Building a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion Into Career Services

Higher ed might traditionally approach diversity as an admissions issue, but Shelagh Saénz, Director of Career Development at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, argues that it's also an issue for career centers to take on.

Career centers, she argues, are uniquely positioned to be advocates for diversity because of the role they play as intermediaries between students and employers.

We asked Shelagh to give us a recap of her session at the NACE Conference in Chicago, "Building a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion Into Career Services."

What role can career centers play in institutional efforts to be more diverse and inclusive?

Career centers have an active role in contributing to the institutional efforts of being more diverse and inclusive. It is within our center’s mission to develop inclusive excellence—a comprehensive planning process that identifies a set of actions which focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion and then infuses these actions into every layer of the work we do in career centers.

Specifically, there are three overarching steps we can take to build inclusive excellence:

  • First, be knowledgeable about the issues student face. Do career practitioners understand how discrimination and bias are affecting student success in the workforce?  Do we know what to look for and how to advise students when encountering bias and discrimination?
  • Second, create the most welcoming, inclusive environment possible so that students know they can come to us with those tough questions. The goal is to have students know they are welcomed and treated with respect. 
  • Lastly, career centers are uniquely positioned to be strong advocates for students because we are often the connection point with employers.

What models can career centers use to build up and enhance diversity and inclusion efforts in practical and sustainable ways?

There is ample evidence about the benefits of diversity in higher education and in the workforce, but there is a notable lack of solution-focused models for career centers. Through research we were able to identify, adapt and implement a culture change model created by Kim Cameron author of Practicing Positive Leadership.  

The resulting framework guided our strategic plan on diversity and inclusion through the phases of 1) researching best practices and resources, 2) identifying barriers and motivating factors to making change happen in our office, 3) articulating a vision and defining career operations where inclusive elements could be implemented, 4) generating commitment from staff, faculty and peers, and lastly 5) making these efforts sustainable through data collection, reporting, strategic plans, gathering stories, and forming alliances. 

How can we implement those models in our work every day to better prepare a diverse student community for the work force? 

Career practitioners are uniquely positioned to work both with employers and students to transform current practices and contribute to larger campus efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion into meaningful institutional change. However, career practitioners are not necessarily diversity experts and this goal can be daunting.  

Finding a model that works for you can make this process effective and less overwhelming. The most critical part of this process was using our research and applying the knowledge and ideas we gained to look at our career operations critically for opportunities to implement inclusiveness. We identified the following four key areas of programming, resources, staff training and employer recruitment. Within each of these areas we then strategized and mapped out specific inclusive tactics and strategies for implementation.  

We found that there are opportunities all around us to make small changes that can have big results when it comes to inclusion! Already our career center has seen positive impacts including campus-wide recognition for our work on inclusion, better tracking systems in place that show higher usage of our services among minority populations, and a more targeted assessment of our data to identify trends that will impact our programming.  


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