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Ep 429: Open Hiring

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Some of my favourite conversations in the last six months have been around inclusive hiring. Many people are doing brilliant work to support people from marginalised groups into the workforce, and I’ve learnt a lot from talking to employers like Timpson and organisations like The Bridge of Hope.

In this episode, we’re going to explore what happens when an employer removes all screening, all background checks and all education and experience requirements from their hiring to be more inclusive. What are the advantages, the challenges, and the results?

My guest this week is Nykeba King, Global Head of Inclusion and Belonging at The Body Shop. A few years ago, The Body Shop created an Open Hiring program to ensure they were being as inclusive as possible. It’s a strategy that has produced some amazing results, and it is now giving them a unique competitive advantage in today’s challenging talent markets.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Recruiting challenges at The Body Shop

• What is Open Hiring, and how does it work?

• No background checks, no screening, no education requirements

• How Open Hiring is helping The Body Shop in the current talent markets

• Making recruiting more purposeful with “Targeted Recruitment.”

• Replacing scrutiny with trust

• Removing barriers and removing bias

• Implementation challenges

• The danger of second-guessing someone’s ability to do a job

• Wrap-around support to build an inclusive workplace

• Time to hire, performance and retention

• What’s next for Open Hiring

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Interview transcript:

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Matt Alder (Intro) (46s):
Hi there, this is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 429 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. Some of my favorite conversations in the last six months have been around inclusive hiring. Many people are doing brilliant work to support people from marginalized groups into the workforce, and I’ve learnt a lot from talking to employers like Timpson and organizations like The Bridge of Hope. In this episode, we’re going to explore what happens when an employer removes all screening, all background checks, and all education and experience requirements from their hiring to be more inclusive.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 32s):
What are the advantages, the challenges, and the results? My guest this week is Nykeba King, Global Head of Inclusion at The Body Shop. A few years ago, The Body Shop created an Open Hiring program to ensure they were being as inclusive as possible. It’s a strategy that has produced some amazing results, and it is now giving them a unique competitive advantage in today’s challenging talent markets.

Matt Alder (2m 3s):
Hi Nykeba, and welcome to the podcast.

Nykeba King (2m 6s):
Hi, thank you so much for having me on.

Matt Alder (2m 10s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please, could you just introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Nykeba King (2m 18s):
Yes, absolutely. So, I am Nykeba King. And I work for The Body Shop where I’m the Head of Global Inclusion and Belonging. So, I’ve been around The Body Shop for a while. I’ve been at The Body Shop for around nine years and done a variety things. So, worked in retail for several years as a area and district sales and talent manager before moving into this role in Inclusion And Belonging.

Matt Alder (2m 42s):
Fantastic stuff. So, tell us a little bit more about The Body Shop at the moment. And the challenges that particularly the recruiting challenges that you’re facing?

Nykeba King (2m 52s):
Yes, absolutely. So, Body Shop, we’ve been around since 1976. And we’ve always been really a brand that existed to fight for a fairer more beautiful world through our activism, and our hard-working sustainable inclusive products. So, we were founded by Anita Roddick, and our first store and Anita opened in Brighton England, and took this really radical approach to beauty. That was really different from others in the beauty industry. So, we have simple products that are ethically sourced, have natural ingredient ingredients. And at the time in really no-nonsense packaging, and you could refill them quite easily. And the products, the beauty rituals were made for everybody, so people really feel good in your skin, and really promoted healthy self-esteem.

Nykeba King (3m 40s):
So, since that time, we’ve continued. So, we’ve pioneered social environmental change, we are a certified B Corp, the largest ever B Corp to be founded by a woman. And I think, you know, as far as recruiting challenges that we face. So, in the current market, we are facing the same challenges as a lot of other companies. So, talent retention, probably being the number one thing particularly in retail, in this sort of a great resignation age, and Open Hiring. So, we didn’t actually implement Open Hiring as a response to the current challenges, this part of our recruiting model so Open Hiring, which eliminates common barriers to employment has been around for a few years since 2018.

Nykeba King (4m 23s):
And we found that the impact of the program allows us to successfully hire in a competitive market, sort of regardless. It addresses almost any recruiting challenge that you could face because it really drastically wide into the band of applicants.

Matt Alder (4m 38s):
So, I want to talk about Open Hiring in a lot of detail. But just to clarify to Open Hiring was there for a while, but it’s something that you ramped up in the last sort of two years with the recruitment and retention issues that you’ve had?

