when he was 16-years-old and he has been incarcerated as an adult, incarcerated in the adult system since then, and he’s in his 30s now. When we were talking about how these childhood experiences have shaped his adult relationships he says, “I really haven’t had any adult relationships because I’ve always been incarcerated since I was a teenager.” I mean, talk about crimes of necessity. Feeding yourself and your sibling as a kid is, it just really re-shaped how you think about it. Those are choices that most Americans don’t have to worry about.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. The very definition of privilege to not worry about where your next meal is going to come from. Well thank you for sharing that. I’m going to share about my visit to the correctional facility. I’m sure I will be completely overwhelmed and I’m sure it will be life changing, and just to imagine these women entering the workforce, thriving, being incredibly loyal and eager and hungry for knowledge, which is going to be really cool to be there to speak about my experience of building a business and what does professionalism mean to me, and where I didn’t think I could keep going, and to give some kind of insight. Given my privilege, I’m not even sure what insight I can give, but I’m really looking forward to answering any question that I can that they have because I was just so inspired by the whole endeavor.

I know you shared with me that 5% of your workforce, I think, are fair chance hires at Checkr. So, you’re literally living this and you’re seeing this transition that we’re talking about. I wondered, can you tell me a little bit about your fair chance hires? How do they like to share their story? How do you think about the importance of their presence in your workforce, obviously? Tell us a little bit about them, how they move through the organizational life that they’ve entered and I’m sure are thriving in.

MARGIE LEE: So, it’s interesting. The founders of Checkr really bought into diversity and belonging. We’re really committed, I should say, very early on. So, we’re only five years old. We’re about 450 employees and headquartered here in San Francisco.

Several years ago, Checkr put in a diversity and belonging initiative. We’re actually pretty diverse. I should say, 41% of our employee population is not male, so we’re pretty gender diverse. We are doing really well in our diversity targets for underrepresented groups. These are really the outputs of this deep commitment that the leadership team has at Checkr for diversity. It’s also good to note that we have more women on our executive team than we do men, which is unusual and exciting.

JENNIFER BROWN: Congratulations, yeah.

MARGIE LEE: And so, as part of that diversity and belonging initiative is our commitment to fair chance hiring. So, we specifically, every quarter, have a target that 5% of our hires are fair chance talent. We’re actually exceeding that. Right now, we’re about 5.9%. We’d even like to see that a little bit higher. But, we partner very closely with community organizations that support fair chance, building folks who were system-impacted, formerly incarcerated, building those skill sets and getting them job ready. We partner very closely, and we’re even starting to now give them like… What we learned was, it’s a challenge for a lot of these non-profit organizations because they don’t have Macs. Well we do all of our business here on Macs, so we give them Mac computers. We’re trying to help them fill that skill deficit with these folks and get them ready for jobs. We have a very tight partnership with them. We consistently hire from them. It’s a deep commitment that we make on our end to build those skills and partner with those organizations. But yes, 5.9% of our hires are fair chance talent.

We just completed our engagement survey, our company-wide engagement survey. Our fair chance talent has told us they’re engagement scores are higher than the rest of the companies. They’re incredibly loyal. They really enjoy and appreciate pretty much a lot of the aspects that I think sometimes we take advantage of, or not necessarily take advantage of, let’s strike that, that we take for granted. They are just incredibly loyal. So, when we ask questions like, do you see yourself working at Checkr in two years? That fair chance talent group answered 100%, yes, strongly yes, 100%. So, what we saw is just this overwhelming commitment and deep engagement.

But the areas that we suspected were going to be low and they certainly were low were things like, do you feel comfortable bringing your whole self to work? They scored that considerably lower than the rest of our employee population. And then when some of the questions about, do you feel comfortable sharing your own story, at Checkr, they also scored lower than the rest of Checkr. So for us, it was like we felt like we weren’t really doing a lot to give them a true sense of belonging and that just reinforced that, yeah indeed, we’re not. So, while we’ve given them a great place to work and they’re really connected and committed, they’re not necessarily comfortable talking about what their story was, or what their background is.

And so, that means we have a lot of work to do there. We’re not exactly sure how we’re going to tackle it. We need to do a lot more digging into it and meeting with them and thinking about how we give them a real sense of belonging and psychological safety in terms of just being who they are. But, they given us some feedback, and we started to use it, so simple things like not referring to them as fair chance hires, but referring to them as fair chance talent. It’s a subtle difference, but I think that the message is, is a fair chance hire sounds like, yeah, we gave you a hand up, or yes, you’re this tokenized expression of our goodwill efforts. Whereas, fair chance talent is, do you know what, we recognize that you are the right person for this job. We looked at your skills, and we hired you for your skills and your strengths and not necessarily your weaknesses.

