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  • Case Study: Career Services for Diverse Identity Groups

    Organizational Structure
    Students of color sit in their college classroom.

    TAGS: technology, diversity and inclusion, case study, ethics, principles


    The following case study discusses ethical considerations when a career center seeks to attract students from diverse identity groups to engage with their career center, access website content, and engage with other service delivery platforms. The Principles for Ethical Professional Practice are used to address this scenario, incorporating Principles 3 and 4.

    This case study provides insight on the following:

    1. The role of career centers in attracting students from diverse identity groups to their services, website, and other digital resources;
    2. Developing clarity around driving forces to examine career center practices related to the implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives;
    3. The development of website content and selection of delivery technologies for students from diverse identity groups;
    4. Staffing considerations when seeking to more effectively connect with students from diverse identity groups; and
    5. Implications for the career center in relationship to conducting outreach and serving all students while also providing specific and tailored services and content to students from diverse identity groups

    The Case

    Identity groups are defined in this document as: formal and informal associations and ties based on individual identification along the lines of race, gender, class, religion, and other designations.

    BIPOC is defined as Black, Indigenous, and other people of color.

    LGBTQIA+ is defined as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and other sexual orientations.

    Scenario: A career center wants to do more to attract students from diverse identity groups to both the office and the center’s website. The staff holds a brainstorming session with a focus group of students. One idea that comes out of the session is developing a specific set of pages within the center’s main website to feature resources, employment opportunities, and internship opportunities for BIPOC students. A staff member discovers that many other career centers do reference specific resources for BIPOC students. Another suggestion is to hire a BIPOC staff member designated to advise BIPOC students. In this way, when students walk into the office, they will feel that there is someone “like them” who understands their needs.

    Questions: A good start to attracting students with diverse identities to your office and website is to understand the driving forces for doing so and the specific needs of your student population(s).

    1. Is there institutional pressure to improve outcomes for students from specific identity groups? How will the institution track and assess outcomes?
    2. Are employers requesting access to specific student populations? How are they requesting access?
    3. Is the focus on specific student populations coming out of a desire to improve inclusivity?
    4. Has a needs assessment been conducted suggesting that specific student populations are either unaware of career services, or that the services are not accessible to (or are perceived as being not inclusive of) them?
    5. What ethical issues are raised by the ideas generated by the focus group?
    6. Does it make a difference if the proposed webpages are accessible to all students even though the resources and opportunities are directed at specific student populations?
    7. Are there concerns about internship or job postings directed at specific student populations?
    8. Is it equitable or reasonable to have staff aligned with specific identity groups, e.g., veterans, athletes, students with disabilities, as specialists?
    9. What is every staff member’s responsibility to support students coming from diverse identity groups?
    10. What training and resources are available for staff to provide equitable service to all students?
    11. What other options are there to attract students to the career center’s programs and services?
    12. Would tailored services be duplicative of existing services, and are you resourced to provide both general and tailored services?
    13. Are there opportunities to collaborate with other offices on campus that may be developing similar resources and programs, and/or advancing equitable and inclusive practices?
    14. Are your chosen technologies and platforms easily accessible to and equitable for all students?
    15. Does your use of third-party vendors compromise student privacy or suggest a system of surveillance for some of your students?

    Analysis: If students from specific identity groups access the career center’s services and resources in lesser percentages than their representation in the overall student body, the center should definitely take steps to address the imbalance. The suggestions generated by the focus group are good starting points for consideration, although they should be thought through carefully.

    Students from diverse identity groups—including BIPOC students, first-generation students, students with disabilities, student veterans, LGBTQIA+ students, women students, religious students, undocumented students, or students from rural areas, depending on the institution—may face unique challenges when exploring careers or launching a job search. For example, the professional ranks of many industries are still predominantly white and/or male, particularly at the leadership levels. Students may wonder how welcome they would feel in these industries and what support they could or should expect in overcoming existing and systemic barriers. The increased use of technology in the recruiting process also introduces or reinforces the status quo, especially when the technology reflects historic data and assumptions. Students may have questions about the openness of work settings to expressions of identity. Some students may have had less exposure to professions that require a college degree, or be unsure of the value employers will place on their experiences and identities. Students may not be aware of the career center’s ability to address such questions and concerns.

