Why I support banning the box

Image of Sandra Kerr OBE


Sandra Kerr OBE,  National Director, Race for Opportunity,  Business in the Community


One of Race for Opportunity’s main actions is asking employers to examine unconscious barriers within their application or recruitment processes that are preventing Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) candidates from being hired, and taking steps to address that. However, there is one thing that employers could do which would have an enormous impact not just on BAME applicants, but on those from all backgrounds – removing the tick box asking about criminal convictions from application forms. Business in the Community’s Ban the Box campaign aims to do just that.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying employers mustn’t or shouldn’t ask about criminal convictions. But I do think that we should let people explain themselves first.

It may surprise you to learn that over 20 per cent of people in the working age population are recorded as having a criminal record. Of these, the most common sentences given by courts (68 per cent) are fines, with only a small proportion of people sent to prison. But by having a box upfront on application forms that acts as an instant filter, employers risk excluding potentially talented applicants. This not only prevents people from finding work – and, in over 60 per cent of cases, re-offending, which costs our society £11bn a year - but means that employers miss out on candidates who could be the best person for the role.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying employers mustn’t or shouldn’t ask about criminal convictions. But I do think that we should let people explain themselves first. By removing the box from initial application forms, it allows employers to gather all the information based on talent and ability and then make an informed decision about hiring someone with a criminal conviction, rather than simply dismissing them out of hand - often even before seeing or speaking to them - for something that may turn out to be irrelevant in the long run.

We know that BAME people are over-represented in the criminal justice system and are more likely to be stopped and searched. However, we also know from our ‘Race at the Top’ report is that BAME people are under-represented in the legal profession, particularly at senior levels. It’s important to note that all three main political parties’ manifestos included aims to increase BAME representation in the UK police force. This shows a clear acknowledgement by government and all political leaders that there is a need for action. By increasing the diversity of these sectors through early engagement, using a range of recruitment channels and addressing barriers to hiring, this will contribute to delivering a fairer criminal justice system for all.

However, this is not just an issue that affects BAME people; it is an issue of talent potentially affecting one in five of the UK working age population, and this in turn impacts everyone. Therefore, we are calling on businesses of all sizes and across all sectors to take the simple, practical action of banning the box, using the Ban the Box resource bank to help you. We are also asking employers who take part in our Diversity and Wellbeing Benchmark how they remove bias at the various stages of selection. This year’s Benchmark opens on 26th May and you can find out more here.

Earlier this week PwC announced they are scrapping the A-levels requirement from their graduate recruitment scheme criteria in order to increase the number of applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ban the Box is a similar breakthrough recruitment policy for business. We now need more employers to show leadership on this issue and create workforces that reflect the diversity of the communities they serve and operate in across the country.

38 employers have signed up to Ban the Box so far, representing a combined workforce of 230,000 people. To find out more about how you can join them, sign up here for the Ban the Box webinar on 19th May.