Sara Wasserteil
Managing Director


January 26, 2022


Earlier in my career, I worked for a CEO obsessed with a simple question. If you were ever debating two points of view, he’d inevitably ask: “what’s the third way?” It was his way of challenging us to consider whether the choices we debated were the only options or if there was another alternative that would lead to a better outcome.

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the third way as I speak with companies struggling to find and keep good talent. On one side, I hear businesses lament that there isn’t enough good talent to do the work, while on the other, there is an increasingly loud chorus that existing jobs aren’t worth pursuing. As I hear these debates, it makes me wonder if there’s a third way.

Currently, tens of millions of Americans are being excluded from the workforce. For example, 98 percent of companies run background checks, and yet, 1 in 3 adults possess a criminal record – a majority of whom are Black and Latinx. Similarly, employers exclude 68 percent of Black and 79 percent of Latinx candidates when they require a four-year degree. While corporations may use background policies or educational requirements as proxies for trust or ability, this isn’t borne out in the data. More importantly, it means that they are missing out on a highly committed, often diverse candidate pool that could contribute to their bottom line.

Luckily, there are five levers employers can utilize to access these talent pools:

1. Recruitment

To broaden who can find and apply to open roles, employers can:

  • Reconsider the educational requirements for each job (i.e., evaluate potential roles that may not require a high school diploma or four-year degree)
  • Assess their criminal background policies to ensure that they focus on relevant, discrete offenses rather than backgrounds as a whole or shorten the lookback period to less than seven years
  • Test job descriptions with workforce development organizations to ensure that language doesn’t inadvertently exclude certain populations or use tools like Skillfull's job posting generator
  • Make job applications mobile-friendly for people who may have limited computer access
  • Hire from workforce development organizations that have a strong track record
  • Provide internships like the Chicago Apprentice Network

2. Hiring

To widen the net of who may advance in the candidate selection process, firms can:

  • Use a competency- (or skills) based approach to hiring to capture experience gained outside of the workplace
  • Adopt a consistent set of competencies to assess candidates to reduce bias
  • Understand the best way to reach candidates so that people with less internet access don’t miss important communications (e.g., phone, text, email)

3. Job Quality, Culture, and Support

To reduce turnover, firms can:

  • Create a structured onboarding process that includes on-the-job training and 30-60-90-day check-ins to understand what employees need to be successful (and what they wish they’d learned)
  • Empower managers to support their teams beyond just production; showing care from the top down can set this example
  • Provide basic living standards, such as livable wages, predictable scheduling, and benefits

4. Advancement

To help retain employees – and create growth opportunities– firms can:

  • Develop career pathways and opportunities for advancement for every role in the company – and ensure that employees know how they can tap into those positions within the first 90 days of employment
  • Provide mentors to encourage employees and help them achieve their goals
  • Support employees’ ability to develop skills or obtain degrees that will help them to advance internally; offering stipends or the ability to do this during work hours can reduce barriers for individuals with less discretionary time
  • Provide professional development opportunities so that if individuals cannot advance internally, they can advance elsewhere

5. Public Commitments

If you’re doing the good work to shift these practices – shout it from the rooftops! Making public commitments or sharing what changes you are making won’t only help your brand, but it will give other employers the confidence to do the same. To do so:

  • Make a public, quantifiable commitment of your goal; publicizing specific changes to achieve that goal can inspire others to follow suit
  • Create case studies of what did and didn’t work to lift up effective practices

When I first learned about the concept of a third way, it pointed to a discrete alternative. But, when I think about the third way for accessing and supporting untapped talent, it’s not a single step but a new perspective. That if we are willing to see talent for the potential that they bring versus the background that they do or don’t have, then we can transform our talent strategies to include millions of individuals who are ready, willing, and eager to work, and help our companies and communities thrive.

Learn more about Cara Collective.

About the authors

Sara Wasserteil