Unlocking career pathways for women impacted by the criminal legal system

Image of Joshua Wiese smiling to the camera
by Joshua Wiese
1 April 2022
With unemployment at near-record lows in the US, business leaders are frequently citing hiring as a challenge to their companies’ success and continued growth.

At the same time, over 70 million people in the US have a criminal record that makes it much more difficult to connect their skills, experience, and eagerness to work with the opportunities inside companies seeking talent.

Virgin Unite partner, The LOHM, is addressing this issue from both sides, matching skilled and motivated women, to career opportunities at exceptional companies. The LOHM was started by a prolific entrepreneur, Topeka K Sam, and launched the Pathways 4 Equity career fellowship programme in 2021.

Fellows of the programme are vetted for their experience and commitment to continued professional growth and all of them, like Topeka, are impacted by the criminal legal system. The fellows work together for 12 months, which includes three months of intense personal and professional development, followed by a nine-month paid full-time fellowship (or a direct employment full-time position in a partnering business).

The first fellowship cohort finished their three month development phase late last year – you can meet some of them on The LOHM’s website. While ambition and commitment are qualities that unite the Pathways 4 Equity fellows, their skills and experience are incredibly diverse - including computer programming, aerospace, and graduate studies in social sciences.

The LOHM team recruits fellows with interests and experience that match its partner companies. At the same time, it seeks partner companies who match the fellows’ professional aspirations and passions. One of The LOHM’s founding business partners is Virgin Orbit. The satellite company hosted Topeka and The LOHM team at its Long Beach factory late last year for a company-wide fireside chat, with their head of people, Johanna Kent, and Virgin Orbit’s, Monica Gangwar, who also spoke at the first fellowship cohort’s graduation celebration.

The LOHM’s collaborators also include Third Point Capital (a leading hedge fund), Block (which owns the cash app Square), Chanel, the NFL, and beyond. It is also actively recruiting new business partners and fellows as the programme grows.

Rates of women impacted by the criminal legal system are skyrocketing . While efforts to reform the criminal justice system have helped drive rates of incarceration for men down in some states, those efforts have largely left women behind.

Once a person has a past conviction, there are literally thousands of laws and other collateral consequences that can trap them in unemployment or low-wage jobs.

Men’s jail populations fell 9% from 2008 to 2018, while women’s jail populations grew 15% The number of women incarcerated in the United States has skyrocketed in recent decades, increasing 700% in 40 years. Women are the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population.

Once a person has a past conviction, there are literally thousands of laws and other collateral consequences that can trap them in unemployment or low-wage jobs. Cultural stigma adds an additional barrier, preventing people from growing beyond their challenges or getting a second chance after a mistake. As a result, there’s an incredible amount of talent and human potential being overlooked and under-utilised.


Much of the work The LOHM does aims to prevent those convictions in the first place, by disrupting the cycles of poverty, addiction, mental health challenges, and trauma that are too often answered by the criminal legal system instead of other forms of support. While they and others are building on this work, there’s a growing number of people - and especially women - who struggle to unlock the professional opportunities that match their skills and interest once they have a record.

Virgin Unite is incredibly proud of its partnership with The LOHM and of business leaders in organisations like Virgin Orbit who are coming together to confront barriers faced by women with passion and skills, but no pathway to realise opportunities.

If you’re looking for talent to grow your business, get in touch with The LOHM team here and ask about becoming a Pathways 4 Equity business partner.