We’ve done a lot of work in terms of how we even write our job descriptions. That we recognize transferable skill sets in that we hire for strengths and not for weaknesses. And so, I think making some of those subtle changes of how we talk about it and how we express ourselves is one step. There is a lot more work that we need to do, and we’re actually excited to start to figure it out. We don’t know we have the right answers, but we’re going to really try.

JENNIFER BROWN: Hey, you’re on the cutting edge. We know that. So, what would you advise for those of us, you’ve got probably a lot of HR folks in The Will To Change audience, a lot of people in the talent and diversity space. And if this has really peaked their interest and curiosity about their own companies practices relating to this, what would recommend is the best way to be a helpful activator, if you will, to broach this, to investigate what the policies are at your employer?

And certainly, you want everyone to be working with Checkr. That goes without saying. But, every company needs to do background checks of all sizes, so we know that. But, failing that, how can we move this conversation along if we don’t actually work in the recruiting arm of the company, but we want to make sure that we are positioning ourselves as allies for having this conversation and making sure that we’re investigating this very important aspect?

MARGIE LEE: If I can talk about two things here, Jennifer: So I think the first one is, is the way that we really talk about being a fair chance employer fits a practical problem. As you mentioned earlier, America is fully employed. We have a 3.6% unemployment rate. It’s hard to find qualified people to do work. Again, going back to one out of three Americans has a criminal conviction. That’s a lot of people that are excluded from the consideration. So, being a fair chance employer from the sense of wanting to do right and give people a fair shot at gainful employment is one thing. But, solving a practical problem and that is, it’s hard to find skilled talent out there is another way of approaching it. And just thinking about having an unbiased fair consideration process to try tap into this underutilized talent pool is just solving a practical business problem.

There is steps that you can take without going down that full chartered course that Checkr has that you can really start to build a fairer future for folks and solve a business need. It’s simple things like as you’re going through your background checking thinking proactively about what really doesn’t apply, what types of criminal convictions that you really don’t care about given the nature of the work that you’re doing at your company, and just being open to going through individualized assessments. So, that basically is doing the Nature-Time-Nature test that we talked about earlier, and taking each candidate who may have this conviction history and looking at that for the merits of whatever it was, having a conversation with them, looking at any evidence of rehabilitation and what they’ve done to work on whatever problem led them down that path, I think is just a great step. And that solves a very practical business problem of trying to find talent.

The other approach is, if you really want to make this a focus of just being a fair employer and being unbiased, and I’ll add that as you mentioned earlier, Jennifer, this is a natural extension of a diversity and inclusion strategy because what we have found at Checkr is that our fair chance talent are more diverse, not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but also in terms of age. We’ve also found, as I’ve mentioned before, that they’re incredibly engaged. They’re more likely to be promoted, and they have a higher retention rate. So from a business standpoint, it really makes sense.

Some of the things that we’ve done because it’s not only, again, something we just think is right, it’s something that we’re really committed to doing, is we’ve built a lot of practices internally for how we look at the results of background checks to remove the bias. So, we use our PAM filter, which I talked about, the Positive Adjudication Matrix. And when we find that there might be some type of conviction history that we need to consider, we have a panel review those cases. So, it’s not one person just making a judgment call and applying their own life experiences to determine if that person is appropriate to work there. It’s a panel discussion, so we neutralize our own individual biases.

We sit down and we review the case as a collective group, and we look at the evidence together, and we make a decision. It’s happened somewhat organically, but as we start to have these discussions, we all come around the table and we literally say well, I’m going to acknowledge my bias in this situation is X. The other person will say, I’m going to acknowledge my bias is Y. It wasn’t something we ever planned on doing. It just happened organically. But what it’s done is it allowed us to check each other and say, well, I think your bias is actually is skewing your perception on that particular situation. But, that is a full commitment.

The commitment is that we want to make the process as fair as possible. So, there is really two ways of approaching it. Like I mentioned before to just put that one in a bow and it’s solving the practical challenge of trying to find qualified and skilled talent in an economy where there is really low employment, so that’s one problem you’re solving. This is in a natural extension of a diversity and inclusion strategy. We didn’t necessarily look at that when we decided to be a fair chance employer is an extension of our diversity and belonging strategy, but the outcome has been that, wow, there is some really exciting stuff and we’re really making a more diverse workforce through our fair chance program, which we didn’t expect to see. So, we’re pretty excited about it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. Well, so many win, win, win, wins like multiple problems solved. Well, I found this so interesting. We talk a lot about the iceberg, right, the ice that we keep most of who we are buried underneath the waterline. We don’t share it at work. And a lot of our discussion is about how do we then lower our waterline, so that we can bring more of our authentic selves to the workplace, so that we can normalize some of the things that have been traditionally stigmatized in the workplace, right? It takes the first person to stand up and own who they are.


