Social value and employing people with convictions – do they add up for business?

by Kieran Harding, Managing Director, Business in the Community

Last week, I had the opportunity to hear from Greggs Chief Executive, Roisin Currie, who told an audience of business leaders at our national Responsible Business Live summit in London about a young mother whose life was impacted by bad choices and a term in prison, but someone who, with the stalwart support of business, has been able to turn her life around.

As I listened to Roisin, I found myself reflecting on the progress we’ve in Business in the Community in Northern Ireland in supporting those who have been in prison and encouraging businesses to step up and get involved in making a difference. It’s just over a year since we had Young Offender author Michael Maisey share his first-hand experience of a life of crime at our Responsible Business Awards in Northern Ireland Dinner at the ICC in Belfast. For those of us who heard him speak, it’s certainly something I will never forget.

We can all too often get lost in the numbers. Yes, measuring and managing the data is important. It gives us a moment in time to see how far we’ve come, and I am heartened by the work we have done to create more inclusive employment practices over the last year, especially for those who have a criminal conviction on their record. In fact, through our Ban the Box campaign, 63,668 roles in Northern Ireland have now opened up which positively impacts a reduction in the risk of unfair discrimination. These are roles that people with a criminal conviction would have been excluded from in the very first round of a recruitment process. But numbers are not the full story, and that’s what impressed me most about the example from Greggs. Roisin told us about one person. Yes, the business helped; it went above and beyond its original commitments, but what it did was truly life-changing. Not just for this one young woman, but for her children, her extended family, and her colleagues working in the branch.

For business to get involved in changing lives, there does need to be structure and there absolutely must be buy-in at many levels. That’s where Ban the Box can help. At its core, it is a simple yet impactful programme that advocates for the removal of the checkbox from the initial stages of job applications. It’s about giving individuals with convictions a fairer chance at employment by allowing them to be assessed based on their skills, qualifications, and potential before their conviction is considered. These individuals often demonstrate resilience, determination, and a strong work ethic; attributes that can significantly contribute to an organisation’s success.

While some may initially question the rationale behind this approach, the benefits it yields for businesses and society at large are profound. Every responsible business wants to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. By opening doors to individuals with criminal records, organisations gain access to a diverse pool of talent that brings a unique perspective and a wealth of untapped skills. Studies have shown that employers who commit to ‘fair chance hires’ experience that these employees are strong performers and have high retention rates.

Engaging in inclusive hiring practices can be a catalyst for even further responsible business actions. According to Fair Chance Alliance studies using Social Value Portal, employers could create £24,269 in social value by hiring just one person with a conviction. By providing opportunities for individuals seeking reintegration into society, businesses play a crucial role in reducing reoffending rates and breaking the cycle of ex-offenders returning to the circumstances that led to their offence. This social impact extends far beyond the workplace, contributing to safer communities and a more inclusive society, with 81% of people thinking businesses employing people with convictions are making a positive contribution.

A common concern among business leaders is the perceived risks associated with hiring individuals with criminal records. I understand that there are varied roles and needs within businesses that can make changes in this area challenging for some. For this reason, we have created a Practical Guide toolkit to help answer some of the questions you may have and help you to review your current recruitment practices.

Let’s consider a local story of Jamie’s experience:

Jamie spent five months in prison on drug charges before being a conditional early release. During this time, he applied for more than 100 jobs and got three interviews. Of those interviews, just two hadn’t included a convictions box in the application.

Jamie is a chemist, currently employed to run a wet chemical lab for a civil engineering group, charged with testing building materials for roads and houses. Following the low point of his time in prison, he says employment like this is hugely significant for him.

Jamie says “It’s quite easy for me to understand how people with no likelihood of employment or even accommodation get into the cycle of reoffending, and it’s a shame to see that happen. I think employers should treat people on an individual basis. The conviction question on an application form doesn’t differentiate one crime from another, one person from another, or one set of circumstances from another. Not all circumstances that lead people to criminal convictions are the same, and not all crimes are directly relevant to every industry. People are different, and more often than not, they deserve a second chance.”

I urge you to explore the resources and benefits that Ban the Box offers. Becoming a Ban the Box signatory is a tangible way to evidence your commitment to diversity, inclusion, and responsible business; starting from your recruitment practices, progressing throughout your organisation’s culture, and positively impacting individuals and society. If you are a CEO or Managing Director, then I warmly invite you to join us for our CEO Breakfast on 21 March 2024 at Custom House, where Roisin Currie, CEO, Greggs will share more about the company’s Fresh Start approach to employability.