    Regarding the career center’s staff composition, it is appropriate to acknowledge that students seeking assistance from the center pay attention to representation. If they encounter a diverse staff, students from a range of identity groups are more likely to believe the career center is an inclusive environment where their needs can be met. The career center must be aware, however, of state and federal EEO laws that pertain to the hiring of employees. Specifically, it is generally prohibited to hire an employee solely on their race or national origin. Additionally, it is important to recognize inherent challenges associated with budget and resource limitations. The career center should consider the value of collaborating with human resources and diversity, equity, and inclusion offices with regard to the recruitment, hiring, and training of existing and future staff.

    Principles That Apply:

    1. Principle 3: Ensure equitable access by proactively addressing inclusivity and diversity.
    2. Principle 4: Comply with laws associated with local, state and federal entities, including but not limited to EEO compliance, immigration and affirmative action.

    Options for Resolution: Addressing the concerns and needs of diverse student populations is consistent with the Principles for Ethical Professional Practice. Alerting students (and other constituents) via the career center website and other modes of outreach about services that are inclusive of their needs makes sense. It is important, however, to consider as broad a definition of diversity as possible and take into account the norms of language used elsewhere on campus. In other words, if the term “identity group” is used, do all students understand what that term encompasses? What about other categories of and terms around diversity?

    Many campuses have support services focused on BIPOC students, LGBTQIA+ students, and first-generation students. In the 1970s and 1980s, many institutions established women’s resource centers, and, during the last two decades, there has been a growth in resources and programs to encourage women in academic and professional fields traditionally dominated by men, e.g., science, engineering, business. Recent increases in international student enrollment, particularly at the undergraduate level, have expanded the services directed at acclimating and supporting students from other countries. The rise in enrollment of nontraditional students, most prominently student veterans, has also spurred an expansion of support units and programs for these students.

    Student populations already recognized by the institution as needing focused support--evidenced by the existence of special units or programs--offer the career center a good starting point to evaluate where to focus diversity and inclusion efforts. However, reliance on existing institutional resources may mask or miss other groups that warrant attention. Career center staff should use this conversation to identify their own biases around student identities and needs. For example, support for non-traditional student populations has lagged behind the clear increases in their representation across institutional types. Career center staff should closely monitor demographic changes at the institution so that they can be relevant and timely in their programs and services.

    While new sections of the website could be used to highlight the career center’s diversity programs and services, the center should take care not to imply an exclusivity reserved only for students fitting a particular identity category. While programming geared to specific populations may be developed, it should be understood that all students are welcome to participate. The guiding principle should be inclusivity—striving to ensure that all students may benefit from the broader resources and opportunities provided.

    The question of whether the new webpages should showcase opportunities, such as internships, fellowships, or full-time positions, that appear to exclusively target students from specific identity groups is one that must be answered by the individual institution after consultation with legal counsel. It may be preferable to encourage students to look for unique opportunities posted in a database rather than sequestering them on the website, especially since that would also require constant website updating. A rule of thumb is to avoid segregating opportunities into distinct categories according to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or other identities. Similarly, “parallel programming” should be avoided. For example, creating a workshop titled “Interviewing Skills for BIPOC Students” may suggest that the standard interviewing skills workshop is geared toward white students. For some institutions, this would be a violation of state or federal mandates. This is different, however, from responding to a request from an identity-focused student organization for an interviewing skills workshop, which is a means of fostering inclusivity, assuming the career center would also honor the request from other student organizations.

