For the women who come to Working Chance, a struggle with poor mental health is one of the main barriers holding women back. Often, it’s linked to the worry women feel about being judged for their past. This Mental Health Awareness Week we’re looking at the most common mental health problem in the UK: anxiety.
For women, the prolonged stress of being involved in the justice system can trigger anxiety. While people in the criminal justice system are typically at higher risk of experiencing mental ill health, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety than men.
Women’s mental health
In 2021, 71% of women said they already had mental health problems before prison. The strict rules that women faced in prison, particularly over the peak of the pandemic meant that women spent even more time isolated in their cells.
Whether you’re sent to prison or given a community order to complete in the community, simply knowing that you have that extra barrier (ie. your conviction) working against you can create some anxiety around the whole process of finding work.
The good news is that there are lots of employers who won’t write you off because of your past. Here some things you can do to help ease the pressure of talking about your conviction to a potential employer:
1. Acknowledge how you feel
Arya, Working Chance client
“I'm feeling really worried about my interview tomorrow. I'm not sure whether I have to disclose or how it will go if I do. I hate feeling judged and it's making me feel really stressed."
The fear of being ‘judged’ is a major barrier to women disclosing their conviction. But there are things you can do to help. One of the most important is to be mindful of how you speak to yourself. Anxiety can come with an unforgiving inside voice that tells us we’re not good enough. You are.
Yes, it’s difficult starting over, but your conviction doesn’t need to define you.
2. Understand your conviction
It can be daunting knowing what, when and how to talk to an employer about your conviction. Equally, if you don’t understand what the language around your conviction means, such as ‘community sentence’ or ‘suspended sentence’ it will be harder for you to explain them to an employer. (Remember they might not understand all the language either and it’s up to you to make sure you disclose the right things).
Take some time to check the dates, names and details of your conviction so that you can go into your job search prepared. Not all employers have hired someone with a conviction before but after meeting you, they may become warmer to the idea!
3. Find the right employer
There are employers who are forward-thinking and see the value of looking beyond a woman’s past and see the efforts made since to turn her life around. But when you’re starting over with housing, family ties and day-to-day life after leaving prison, this can feel like a fantasy.
It’s important to remember that you can’t change your past – you can only look to the future. If an employer can’t look past your conviction or holds any biases, then that’s likely not the best workplace for you – you deserve to be accepted. Luckily we work with around 100 employers across a range of sectors, so it’s likely we’ll be able to find you something that suits you.
4. Practise your disclosure
Women often say that the hardest part of finding a job is building up the confidence to apply or reach out to the employer if they have questions.
Try not to worry too much about what may happen when you disclose your conviction and instead, focus on how you can explain the circumstances around your conviction briefly, and then show off all the work you’ve done since to get to where you are today. Working Chance can help you with this, we’ll support you to practise until you know you can do so confidently.
Looking to the future
Natalia, Working Chance client
“I’ve just received a call- I got the job offer and I’ve accepted. It’s the interview where I disclosed. I can’t believe it!”
The thought of disclosing your conviction to an employer can make you feel anxious, but we can help you to understand what, when and how to tell an employer about your conviction, and help you to get ready to apply for a job that suits you.
If you’re a woman with a conviction or know someone who is, get in touch for support disclosing convictions.