Emotions and Employability: A focus on the soft skills of women offenders

By N. Jonas Ohrberg

Women Offenders and Interpersonal Skills


Women ex-offenders may face a number of employment barriers when they attempt to obtain a job or start a career after release into society. Even though there are many educational and vocational programs available to them while incarcerated, these programs often focus on the hard skills of employment preparation such as GED classes, carpentry, auto mechanics, and computer applications. Although these programs provide valuable hard skills, they neglect a crucial element of the career and employment experience: soft skills or interpersonal skills. Soft and interpersonal skills include how the women are able to maintain interpersonal relationships, communicate with co-workers and customers, and how they relate to others and conduct themselves in the workplace on a daily basis. In the book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman (1995) argues that an underlying aspect of using one's interpersonal skills in the workplace is the ability to understand and manage one's emotions. With this in mind, women offenders who prepare for the job market will benefit from educational programming and training in relation to their ability to understand and manage their emotions.

Women Offenders and Re-integration

The women offenders who are about to be released or who have recently been released experience varying emotions. The women often experience fear because they have to face the unknown after being incarcerated for a number of years, have to meet the demands of the parole officer, and face a society that has a difficult time accepting ex-offenders. They also experience joy and happiness because they are no longer incarcerated and they can spend time with family and friends. Moreover, they experience sadness because of the time they have been away from their families and what they may have missed in living a normal life. These emotions are real and they influence how the women perceive and experience their families, the process of finding employment, and their status in society. Seeking and applying for jobs is a difficult process for the non-offender; it is even more challenging for women who have been incarcerated. These women may lack self-esteem and confidence in their ability to obtain and keep a job. Most importantly, they feel that they are at a disadvantage as ex-offenders. All of these factors will influence how they approach the job seeking process.

Women Offenders and the Workplace

As noted by Daniel Goleman (1995) in Emotional Intelligence a basic awareness of emotions can assist an individual in understanding and managing one's behavior. Moreover, Goleman notes that the awareness of how one's emotions influence one's behavior will make the individual more effective in maintaining interpersonal relationships. This is especially relevant for women offenders in the workplace. Because the workplace is a social environment that is based on extensive interpersonal interaction and team work, it includes a large number of possible emotional triggers. As ex-offenders, these women may not feel part of the group or department where they work. They may withdraw socially and alienate themselves from co-workers. Even when the women's co-workers are not excluding them, ex-offenders may perceive that they are being excluded. Although these perceptions may be erroneous, they can cause the ex-offenders to feel anger, sadness and resentment for not feeling a part of the group. This anger and sadness will influence how the women relate to and communicate with others and can have a negative impact on their job performance (Goleman, 1995).

The Need for Emotion Focused Programming

As an educator working with women offenders in the field of corrections I have had many opportunities to listen to and work with women offenders who have hope and the desire to succeed after their release from incarceration. Many of these women are sincere and they want to pursue their educational and career related goals after release. One woman stopped by my office a few weeks ago. She was worried about her upcoming release and was very anxious about her opportunities. She has all the hard skills to be successful, she used to manage and run her own business, but she experienced anxiety and fear to re-enter a society that she had not been part of for a number of years. Her emotions were overshadowing her rational thinking and she was literally drowning in an emotional ocean. This example illustrates why women offenders can benefit from educational programming that helps them understand and manage their emotions. Hard skills alone are not enough to help women offenders obtain employment or effectively succeed after release. Focusing on their emotions and soft skills can provide them with certain tools to assist them in successfully reintegrating after release.





Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence.New York: Bantam Books

N. Jonas Ohrberg is the Education Director at Camino Nuevo Correctional Facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Camino Nuevo Correctional Center is a minimum security facility for women offenders. Mr. Ohrberg has experience working with women offenders in many different capacities. Having taught basic academic education, cognitive and life skills classes has provided Mr. Ohrberg with an insight to the educational needs of the women offender population. Based on this experience, Mr. Ohrberg recognized the need for educational programming for the women offenders related to emotional awareness and emotional management. With this in mind, Mr. Ohrberg has authored two workbooks, Emotions and Employability: A focus on the soft skills of women offenders and Incarceration, Re-integration and Emotions: The road to awareness. Mr. Ohrberg is currently pursuing a PhD in Business Leadership from Capella University. Contact information: Ohrberg@yahoo.com


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