This article by Working Chance originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of the Institute of Employability Professionals (IEP)'s newsletter, Employability Professional.
Working Chance is an award-winning charity and the UK’s only specialist recruitment consultancy for women with criminal convictions (and more recently, young women care leavers). Since 2007, Working Chance has placed over 550 women into paid employment – enabling them to become financially autonomous and move from lives of exclusion to lives of contribution.
There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the issue of working with women with convictions, but Working Chance is in a unique position to dispel them – 40% of its own award-winning staff have convictions. Here’s what you really need to know…
1. The stereotypes are false
As an adviser, it is always good to remember that there’s no such thing as a typical woman with a conviction, just as there’s no such thing as a typical employee within any organisation.
Remind employers that far from the stereotype of the woman with a conviction, no qualifications and no experience who struggles to succeed in a low-skilled, dead-end job, Working Chance places its talented clients at all organisational levels with a wide range of businesses – including manager and executive roles. 20% of the women that Working Chance places into roles are UK university graduates. The calibre of our clients is reflected in the forward-thinking employers who choose to hire women with convictions – from large, national corporations including Virgin Trains, Pret A Manger and Lush, to the Houses of Parliament and the NHS, to SMEs and the third sector.
“Working Chance really understands the sort of talent we are looking for. They only send us women who are a brilliant fit for the job.” – Richard Branson, Virgin Group.
2. Employers shouldn’t judge a woman by her conviction – they should judge her by her suitability for a role
Tell employers - if a woman with a conviction is the best and most qualified person for a particular job, then businesses do their clients a disservice by not hiring that person.
It’s not about preferential treatment or positive discrimination – it’s purely about making sure an organisation hires the best possible person for any given role. Whether or not that person has a conviction is usually completely irrelevant.
“I thought I was doing Working Chance a favour by hiring a woman with a conviction, but in fact they’ve done me the favour,” says one CEO of a housing association. “I’ve changed my whole perception about hiring people with convictions and been educated at the same time. I feel very humbled.”
3. Reassure employers
Some people worry about workplace security if people with convictions are part of the staff – it’s important to make sure businesses understand that someone convicted of, for example, drink-driving is no more likely to commit petty theft in the workplace than anyone else within an organisation. The re-offending rate at work for Working Chance’s clients is less than 1%.
“My nervousness fell away very quickly when I met the Working Chance clients. This was just a group of ordinary women who had made some mistakes along the way. They were paying for their mistakes in prison, and were looking to change that and move forward in a positive manner.” – Laura Brocklesby, Director, Internal Audit at Barclays Bank.
4. People with convictions are more reliable than the average employee
“Experience has shown us that serving offenders are very reliable – they want the job, the chance and the money, and it shows,” says Ross Barry of LMB Supplies. “As far as we are concerned, Working Chance’s client is exactly the same as anyone else and a real asset to the firm.”
Because prejudice and discrimination makes it so hard for them to find work, people with convictions have much more to lose from leaving a job than anyone else.
A point worth mentioning to potential employers is that the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has reported that people with convictions are actually more reliable than average and stay in their jobs just as long as anyone else, if not longer. 71% of the women with convictions that Working Chance places in a role are still in that same role six months later.
The life experiences of women with convictions make them determined and resilient – qualities that are an asset to any organisation.
5. It’s a great opportunity for a business to generate positive press
It’s often useful to remind businesses that they would not only be perfectly within their rights to hire someone with a conviction, but that they would also be actively transforming employment practice and demonstrating a forward-thinking commitment to workplace diversity. This is a fantastic opportunity to generate favourable press coverage and improve perception of a brand – both externally and internally.
At a recent Working Chance reception at the House of Lords, Clive Schlee – CEO of Pret A Manger – enthused about the business benefits of hiring people with convictions: “Hiring people with convictions will enrich your company and strengthen your brand.”
6. A criminal conviction is NOT an automatic barrier to employment
Employers may tell you that they cannot take on your client because of regulation preventing them from employing ex-offenders. This is an issue that employers often need clarification on. The Ministry of Justice says that “even where employers are entitled to ask for a criminal record check – knowledge of a conviction, spent or unspent, should not act as an automatic barrier to employment.”
Contrary to popular belief, people with convictions can also be hired by a company that’s regulated by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority).
The FCA states that “many roles within the regulated sector do not require FCA approval, so the suggestion that firms are unable to employ ex-offenders is not accurate. Controlled function roles are the only instance in which we may impede that employment and the FCA will treat each application for approval to perform a controlled function on a case-by-case basis.”
7. Employers should treat hiring women with convictions the same as hiring anyone else
You can reassure employers that they don’t need to spend time and energy setting up special programmes to hire and work with women with convictions. Women with convictions don’t need – or want – any special treatment at work.
Working Chance risk assesses and carefully vets all its clients, as well as taking time to understand each company’s business needs and role specifications – ensuring that only the best, most suitable clients are put forward for roles. All that employers have to do is simply contact Working Chance’s team of specialist recruitment consultants to discuss a position they’re seeking to fill.
Once a woman with a conviction is successfully placed in a role, it’s important to remind employers that they should treat them the same as any other member of staff.
8. Other employees respond well to working alongside women with convictions
Employers often have concerns that their staff won’t like having people with convictions as colleagues, but the opposite is true. Marks & Spencer reported that hiring people with convictions increased morale and motivation among staff, who said they were proud to work for an organisation offering people a second chance.
“The Working Chance women have guts, focus and talent,” says Paul Bradley of the Big Lottery Fund. “I would be happy to have any of them as a colleague.”
9. Women with convictions are just like everybody else
When a woman has finished serving her sentence, the punishment often continues – particularly when it comes to trying to find work. Discrimination against people with convictions is rife, despite the fact that approximately 1 in 5 working age people in the UK has a conviction.
Many of us break the law but don’t get caught – how often have you exceeded the speed limit? Stretched the truth with your expenses? Working Chance even had a client who was convicted of fraud for using her daughter’s work parking space. It’s worth reminding employers that anybody can take a wrong turn and end up with a conviction. Women with convictions are just like everybody else – and like everybody else, they deserve a second chance.
“The Working Chance clients made me truly appreciate that nobody should be defined by their conviction.” – Policy Advisor, HM Treasury.
10. Support women with convictions to disclose their offence confidently
Having to disclose a conviction to an employer in a job interview can be a very nerve-wracking experience. The circumstances that lead to a woman committing and being convicted of an offence are often traumatic, and it can be stressful to re-live that in the environment of a job interview.
It’s crucial to advise clients with convictions on how best to navigate this experience, and support them to do so. It may be helpful to practise the disclosure with the client as part of interview preparation. Disclosures should be brief and to-the-point – what the situation was in the client’s life at the time of the offence being committed; what they were convicted of; and what their sentence was.
This should then immediately be followed by some positives – what did the client learn from this experience? How has it inspired them to change things? Did they gain anything from their time serving their sentence – did they complete training or education courses that have given them new skills? Encourage clients to use examples to demonstrate how they’re turning their life around, and draw out their creative, problem-solving, tenacious qualities.