New York Business Journal: This New York bakery wants to teach its ‘open hiring’ practices to other companies

July 6, 2018 Posted under Open Hiring

For more than 30 years, Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York has been baking sweet treats to sell around the country.

While their brownies fill the tubs of Ben and Jerry’s, the company’s motto goes much deeper: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.”

Greyston Bakery practices open hiring, or employing individuals regardless of education, work history or social barriers — namely language skills, previous incarceration or homelessness. Greyston recently launched its Center for Open Hiring to inspire other business leaders.

Here is my interview with Mike Brady, the president and CEO of Greyston.

Talk about the launch of the new Center for Open Hiring. What are its goals?

The goals are really aligned with our broader mission, which is to create thriving communities through the practice and promotion of open hiring. We created that mission three years ago to hopefully inspire other organizations to be more progressive with their hiring models. We’re going to do that through the Center for Open Hiring at Greyston.

Open hiring has been around for 36 years. We’re well versed in how to do it, but teaching others is our new endeavor.

What are some tangible results that Greyston has seen with its open hiring model?

From a business standpoint, we’ve doubled revenues in the past four years and have been able to run a successful, world-class business for the last 30. We do it by hiring some of the most difficult to employ people in our community and use that as a differentiator. In many ways, we think it’s one of the most disruptive business practices.

From a social aspect, it gives people an opportunity to change their lives that might otherwise not work — the opportunity to experience the dignity of work is really a benefit that many of us take for granted. Not everyone in our country is able to find work or contribute to the economy.

What will it take for other companies to adopt similar structures of hiring?

There are already a lot of companies being more progressive in the way they’re hiring. Initially when we started this strategy, it was around bringing light to social justice issues — folks that were formerly incarcerated, dealt with homelessness, or any number of struggles to get into the workforce were never finding employment.

Now with unemployment hovering around 4 percent, business leaders are realizing they must be more progressive to access talent pools. We’re getting businesses now that might not be thinking about social justice, but are interested in finding ways to access new talent.

What do you want business leaders to understand about open hiring?

The thing I always try to highlight is the urgency that’s in the marketplace to be much more progressive, and for business leaders to appreciate that the income inequality gap is just getting larger. People in our communities are not given the chance to work, so we want to inspire an organization to find even one job within a company. They don’t have to do it like us where it’s our entire workforce, but even one or two jobs can really change a community.

What role have you played in the development and launch of the center?

My understanding to see that this is a business practice that can expand far beyond Yonkers has been essential. Roughly $758 million a year is spent on background checks. Much of that is wasted in that you’re not identifying whether someone is a good employee, you’re just identifying whether or not they went to prison. Being able to be more deliberate about the way you spend your money is an argument I am consistently able to make. There’s a different way to do things.

Also the inbound interest from Greyston has been around for decades. In my initial role running the bakery, I was happy to talk to people about our model, but we didn’t really have any tools to help anyone understand how to implement it. That was frustrating to me — knowing companies wanted to give jobs to people that had real barriers. Through that frustration we developed a strategy for the center.

So, what does the interview and hiring process look like for bakery employees?

That’s really easy—there is no interview. The process is simple: you walk through the bakery, you put your name on a list and give us your phone number and email, and when we have a job available we call you up and say we’re ready for you to work.

What plans do you have in place for the near future as it relates to the Center for Open Hiring?

We hope to inspire thousands of business leaders to adopt our model and potentially get millions of people jobs that otherwise wouldn’t be able to work. We want to spread the word that the center is open and also reach out to the hundreds of CEOs that have already expressed interest about inclusivity in the workforce, and tell them that now they have an avenue for doing it.

There’s a lot of tailwind to businesses to be more progressive and participate in the inclusive economy, and we just want to be a part of that conversation and know that the doors are open to help people.

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