Shawna Swanson was a single mom with five kids when she received a job offer from Greyston Bakery in Yonkers, New York.

“I hadn’t worked because I stayed at home to raise them,” she told Tricycle. “Eventually the person I was in a relationship with got into drugs and we split up. I needed a job, but no one would hire me because I never finished high school and didn’t have the right experience.”

Swanson looked tirelessly for work, but got turned down dozens of times. No one would give her a chance. Then, in early 2016, she went to a job fair in Yonkers and heard about Greyston.

“I felt comfortable the moment I walked into the bakery,” she said. “When I asked for an application, they said I didn’t have to fill one out. I just put my name and contact information on a list and they told me they would be in touch when there was an opening.”

After putting their names on Greyston’s list, people usually wait about six months to hear back. During that time, Swanson kept applying for jobs, but still wasn’t able to find any employment. Her circumstances became dire.

“One day, on my way to pick up my kids from school, I realized that I couldn’t afford to keep my family together anymore,” she said. “I was trying to figure out how I was going to tell them. Right then, my phone rang. It was Greyston offering me a job.”

“I knew everything was going to get better, and it did,” she said. “That call changed everything for me and my family.”

Nearly four decades after first opening its doors in Yonkers, New York, Greyston Bakery seems like a business without limits. Known for its founder, the late Roshi Bernie Glassman, and for its practice of “open hiring”—or hiring without interviews, applications, résumés, or background checks—the company hasn’t only given opportunities to individuals who have had difficulty finding a job; it has also led to impressive business results. Greyston Bakery has been profitable since 2009 and maintains strong business partnerships with Ben and Jerry’s, Whole Foods, and Delta Airlines. Since 2000, it has paid over $50 million in salaries to employees.

In June 2018, Greyston launched the Center for Open Hiring, a learning and training space designed to encourage and teach business leaders all over the world to adopt open-hiring practices.

“It’s the mutual trust that we have in each other that makes this model so powerful,” said Mike Brady, the President and CEO of Greyston. “Instead of worrying about people’s pasts, we trust in their potential.”

The three guiding tenets of Zen Peacemakers—not knowing, bearing witness, and taking action—hang on the wall at Greyston. Rami Efal, the Executive Director of Zen Peacemakers and a board member at Greyston, explained how the first tenet—not knowing—serves as the foundation of Open Hiring.

“The whole idea behind it is that you don’t know who the person is,” said Efal. “Knowing is, in a way, a kind of violent communication. When someone comes through the door, if I think I know something about this person, it’s much harder to trust them and to gain their trust.”

Brady added that current human capital practices provide a false sense of security and actually create barriers to trust. “People believe that doing a background check or a credit check or interview makes someone more trustworthy.” he said. “That’s just unrealistic.”

“There’s this perception that these other employment models are better than the one we are suggesting, which is to just trust. To give someone a chance. The team members on the floor are the ones that need to trust. They have to get the product out the door every day. All I have to do is put them in a position where they can be successful and they’ll help one another do that.”

Greyston also makes significant efforts to support and retain the people they hire by connecting them with social services that address domestic violence, mental health, or housing issues.    

Brady said that his team is working hard to make Open Hiring become common lexicon. “This can happen all over the world,” he said. “Every business can work to have some element of their workforce doing Open Hiring. It can become common practice.”

In a consumer culture that increasingly favors socially conscious companies—and in a political climate where open-hiring efforts have been linked to bipartisan support for the reform of mass incarceration—the Center for Open Hiring continues to explore ways to further its mission. The team will soon host multi-day workshops so that businesses of all sizes can learn how to integrate open hiring into their operations.

“This is the future of philanthropy,” Brady said. “What better way to do it than to give hard-working people employment and help them contribute to the community?”

A redacted version of this article appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of the print magazine.

Correction: The print version falsely stated that Greyston Bakery has paid over $50 million in salaries to its employees since 2005. That figure dates back to 2000. We regret the error. 

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