CINCINNATI — Bassette Smith and Elle Baker are on a mission to make it easier for employers to hire and retain people whose criminal record might otherwise make them ineligible for work. Their company, The Empower Group, offers services to potential employers to assist them with every step of the hiring and retention process.

What You Need To Know

  • Fair Chance Employment is offering work to people with a criminal record

  • An estimated 60% of formerly incarcerated people are jobless, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics

  • Employment contributes to economic stability and reduces risk factors that can lead to future criminal behavior

“Fair chance employment is just hiring folks coming home from incarceration or [who] have criminal records or other barriers to employment,” Baker said. 

It’s about second chances and about making it easier to hire differently. It’s also about being better.

“It’s really about empowering businesses to be human with other humans, see the potential in others and seeing that there are benefits to the business when they do that,” Smith said.

Baker and Smith met at work when they were both in supported employment, social services, program development and community engagement for Nehemiah Manufacturing, one of the nation’s leading Fair Chance companies. Together, they saw the need to grow opportunities for employers and potential employees, by setting up an array of services to teach and support best practices for rethinking who and how to hire.

For their company to attract the attention of funders and new businesses, Baker and Smith applied to participate in Cincinnati Flywheel’s Elevate Equity, an eight-week program that offers mentoring and skills to new ventures. Their efforts culminated in a pitch event in May held at Mad Tree Brewery, where the pair was given the opportunity to make their case and attract support.

“Flywheel has connected us with a great mentorship team that truly are our cheerleaders,” Smith said.

“You have to learn about sales, marketing, and how to have a strong social media presence and how to sell the work you do to people you’ve never met," Baker said.