Indeed SVP of Environmental, Social and Governance LaFawn Davis spoke with two trailblazing advocates for disadvantaged jobseekers at Indeed FutureWorks 2023.
Haben Girma is an award-winning author and human rights lawyer who specialises in disability justice. She is also the first DeafBlind person to graduate from Harvard Law School. (Girma communicated at FutureWorks with the help of a typist and a braille display.)
Vincent Bragg is the co-founder and CEO of ConCreates, a creative agency that crowdsources ideas from individuals with a criminal history. The idea for ConCreates came to Bragg while he was serving five years in federal prison.
'At Indeed, we believe talent is universal, but opportunity is not,' Davis said.
The following are edited highlights from the panel discussion.
LaFawn Davis: I’d love to know more about what inspired you to become vocal advocates for breaking down bias and barriers both in and out of the working world.
Bragg: I think my inspiration comes from just being in prison and recognising the talent inside. I’ve seen a guy… He would use toothpaste caps and hot water to melt the colours off of Skittles and turn it into paint. I thought, that’s freaking genius. You know what I’m saying? And it exists across the prison system.
Girma: I was very, very shy as a kid. That started to change when I got to college. The college had never had a braille reader before, and they jumped at the opportunity to get a braille embosser. They had software to convert print to braille – all my textbooks were in braille, all my exams were in braille.
There was just one problem: the cafeteria menu was only in print.
I went down to the manager, and I told her the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities. And if they don’t give me access to the menu, I would take legal action. I had no idea how to do that. I was 19 – I couldn’t afford an attorney. All I knew was I had to do something.
Davis [to Girma]: Over 1 billion people worldwide have a disability. It is also estimated that close to 90% of workers with non-apparent disabilities choose not to disclose them at work due to discrimination. What are the biggest barriers to employment for these jobseekers?
Girma: Ableism. A-B-L-E-I-S-M. It’s a series of beliefs and practices that treat disabled people as inferior to non-disabled people. It’s this idea that employees all have to think a certain way, speak and communicate a certain way, or move a certain way. And if you’re different from that norm, it’s like you’re not worthy, you’re not valued, you’re not talented. Ableism is one of the biggest barriers, and we need more working people to remove it from our workplaces.
Davis [to Bragg]: More than a third of American adults have some form of a criminal record. What are the biggest barriers to employment for these jobseekers?
Bragg: I feel like the biggest barrier is the way that we’re viewed: you went to prison, you’re a bad person. You went to prison, you’re not a smart person. You went to prison, you’re not capable. How do we begin to change how society views people with a criminal history? And also how people with a criminal history view themselves? The biggest barrier is the way society views that 'F' on your report card.
Davis [to Bragg]: How can we help jobseekers with criminal records not only find work but thrive at work?
Bragg: One of my guys successfully robbed 27 banks. I’m not saying the 28th was successful. But 27 for sure. Allegedly. But in my mind, I’m like, you’re not a bank robber – you’re a strategist. I know brands that’ll pay you better than a doctor for a year. You literally created a plan, executed it 27 times successfully. I don’t care what industry we’re talking about – that’s impressive.
I think it would be impressive if we all took that to our respective businesses and changed the way we think about criminal history. There’s a transferable skill set we possess. The only thing different between me and a business owner was that my product was illegal. Everything it took for me to do what I did is applicable. I know it’s a stretch: Oh my god, this former drug dealer is a CEO.
Davis: Pharmaceutical rep!
Bragg: I’m a logistics expert!
Davis: What are some efforts or organisations that make you hopeful for the future?
Girma: One thing that makes me hopeful is technology. We have so many tools now for disabled people that didn’t exist in the past.
It’s my hope that more organisations will harness the power of tech for good and use resources like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to design websites and make all aspects of work more accessible.
Bragg: Indeed providing this platform for the both of us to be able to advocate is an opportunity, right? That’s the key: giving someone like me, or Haben, a platform where we get to talk to people who may never have even considered that they could be in a position to actually change the trajectory of someone’s life. Indeed makes me hopeful.
Davis: What is the most impactful thing we can all do right now to build a more inclusive world of work?
Girma: There’s so much potential to design accessible websites, apps and all parts of the organisation. It starts with questions. Ask if it’s accessible. And if you notice barriers, help change them.
Bragg: They taught us how to read at school – they never taught us how to read between the lines, right? When we talk about people with a criminal history, let’s start reading between the lines.
Davis [to the audience]: Everyone talks about this war on talent. The jobseekers are out there. You have to expand who you’re looking for. Do that by looking at jobseekers that are facing barriers. And I guarantee the three of us had barriers.
Can you imagine missing out on all of this?
[The crowd gave Girma and Bragg a standing ovation.]