Nykeba King (4m 52s):
Yeah, so Open Hiring, as I mentioned, we put the pilot program in place in our distribution center prior to the pandemic in 2019. While it wasn’t a reaction COVID are what’s going on in the job market right now, it created this readymade sort of pool of applicants that are always there ready and available to be hired. So, it hasn’t, the current challenges haven’t directly impacted how we run Open Hiring. But during this time, we’ve developed the program over the course of the past two years. So, we’re doing a few things a little bit differently than we were initially. And one of them is we’ve really been more intentional and implemented a more purposeful form of recruitment that works alongside Open Hiring, and we call it targeted recruitment.

Nykeba King (5m 38s):
So basically, we partner with local nonprofits, and charities to recruit candidates who’ve had difficulty gaining employment in the past. So, the people that are the most marginalized, and maybe the furthest away from the job market. And in the US, you know, we partnered with Chrysalis. As one example, Chrysalis is in California, and they focused on aiding low-income people into employment. We partnered with Wake LRC, which they assist people transitioning back to society after incarceration, a city relief and project renewal both support the homeless population. And those are a few of the charity and nonprofit partnerships that we have to really attract people who need the opportunity.

Nykeba King (6m 18s):
We also developed so when people are coming into employment with us, we developed a neat intake form, that alongside our partners, it allows us to provide wraparound support services to our new open hires. So, our human resources team personnel can get to know the employee during the onboarding process and identify any needs they may have, in order to be successful, such as housing or transportation, financial literacy, and then they’ll connect them to The Body Shops employee assistance program for support and or to our partners, our NGO and charity partners, who provide that wraparound support as well. And then the third thing that we’ve really done over the last couple of years is we’ve created and implemented new training.

Nykeba King (7m 1s):
So, this really robust training ecosystem around the program for employees at all levels, that we hope will facilitate even more inclusivity in our work environments, and really help employees’ level up their soft skills and capability so they can be successful in these roles.

Matt Alder (7m 16s):
Absolutely amazing stuff. Just to dig a little bit deeper. I mean, talk us through the concept of Open Hiring, what is it? How does it work exactly? And you know, what were the the original motivations behind implementing it?

Nykeba King (7m 32s):
Yes, for sure. So, it was a natural extension, really, for us to take our mission, our brand mission and around using business as a force for good and to implement that mission through our HR practices. So, we were specifically looking at and thinking about, you know, how do we hire? And how inclusive is our hiring? And how disruptive and sort of progressive can we be in thinking about how we hire to address recruiting challenges, and also just inclusivity? So, Open Hiring is our hiring practice for entry level retail, and also distribution center employees, and it promotes a systemic, really fair approach to attraction and recruitment, and then how we select candidates by eliminating common barriers to employment.

Nykeba King (8m 17s):
So, we’ve eliminated background track checks for these roles, drug screenings, education requirements, previous experience. We’ve taken all of those things that are sometimes barriers to people entering the workforce out. It’s a comprehensive system, it replaces scrutiny with trust. We really focus on people’s potential. So instead of traditional interview process, applicants are basically asked three simple questions. And the opportunity is offered to candidates in order of application. So, we say first to apply first to sort of get the opportunity. So, the questions, the three questions. If you’re in the distribution center, we asked, you know, are you legally authorized to work in the US? Can you lift up to 50 pounds?

Nykeba King (8m 57s):
And can you work up to eight hours a shift? And those questions are really the same in any market where Open Hiring exists. Of course, legally authorized to work in that local market. For retail employees, we ask something really similar. So, are you legally authorized to work in the US? Can you lift up to 25 pounds? Can you work up to eight hours a shift? And then we also asked them why they want to work with customers, which isn’t a disqualifier. But we asked and sort of start the conversation that it’s a customer facing opportunity. We instituted this way of working in this policy, because we really do believe in that businesses can be a force for good. And for us, we’ve always had this belief around, you know, education and also access to employment being the greatest equalizers by removing barriers for people.

Nykeba King (9m 45s):
And this program clearly removes barriers and bias in recruitment, and provide chances for people who need them the most.

Matt Alder (9m 50s):
You mentioned there that it was a an obvious move, because it’s so in tune with the DNA of the organization.

Nykeba King (9m 58s):
Yes.