    How much assistance could or should the career center give to outside entities seeking to recruit students from diverse identity groups? On many campuses, it may not be not a violation of policies to publicly share opportunities that may not be open to all students. For example, the career center may post on its website, visible to everyone, information about a conference for women interested in business leadership roles. However, sending an email exclusively to women students—as opposed to all students—announcing the conference may be a violation of not only internal procedures or policies but state and federal EEO laws, statutes, and regulations. It very much depends on the institution’s policies and the applicable EEO laws, statutes, and regulations, which include, but are not limited to Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex at educational institutions that receive federal funding. Additionally, simply because students do not officially disclose their identities does not mean that they do not align with them. As such, ensuring equal access to all opportunities by all students is critical.

    What about hiring staff of a particular race or ethnicity to work exclusively with students of that same race or ethnicity? First, there is the issue of EEO compliance. No employer, including the career center, may use a person’s racial or ethnic status as a criterion for hiring. This is quite different from requiring multicultural and intercultural competencies to effectively work with a diverse group of students, which is a criterion that should apply to all advisers in the career center. Second, it is equally problematic to designate a specific staff member to work with students of a particular classification. This implies that other career advisers are not responsible for meeting the needs of BIPOC students or other protected classifications, and it begins to segregate the staff into race and ethnicity categories. This is different from designating specific staff members to serve as liaisons to different student organizations or units on campus. Determining which advisers should be matched with which liaison assignment should be based on interest, knowledge, and expertise, not on the adviser’s race, ethnicity, or other demographic characteristics.

    Career centers should also examine their own practices and staff composition to determine if there are steps they can take to more effectively attract and develop a diverse staff team with the skills and experiences necessary to support the students attending the institution. For example, do all staff receive regular training to help them work effectively with colleagues and students from different identity groups and achieve inclusive excellence in their work? Are all or nearly all career center staff members of the same gender, race, and/or background? If so, the career center should actively examine its own practices to identify and remove obstacles to becoming a more welcoming and inclusive workplace.

    In short, all staff should possess fundamental intercultural competencies, and the unique attributes and perspectives each individual staff member possesses should be leveraged for the benefit of the whole team. It is imperative that the career center reflect diversity and inclusion in its staff composition, which means being proactive when conducting searches to fill open positions.

    If the career center does not currently have a visibly diverse staff team, a range of strategies may help to ensure students are able to connect with industry professionals and other representatives who share their identities. Such strategies might include facilitating student connections with alumni, employers, and industry professionals, and/or hiring peer ambassadors.

    Other Considerations, Partnerships: Perhaps the most effective way to increase use of the career center by students from diverse identity groups is through partnership with the diversity, equity, and inclusion office and other student support units on campus, e.g., campus/student life, residential life, as well as with student organizations focused on racial, ethnic, cultural, and other affiliations. As mentioned above, these should be offered to all student organizations.

    As noted earlier, liaison roles may be established for designated career advisers with units and programs that directly administer support to specific student populations. Staff in these units offer guidance and mentorship, and they typically develop relationships of trust with many individual students. If career center staff become known to these units—and familiar with the types of support they provide—a referral network will form that will likely have a greater impact than managing content on several webpages. Additionally, a commitment to forming relationships with student organizations will help the career center be seen as more accessible across student populations.

    Other Considerations, Technology: The principles laid out above also apply to choices around technology. As career centers increase the use of internal and external technologies for delivering services, augmenting services, and replacing human staff, the same considerations must be made. Since technologies, especially third party vendors, are more opaque to scrutiny than our own staff and operations, a similar, robust evaluation should be conducted. Assessing issues such as accessibility, e.g., internet connectivity, required hardware or software, surveillance, e.g., data collection, use, and ownership, encoded biases in our technologies, and who controls or accesses our technologies becomes as imperative as training our own teams and choosing the right partners.

    Career centers may also encounter a variety of questions from employers about reaching students from diverse identity groups. These questions are addressed in “Case Study: When Employers Seek Connections With Students From Diverse Identity Groups.”

    Reviewed and revised by the 2020-21 Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee. Posted October 21.

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