Coming of age in the 1960s shaped my perspective. I lived through some of the defining events of the 20th cen- tury: the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement, the Beatles,
Vietnam, Richard Nixon, the anti-war movement, Watergate, and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Against this
backdrop, I graduated from Cornell University with a degree in
industrial and labor relations and entered the world of HR. I’ve
witnessed a great deal of change since then.
Throughout my career, I’ve had an opportunity to compare
notes with lots of HR professionals. We all work hard to learn
about best practices, do what’s right and accomplish meaningful things. Many have asked me about the work I’ve done on
applicant tracking and mass hiring, the paperless systems I’ve
created, and the landmark collective bargaining agreements I’ve
negotiated. Ultimately, however, the thing they seem to be most
interested in is how and why I became so passionate about hiring
people with criminal backgrounds.
Supporting Those Left Behind
It all started when I was working with Steve
Wynn in the 1980s to open casinos that employed thousands of employees. I
had always been mindful
about recruiting a diverse
staff, but in this job it was a
mandate. Our Atlantic City
gaming licenses required us
to meet hiring quotas for
women and minorities. There
were also recommended targets for inner-city residents in
other jurisdictions where we
sought to expand.
Around this time, I met the
Rev. DeForest “Buster” Soaries,
then-pastor of the largest Baptist
church in New Jersey. He intro-
duced me to faith-based initiatives
that were designed to help hire and
support minorities, women and
others who had been left behind. He
defined diversity in economic terms
and encouraged local businesses to recruit individuals
who were both unemployed and underemployed.
Soaries went on to become New Jersey’s secretary
of state, and he helped to shape the federal Workforce
Investment Act of 1998, which promoted workforce
diversity through a variety of state and local initiatives.
Meanwhile, I became the first chairman of Nevada’s Work-
force Investment Board. It was in that capacity that I began to
understand the needs of those who have been left behind in the
employment market due to a criminal past.
During that time, a Las Vegas politician asked Wynn to consider hiring one of his constituents. He and Wynn subsequently
invited me to meet the applicant, who was waiting for us in
There, the politician introduced us to a tall, buff, tough-looking
man named Tony. He had a shaved head and one eye … with no
eye patch. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.
The politician encouraged us not to judge a book by its cover—
but this cover was a little difficult to ignore!
After a few minutes of small
talk, Tony pointed to his eye and
said, “You want to know, don’t
you?” Then, before we could
answer, he boasted, “Knife
fight. I won.”
Well, that broke the ice.
As we listened to Tony tell us
how much he wanted to turn
his life around, we couldn’t
help but be impressed. He
wanted a second chance,
and we gave it to him. He
had no experience in the
world of work, and we
had none working with
ated individuals. Like
most employers at the
time, we conducted
checks and regularly
rejected applicants who had felony
I talked with some ministers and
Discovering a Different Diversity
People’s past mistakes shouldn’t preclude their future successes.
By Arte Nathan
In the late 1990s, employers regularly rejected applicants with criminal histories. Now more companies
are willing to give second chances.
WATCH Arte Nathan describe his
one simple recruiting tip.