The Glass Ceiling – Not my problem

With thanks to Richard Thomson, Recruit with Conviction, for this thought provoking and emotional blog.

The Glass Ceiling – Not my problem (Names changed)

“The glass ceiling was not my problem – it’s more like I was trapped under a glass bottomed boat and everybody was looking down their nose at me, like I was pond-life or something.”

Julie’s perceptions on labour market conditions for women with convictions are not uncommon. Most of the time she feels like her criminal history is from a different life. In truth, her criminal history is from a different life, when she was abusing drugs, being abused by people and she made a whole pile of bad decisions, the bulk of which related to one man.

She did hurt a lot of people along the way; she has trauma flashbacks, panic attacks and a burden of guilt. She still uses all sorts of mental props to get her herself through the day, breathing exercises, EFT taps and contemplations like “sometimes good people do bad things – I’ve done a lot of bad things and now I want to concentrate on doing good things”. Julie is an expert at keeping things under control and always keeps herself busy; learning, working and looking after her daughter. She’s a great mum and an inspirational person.

Getting into employment was not easy while she was turning her life around. Julie was self-limiting and thought of work in terms of the jobs that her friends did. The employment support she received didn’t help and seemed to shoehorn her down a path of “women’s work”. She was not even asked about her past and nobody considered her aptitude and aspirations. The problem is that “women’s work” in the public sector or care work, cleaning or childcare always appeared to require full disclosure of convictions.

Even thinking about disclosing convictions brought Julie out in a cold sweat; the embarrassment, the memories of that time and the perceived futility of disclosure put her off. If a job application asked for disclosure, then she avoided it. This perception and scenario is far too common but most employers deal with disclosure of convictions better than most applicants imagine. Also, most people with convictions don’t disclose them effectively unless they have been especially supported through a disclosure process. In Julie’s case, the links with  her trauma and abuse made the disclosure even more difficult.

Eventually Julie got a job through a friend as a taxi controller. Her friend knew the boss, vouched for her and helped to overcome the disclosure problem. Julie was great at that job but she’s clever and hard-working and despite her obstacles she’s moved on and now runs her own business, employs other people, has a good lifestyle and keeps just about everything under control. It is 16 years on now and time and distance is a kind healer however, in April this year she was with her daughter at school and got talked into doing some volunteering. When she got home she started to read through the paperwork and the application form. She turned over the third page and went rigid before her eyes welled up “Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) – we are required to ask all volunteers for spent and unspent criminal convictions”. Julie went into meltdown. “Why do I have to bring up my past in front of those smug teachers? – I’ve achieved more than they ever will”…”What on earth could I tell my daughter? – She doesn’t deserve this!”…”What will I tell my husband? – I’ve never told him because it’s not who I am any more”….”If I write this down it will become real again – it will get out and everyone will know”

Julie had believed that she had built up the resilience to deal with anything but for months she sweated over these dilemmas and procrastinated over the volunteering application form. Then one day  in desperation rather than hope she started to search for information on the internet and found out about protected convictions. She found out that her convictions were classified as minor and since they were more than 15 years old, they won’t appear on any disclosure certificate.

All this has a happy ending for Julie but more often the cards are stacked against women with convictions. Even many years after minor offences they are disproportionately more likely to be unemployed or on low pay and while parental engagement in school is a protective factor for the attainment of children previous convictions of parents remain a significant barrier to parental participation.

Richard Thomson Recruit with Conviction