Matt Alder (9m 59s):
Were there challenges when you introduced it? What was it like to sort of take that leap forward and introduce Open Hiring?

Nykeba King (10m 10s):
Yes, yes. So, there were absolutely challenges. And I think the biggest challenge with Open Hiring is that, and this is natural. So naturally, people ask questions. And I think, you know, just based on experiences and with how they’ve hired and thought about hiring in the past, sometimes people second guess an applicant’s ability to do the job, because they are an open hire. We’ve removed sort of the screening, right? So, they question that, and you pick up on that level of doubt and suspicion, and our job really is to help people with that, and to help them check their biases, and to help grow their understanding around the program. So, last year, just in response to some of the things that can sometimes be challenges in the way that people think about this when they first hear it, and they’re going through sort of that change curve, from a data perspective.

Nykeba King (10m 57s):
So last year, we converted 30% of our open hires to permanent positions. And that’s an example of how many people come through the program that we retain, because prior to Open Hiring, that stat was 19%. So, it’s really grown, the number of people that convert into permanent roles. And we also we study the program. So in a survey conducted with our store managers in North America, you know, the store managers told us that 89% of them said, “I would rehire my open hire.” Which combats that doubt that sometimes people have around. You know, can people do the job if they’re open hire as well? I think other things. So, the criminal history, we do hire people that have been previously incarcerated, and in particular, in our distribution center.

Nykeba King (11m 40s):
Now that criminal history of our intake where it’s some people too. And I think people thought, you know, where there’ll be more stealing? Where there’ll be more fighting? Where there’ll be more sort of performance or productivity issues? But in fact, we haven’t seen an uptick in those incidences. And instead, we have this workforce who’s found focus and really meaningful work, and they’re very loyal to the brand. So, again, we believe businesses are a force for good. And that means, you know, we think you should get give everyone an opportunity to work regardless of their background and previous experience. So, second chances, and also first chances, because for some people, you know, they haven’t even had that first chance to sort of get in and to work. So, our biggest lesson, I think, is that it’s simple works.

Nykeba King (12m 21s):
We’re not saying that, you know, The Body Shop is the job. With The Body Shop is necessarily the end of someone’s journey, but it definitely can have a positive impact on people’s lives and their communities, and help them as they’re, you know, transitioning into work with us, and also beyond the time that they’ve spent in our organization.

Matt Alder (12m 41s):
Just to dig a little bit deeper into the process itself. Does technology play a role? Does that help facilitate this at all?

Nykeba King (12m 49s):
I think I would say technology doesn’t play a major role. The program, we built this program really, really simply right. It’s really simple on purpose, because we’re intentionally trying to remove barriers, including technological barriers, to ensure that applying is accessible as possible, for as many people as possible. So, in our stores, we do offer applicants. If they come in to store to apply, we offer them access to our store laptops. We also have QR codes on our store signage with a direct link to application forms. Because, you know, we found that for the younger candidates and younger generation who are applying often QR codes are preferred method. They can just scan them and use their phone to apply.

Nykeba King (13m 29s):
So, in that way, technology has been beneficial. But overall, you know, we really try to make access as easy and barrier free as possible. In fact, in our distribution center, we host on the on the spot job fairs, in towns near our facility in North Carolina, and applicants can fill out the forms manually. So, technology, I would say doesn’t play a major role for us.

Matt Alder (13m 57s):
You mentioned some of the external support that you’ve access to kind of really help, particularly people from sort of marginalized communities.

Nykeba King (14m 6s):
Yes.

Matt Alder (14m 7s):
Who’ve joined the organization to really make sure everyone’s included it. Tell us a little bit more about that. And how important is inclusion to the success of the whole initiative?

Nykeba King (14m 20s):
Yes, absolutely. So yeah, so actually it was this last year and 2021, in that version of the program, that we expanded the program in our distribution center. So, we expanded the program to include stores across North America, and also globally. So, we expanded into the UK and Australia. And as we were doing that we implemented this targeted recruitment method that I was mentioning to you. So, we partner directly with nonprofits. And the reason for doing that is because, you know, we really wanted to remove barriers to employment in general. But we also realized that there are many communities who are even more marginalized, have greater challenges into the workforce, greater barriers, and are either high levels of unemployment or underemployment.

