Have you ever looked at something seemingly simple and innocent, and it shook you to your very core? For me, it’s a box. Not a physical cardboard box or shoe box, but four lines that form a square. I’ve seen it on paper and on my computer screen. Each time I must address it, I’m taken back to a place in my life that I have worked tirelessly to overcome.
If you don’t have a criminal background, the box likely means nothing to you. When you fill out a job application, you gloss right over this piece. It’s associated with the question that asks if you have a criminal background. Many of you probably haven’t given it a second thought. But if you have a criminal record like me, it’s life-changing. That box can make or break your chances of being hired.
Several of my colleagues and I were recently invited to speak at Conscious Capitalism’s Sum & Substance event, and I used my time on stage to tell my story. I made some choices in my life that led me to prison and to Televerde—where I started as an entry-level inside sales representative and climbed the corporate ladder to all way to the C-Suite. My story is almost 25 years in the making, but I am still required to check that box on employment applications. I’ve paid my dues. I’ve educated myself. I’ve grown as a woman and as a business executive, but I’m still judged on decisions I made decades ago. When will this end?
My challenge to business leaders in the audience that day, and to you, is to ban the box. The No. 1 predictor of recidivism is joblessness, and 76% of people will be without a job one year after being released from prison. With $182B being spent on incarceration every year in the U.S., we simply can’t afford to deny an entire population their right to work, greatly increasing their chances to recidivate. This is a population that is eager and willing to work harder than your average employee because they have something to prove. A population that could solve the widening skills gap in this country, which I recently talked about in a guest byline for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). There’s an entire group of impact workers (those who have a criminal background, have been unemployed for an extended period or live below the national poverty line) who are overlooked when it comes to employment opportunities. Collectively, we must believe in second chances.
Do you? Are you willing to engage and develop talent? Will you ban the box? Ask yourself if the box or our circumstances should continue to define us.