Stuart McCalla, Managing Partner at Evolution, recently spoke with DiversityQ about why formerly incarcerated individuals deserve a chance at a career in technology. This is what he had to say…
Evolution is a coaching, culture, and leadership development firm for tech start-ups and Fortune 500 companies globally. Data has shown that hiring formerly incarcerated individuals results in higher retention rates and reduced turnover. Evolution recently partnered with Next Chapter, a tech firm Slack initiative that aims to create a more equitable workplace for formerly incarcerated individuals.
What made you want to support formerly incarcerated individuals, and how did the partnership with Next Chapter come about?
In my 20s and 30s, I was going through a lot of personal growth and emotional discovery. One of the leaders in an organisation I was involved with had formerly been incarcerated. His leadership style – thoughtful, emotionally available, and genuinely a lovely human being – profoundly impacted me when I needed support the most.
Evolution had a working relationship with Slack, so I jumped at the opportunity when they asked if we could help support apprentices (formerly incarcerated individuals) transitioning from learning about coding and moving into organisations. I thought it an amazing entryway for our organisation to support Slack’s Next Chapter initiative.
What support do you provide?
We pair coaches with apprentices, treating them as we would any other high potential leader within a tech organisation. We do a psychometric assessment to find out their ways of thinking and belief systems – not their history – and then we work with that apprentice whilst they decide what they want to do, not what the company wants them to accomplish within the system. We regard the apprentices as complete, intelligent human beings who know what they want but just need guidance to get there.
Why do you think hiring formerly incarcerated individuals leads to higher retention rates and reduced turnover?
Most of the formerly incarcerated individuals I have come across have clearly understood and paid their debt to society and now want to drastically change their lives. Prison is a traumatic event, regardless of what you did to get there, and is not usually a rehabilitative process. Most apprentices are thrilled to use their minds and spirits to develop themselves and appreciate the opportunities.
Formerly incarcerated individuals have had to work hard to overcome incredible odds and experiences to get this opportunity – It’s not easily handed to them. Getting hired and paid well by a tech company drastically changes their life and their family’s trajectory.
How do you encourage organisations to overcome their bias when hiring people who have been incarcerated?
Apprentices are not of any one gender or ethnicity. They run the gamut of human experiences. I would encourage organisations to start with a small pilot programme to get to know one or two apprentices.
Every company we have placed apprentices with has said, ‘these folks are amazing’ due to their drive and ambition to make their mark in the world. We’ve seen apprentices given job offers and promotions within a couple of months because of the quality of their work. So, I would say give it a shot, and I bet you’ll be amazed and surprised at the quality of people that come into your organisation.
What advice would you give to a formerly incarcerated individual who has had a bad experience with employers in the past?
In the Bay Area in California, it’s a little bit easier because you can’t ask about somebody’s record. I think other states are adopting that as well. But, for either incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals, don’t give up; keep trying, as there are a few programmes that can get you started. Pick one, apply yourself and know that you can reach out to various people who will be happy and excited to help you. People want you to succeed.
How important is mentorship to somebody who’s been incarcerated?
Mentorship means just giving people guidance, an opportunity. One of the most powerful things is not telling people what they have to do but giving them a range of choices. It helps people, especially the formerly incarcerated, know that there’s somebody on their side, a mentor who thinks about them. Even in my life, having mentors has given me a huge opportunity, leg up, introductions and places to go. So, when we work with apprentices in the Next Chapter programme, mentoring them, more than anything else, it tells them, ‘there’s somebody else who thinks I’m worthy’.
So, is partnering with the Next Chapter mutually beneficial for employers, coaches, and apprentices?
From employers’ point of view, there’s a shortage of tech-savvy individuals. It makes sense to work with Next Chapter, which prepares people to show up in an organisation with the skills they need to succeed. Evolution’s coaches have found working with formerly incarcerated folks extremely powerful. Evolution ensures our coaches honour and respects the apprentices they work with. We regularly have more coaches raise their hands, wanting to donate their time and coaching skills because they see its benefit. This, in turn, attracts more formerly incarcerated individuals to the programme.
What does this partnership indicate about how hiring practices should evolve to meet modern society’s needs?
Hiring practices have usually been around education and looking or being a certain way. But society is seeing, especially when working with formerly incarcerated folks, that there’s a vast range of human experience and people who can come in and change organisations for the better. Let’s give a chance to those folks, especially from non-traditional backgrounds, who are highly motivated. It’s important for organisations to recognise this vast untapped pool of hard-working and driven people who see it as their shot and tend to be more loyal.
Finally, what are you most proud of in the work that you’re doing?
At Evolution, we believe that business can be a force for good – when others are cynical about that. We firmly believe that if society is going to thrive, you need political, ideological, and business support for people to do the right thing for humanity and the planet. Businesses have almost become cancerous on society – driving growth for growth’s sake. Evolution tends not to do that.