Nykeba King (15m 6s):
So, we looked for nonprofits that serve and support those marginalized communities that could then help us to offer employment opportunities for those people. So, you know, I mentioned some of our partnerships. So, partnerships with local nonprofits. Because those nonprofits have relationships, with those candidates already that have difficulty gaining employment, then we could work through those nonprofits to access the community. So, the US partners include Chrysalis, which focuses on aiding low-income people. As I mentioned, wake LRC, which assists people transitioning back to society after incarceration, and then city relief, and project a renewal, which boasts support the homeless of population.

Nykeba King (15m 45s):
And then as I mentioned, when these team members come in, so the open hires come into our population, and they fill out that employee needs form with our partners that helps our partners and also us to identify the wraparound support services that they need. And then through human resources, clearly, we can work to provide that support. Because we provide the opportunity, we provide the job, however, people can often need additional things so that they have the stability to really be successful in that role.

Matt Alder (16m 17s):
You mentioned some of the results and successes that you’ve seen from the program in terms of, you know, converting people to permanent hires, and things like that. I mean, tell us more about the results and what’s happening. And also, what’s next? How are you going to develop hiring even further?

Nykeba King (16m 38s):
Of course, of course. So, we measure a variety of things. I mean, success metrics include retention rates, which remain positive feedback from managers, feedback from the open hires themselves, employee performance, and honestly, just the impact that the program is having on individuals lives. So, since we permanently implemented Open Hiring, we’ve seen an overall improvement in both retention and productivity. And, you know, expedite hiring, as well as expands the talent pool. So, it makes it easier to hire and faster to feel open roles. I mean, our time to fill an open roll is sitting at under two weeks, which is better.

Nykeba King (17m 18s):
It’s much improved from what it was previously. During our pilot program in the DC, our turnover reduced. It reduced, actually, in November of that year by 53%, and then in December by 69%. That was in 2019, and 2020. And we were able to completely fill available positions, in those roles outside of COVID. So, since 2020, we’ve been able to feel vacant roles at a 100% rate through Open Hiring. So, as I mentioned, we always sort of have available applicants to fill our roles. And it sped up that hiring process, as I mentioned. So before Open Hiring, it took an average of five days to fill a vacancy in our distribution center.

Nykeba King (17m 58s):
Now there’s always a candidate in place to start the next day. And for retail, it was an average of 17 days, and now it’s an average of 12. As far as performance related metrics. So, I mentioned earlier that sometimes for people, this can be an obstacle thinking through, what is the performance like? Is there an impact to performance when people are hired through Open Hiring? But actually, since the launch of the program, our rate of performance related terminations is about the same as it was for people that were hired through our routine screening process. So, in 2020, there was a total of six performance related terminations before Open Hiring began in November.

Nykeba King (18m 39s):
And following the implementation for those hires that came in in November, there were three performance related terminations. In 2021, there were five before Open Hiring, and then three after from sort of September to November in the period that the open hires were in roll. So overall, you know, we’ve seen improvement in key metrics, as well as you know, maintenance of our maintaining some of the metrics that we were already experiencing. So outside of the success from a business perspective, the one thing that I do want to take a moment to talk about is just the amazing stories and the experiences, not only from the candidates, but also from the store teams that have been working with the program. So, a story that I really love to talk about entail is we have a store manager that works in our sawgrass meals location, Sawgrass small location in Florida, and she shares a story all the time about a seasonal retail hire in her store.

Nykeba King (19m 34s):
So, we hired this gentleman, he walked into the store, he’s looking for a job, and we asked him the three questions that I’ve mentioned, and we hired him on the spot. He showed up for his first day, he was eager, he was excited, but he had this huge backpack. And the store manager actually advised him to leave the backpack at home the next time because our lockers storage is limited and it wasn’t large enough to accommodate the backpack. So, she’s, you know, just told him that he didn’t necessarily have to bring it and he turned around, and he asked if he could be candid with her. Now, she said, of course, and that’s when he shared with her that he was homeless, and actually all of his belongings were in that backpack. So, the store, I know. Store made the accommodations for him, and just found a way to make it work.

Nykeba King (20m 17s):
And he turned out to be an incredible team member and employee. Now, he no longer works with The Body Shop. He actually in that same mom moved on to another position, after that seasonal period ended and the store manager always says it was so hard to watch him go. Go home at night, and also as he passed on to his next opportunity. But he always assured us that he was okay. He was grateful for the opportunity. And since he’s left, he’s working for that other retailer in the mall, in a permanent position. So, he was able to get that job actually, because of his experience with The Body Shop. And he still comes by so he still comes by the store. He says hi all the time. And actually, he often will come by acts to buy the store team lunch. But that’s just one example.