JENNIFER BROWN: And then others emerge from the closet, so to speak. Thank you for raising it to my awareness because when we talk about diversity dimensions the list just goes on and on of diverse dimensions. I mean, there are so many and yet, this one is not spoken of very often and it is deeply buried. In fact, I would argue it would be really interesting to someday if people trusted the process enough to disclose that they have a criminal background, it would be very similar to be able to count people who identify as LGBTQ in your organization, but who are hiding and who don’t check a box. They don’t want to because they don’t want to be disclosing that. And so, I think it’s part of this larger striving towards more open workplaces where all of us has a place.

I would argue it’s even perhaps additive. Like, you’ve given a lot of interesting statistics about how these employees then do when given these challenges and working in the work world. And so, I think that it’s true also for closeted LGBTQ people, or people with a disability that they don’t disclose. It takes so much energy to not disclose that and it takes so much energy to manage the feelings of stigma that you carry around every day. And so, I think what you’re going after is essentially a diversity, equity and inclusion goal, which is part of all of these things that we don’t bring, and how could we build a workplace where we could bring those some day and thrive?

So, thank you so much, Margie, and thank you for sharing about Checkr. Is there any place you’d point folks when they want to do some more reading on this topic, any favorite resources that you consult whether it’s white papers, or think tanks on this topic? Where do you go to keep your own learning going and where would you direct Will to Change folks, if they want to learn more?

MARGIE LEE: I’ll acknowledge that, as you mentioned before, this is kind of like this… It’s not something people talk about a lot.


MARGIE LEE: So, there is not a lot of resources. And then you mentioned earlier that when we chatted, that we consider ourselves a bit of a Petrie dish is there is not a lot for us to draw on. We found a lot of inspiration with a company by the name of Dave’s Killer Bread. Dave has a really great diversity story himself and he build this business, but he was formerly incarcerated. I think it’s something like 60% of his workforce are formerly incarcerated. So, we’ve learned a lot from Dave and his company that he’s built.

We also learned a lot from our community partners. So, we work with Defy Ventures, so Defy in Northern California as well as Colorado are wonderful partners and really committed to this and have lots of learnings. We also have made hires from and worked closely with an organization in Northern California called The Last Mile. They are really tapping into teaching coding skills and engineering skills to incarcerated folks in Northern California. So, we leverage our community partners to really help us figure out how to do this and we learn from them and they learn from us and we’re very open.

In addition to that, if anyone is interested in becoming a fair assessor than I would encourage you take the Fair Assessment Certification that you can find on our site, which is Checkr. In addition to that, we have a site that really focuses on our mission and it’s called Better Future, or Bounce Back. We have two sites, but I would definitely recommend Bounce Back. And we have a lot of our links to our partners there, so you can tap into them.

And we’re still doing a lot of discovery ourselves, so if you could check our blog, you’ll see updates. We’re launching an E-book on our diversity and belonging strategies. We’re trying to be very transparent with where we are and what we want to do, and fair chance is part of that. And then, we’re going to launch a book on our, an E-book, our mission specifically talking about our fair chance practices in the January timeframe. So, we’re trying to talk about it as much as possible.

And for all of my HR friends that hang out with me are like, oh gosh, here she goes again.


MARGIE LEE: Because I’m so passionate about it.

JENNIFER BROWN: No, it’s good. We need to hear it.

MARGIE LEE: Thank you, Jennifer. But yes, I would hope folks go and look at some of that material, and if they’re really interested then start to have conversation from, with companies that are doing it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Thank you so much for the very specific follow-up list for us. In social media, are you easy to find in Twitter and Instagram? Do you share reports and things like that on there?

MARGIE LEE: LinkedIn, I do.


MARGIE LEE: I pretty much am Linked in. Any time that we produce anything related to fair chance, I put it on my LinkedIn, so feel free to connect with me, and always happy to talk about what we’re doing at Checkr, so feel free to ask. We like to share our successes as well as our lessons learned, so we’re pretty open about it.

JENNIFER BROWN:  Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for having the mission that you do and for being a trailblazer for our own understanding of how to build more inclusive workplaces. Margie, thank you so much for coming on The Will to Change.

MARGIE LEE: Thanks, Jennifer.