You can’t call yourself a Ben & Jerry’s fan unless you’ve spent the night alone with a pint of Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. While it’s easy to assume every ingredient in that carton of heaven comes from a very nice smelling factory somewhere in Vermont, Unilever (the parent company of B&J’s) actually gets their brownies from Greyston Bakery — a nonprofit social justice enterprise that works to create job opportunities in Southwest Yonkers, New York. Since 1987, Greyston has supplied literally millions of pounds of brownies to Ben & Jerry’s, relying on Open Hiring to give back to the community, Greyston prides itself on bridging the gap between values and action.
Founded during the 1980s housing crisis, Greyston opened its doors to those who’ve historically faced rejection — those without homes, people with prior justice system involvement, and those with a checkered educational background. Now, almost 40 years later, the bakery has fulfilled a promise based on the line of thinking: “We don’t hire people to bake brownies, we bake brownies to hire people.”
So, how exactly does Open Hiring work and what are some of the benefits? We sat down with Dr. Penny Jennings, VP of Strategic Programs at Greyston to learn why Open Hiring — and the idea of radical acceptance — works as well as the many results it produces.
“You don’t need to have a resume. You don’t need to have experience, you don’t need to provide a reference check,” starts Dr. Jennings, “This opens the door for individuals with no job experience, people who were formerly incarcerated, young, single parents who can’t find anyone to take care of their children during the day.”
Greyston Bakery is open 24 hours per day, giving ample time to work with — and around — peoples’ schedules to provide them with the hours they need. Day one is orientation, day two they start an internship that can last anywhere up to six months, when they reach the end of that internship a Greyston employee officially becomes a full line-one baker.
“From day one, they’re paid,” continues Dr. Jennings, “they’re eventually put into a union where they can be promoted from within or pursue another position. Let’s say they want to enter the I.T. space — we offer training at our employment opportunity center. So they, along with the community, can register for those programs and receive industry-recognized certification.” Greyston also works with other companies adopting the Open Hiring model by providing support, mentorship, and guidance to these companies.
How can it be that such a seemingly volatile process can produce such stellar results? Greyston produces 40,000 pounds of baked goods daily for companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Whole Foods Market. Beyond creating value in an organization based in equity, respect, comradery and growth, Open Hiring saves companies money by investing to bring people in as opposed to spending money to screen them out.
“It’s really growing,” adds Dr. Jennings, “Right now is the opportune time for companies to be involved — particularly those who care about having a social impact. Research shows individuals given opportunities reduces the recidivism rate for incarceration and increases the employer’s ability to retain employees, and it’s a reduced cost.” Did you know organizations in the U.S. spend on average around $4,000 looking for the “right” candidate with applicants costing up to $400 each.
Dr. Jennings keeps coming back to the idea of loyalty and being grateful. She says there’s always the possibility of a bad apple, but the research says otherwise. With some companies taking the public’s demand to justice to heart, it’s becoming more likely we’ll start seeing progressively bigger brands embracing the Open Hiring model.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
Spread the word. Tell your friends, family, and colleagues about Greyston Bakery, buy some brownies for special occasions or holiday gifts. To learn more and hear our interview with Sara Marcus the Director of Greyston’s Open Hiring program, check out the Greyston Episode of Responsibly Different™.
Talk to someone in charge and get your business on board with Open Hiring and explore ways you can reduce barriers to employment in your place of work.
By Jeremy Glass, July 22, 2021