Nykeba King (20m 57s):
I mean, we have so many of people who’ve been really impacted by the program.

Matt Alder (21m 1s):
Amazing. And what’s the future for the program look like? Is it something you’re going to kind of expand?

Nykeba King (21m 9s):
Oh, definitely. So, in 2021, I mentioned we expand it to additional markets. So, we are now Open Hiring in the UK, we’re Open Hiring in Australia. And we do, we’re looking at, there’s lots of interests, even internally, lots of markets that are sort of raising their hands, and asking if they can join us on the journey. So, we will expand the program a bit, potentially over the course of 2022 and additional markets. We plan to bring in over 1500 new employees through Open Hiring. So, we brought in 1400 people last year, we plan to bring in over 1500 people through Open Hiring and our four of our global markets combined. And at least 350 of those people that come in, we want to ensure that they’re coming from those charity partnerships that serve communities facing the most barriers to employment.

Nykeba King (21m 56s):
So those are sort of our numerical goals. But we’re also building capability. So, continuing to build training development programs, apprenticeship programs, social support, so that people are not only in an Open Hiring program, but they are supported to thrive in their development in their long term sort of career path. We’re also looking at ways in which we can expand the program beyond entry level, because currently it’s entry level seasonal positions. However, later in the UK, we’re looking to pilot several corporate and global positions as well.

Matt Alder (22m 29s):
So I know that there will be lots of TA leaders who would listening to this who are very keen to implement or introduced similar programs in their own organizations. What have you learned as an organization from doing this? And what would your advice be to TA leaders who are wanting to do something similar in their business?

Nykeba King (22m 50s):
Oh, my goodness, we’ve learned so many things. I think one thing that I’ve learned personally is to be curious, you know, to be curious, because there are such sort of creative and innovative ways that we can think about talent acquisition, and ways that really work. So, you know, a takeaway from Open Hiring specifically, that I’d like people to consider is that, you know, previous experience background checks, drug tests, while we’ve been doing those things for a long time, are not necessary to find good, hard working people and employees. When you really give people access to something that they’ve been struggling to find like employment, they will work hard to keep it. And many of our employees have said that just getting that second chance has given them a reason to be excited to go to work and improve their future outlook on life.

Nykeba King (23m 43s):
So definitely a big learning there about not needing some of those pre-employment barriers that we’ve traditionally thought were necessary. I think another thing, so not only have our open hires met our expectations, but they’ve contributed to overall improvement in productivity and retention. So, they’ve made us better. The third thing is when you open the candidate pool to those that have been excluded, you really do have a whole new talent group waiting for opportunity. So, you know, if you’re struggling to find talent, just considering people that, you know, talent that’s out there that is removed from the workforce, for whatever reason, and we haven’t traditionally been able to reach really great pools of talent just waiting for opportunities. The other biggest takeaway is, I think, knowing where to start.

Nykeba King (24m 25s):
So when, you know, I’ve been talking about our program, and the things that we’ve sort of built around the program to improve its capability and its efficacy. But when we first started, the first thing we did actually was we just eliminated barriers. So, we just took out the barriers in the interview process. So, we removed the education requirements for these roles, the background checks, etc. So, we started really slow, really base level, and roll the program out in phases. So, it doesn’t have to be a heavy lift initially. Even just taking that first step of eliminating the background checks for employees at all levels will reduce bias and promote equity and open up your talent pool. So, you can sort of take it in in phases. And I think the last thing is the importance of not, you know, we’ve really learned the importance of trust, open communication, and honesty.

Nykeba King (25m 14s):
So those values are really necessary to make Open Hiring work for everyone. And many employees who have gained access to employment through our program were previously turned to right away. So, it’s really important to approach those candidates with a level of understanding, and empathy, and focus on their potential rather than their history. And by doing that we’re creating the psychological safety for them to succeed and that is needed, you know, for candidates in general.

Matt Alder (25m 42s):
Nykeba, thank you very much for talking to me.

Nykeba King (25m 46s):
Absolutely. I’ve really enjoyed the time.

Matt Alder (25m 46s):
My thanks Nykeba. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruiting future.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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