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Employer Focus: Women

Sophie O'Sullivan, about 4 years ago

Earlier this year, The Prison Reform Trust and Working Chance published a new briefing 'Working it Out,' which focuses on women in the workplace.

It is widely acknowledged that most of the solutions to women's offending lie in the community. Addressing the economic marginalisation that can drive women into crime, and the lasting impact of a criminal conviction, is therefore critical. Tapping into the skills and talents of women who deserve a second chance makes sense for families, the economy and society as well as women themselves.

- Jenny Earle, Director of the Prison Reform Trust's Programme to reduce women's imprisonment

This important research revealed that women released from prison are nearly three times less likely to be in employment on release than men.

Four out of five employers fail to provide a special recruitment process for disadvantaged groups, including women leaving prison.

So what can we do as employers to improve this?

First and foremost, employers should adopt a fair and consistent approach to ensure that there are no barriers to employing women with criminal convictions in their business. This is especially pertinent when undertaking disclosure checks and evaluating risk in the workplace.

Risk should look at the working environment and the requirements of the role. An enhanced check, especially when it is not needed for the role in question, is a common barrier to employment as it means that convictions that have long been 'spent' must be disclosed. We would highly recommend for employers and HR professionals to attend a training workshop on safe and fair recruitment. Nacro regularly run these- please have a look at their website for more details. It's a great opportunity to network with other employers and specialist organisations, learning from best practice by those who have many years experience in hiring people with convictions.

We would also recommend employers to work with specialist women's organisations so that they can better understand the working needs of women. Working in partnership with Working Chance or St Giles Trust fosters the best outcomes for both parties. Impressively, the overall reoffending rate for women that Working Chance place into employment is 4%. Please do have a browse on our directory for local partners in your area. If you have any questions, we are very much happy to provide guidance here at The Exceptionals.

Employers should also be aware of other barriers to women's progress in the workplace. Progression may involve better education and training opportunities. You might like to increase the availability and quality of unpaid work placements for women in your business. The goal is long-term sustainable employment.

The gender pay gap is higher for individuals involved in the criminal justice system. Women released from prison earn 33.2% less than men. Childcare support is a key concern for women, especially in regards to accessing higher salaries. Flexible working hours or working from home conditions can help overcome these barriers.

Employers might like to also explore the potential of ROTL (release on temporary licence). This is especially beneficial for women because it offers the opportunity for employment in the community and also the possibility of family contact. Women are more likely to be granted ROTL than men because they are usually assessed as low-risk and are more likely to be sole or primary carers so eligible for childcare ROTL.

Employers may want to get more involved in the community. This could be through the Ministry of Justice's New Futures Network. They have introduced work coaches in all women's prisons, and also profile projects and schemes providing vital support to women, many delivered through women's centres.

Mentoring schemes might work within your business. A mentor programme can follow an employee's progress in the workplace and address concerns or queries, building stronger working relationships and positive business culture.

Employment is key to desistance from crime. Many of the reasons for this are obvious: a job provides income, status, increases social capital and helps people with convictions to see themselves differently – as people who are good at something and who are 'giving back'. For women who have convictions, the economic independence that employment provides is pragmatically important but also contributes to a positive sense of self. Given that over half of women in prison report childhood abuse and well over half say they have experienced domestic violence, it is easy to see how regarding yourself as strong and capable, and being able to support yourself and your family, are key elements in building a new, different life.

-Natasha Finlayson OBE, Chief Executive, Working Chance