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  • Case Study: When an Employer Wants Minority Students Only

    Organizational Structure
    A young college student smiles.

    TAGS: legal issues, diversity and inclusion, case study, ethics, principles

    Scenario: An employer contacts the career center about assistance with its diversity recruitment efforts. The recruiter requests a list of junior and senior African-American, Asian- American, Hispanic, Native American, and disabled students to invite to a special dinner where the company will present information about the firm and its available jobs. The company has been a major financial contributor to the school’s diversity retention programs. While there is no explicit expectation voiced by the recruiter, the career center director (CCD) understands that the company’s high visibility on campus, as well as the importance of its donation to support programs, creates subtle pressure for the CCD to comply with the request. In addition, the company has a steady track record of graduates from the institution, and alumni are well represented within its ranks.

    Questions: Is holding an informational dinner for minority students proper? Is requesting the names of the students allowable? Should the career center promote this event only to targeted students? What if other students want to attend? Is there an equity issue in providing this list to “partner employers” only?

    Analysis: Creating special events that target underrepresented student populations in an effort to diversify a candidate pool is a common practice for many employers. If such events have proven effective in sourcing diversity talent, they are a logical part of the company’s recruitment strategy. Often, such events engage not only the students, but also the staff and administrators of diversity support units on the campus. The initiative may be regarded as a company’s genuine commitment to living up to its stated values of diversity and inclusion.

    From the perspective of the targeted students, invitations to special events are appreciated. The attention means they have been recognized as possessing talent, which boosts their confidence in the search process and the likelihood their candidacy will receive full consideration. Companies that engage in this kind of outreach may significantly raise their stature as preferred employers.

    The CCD understands the potential value of such programs to some students, but has concerns about the implications for students not targeted. If diversity is defined too narrowly—for example, targeting African American and Hispanic students, but not women or LGBT students— the effort may seem more like a quota system (which isn’t good for the students invited, either) than a genuine inclusion initiative. If there aren’t other channels of access to the employer, such as participation in the career fair or in on-campus interviews which appeal to all potential candidates, non-targeted students may feel the company is unfairly excluding applicants based on race or ethnicity. Additionally, the CCD is concerned about the precedent set by providing this kind of special assistance. These must be actions the career center would take for any requesting employer, regardless of donor status.

    Principles: Several Principles are relevant to this case. Principle 3 states, “Ensure equitable access a) without stipulation or exception relative to contributions of financial support, gifts, affiliation, or in-kind services; b) in the provision of services and opportunities without discriminating on the basis of race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability, age, or economic status; and c) by proactively addressing inclusivity and diversity. Principle 4 states, “Comply with laws associated with local, state, and federal agencies, including but not limited to EEO compliance, immigration, and affirmative action.” Principle 5 states, “Protect confidentiality of all personal information related to candidates and their interviews, and their engagement with services, programs, and resources.”

    Options for Resolution: The nuances in this case hinge on whether the special dinner the employer wishes to host constitutes an augmentation to its overall recruitment efforts at the institution or a restrictive channel that limits opportunities to only students with certain demographic attributes. As an augmentation effort, determination of which students get invited cannot be based on demographic attributes.

    Is the employer's request for the names of the students allowable? No. This is not only addressed in Principle 5, but also by FERPA laws. Students’ names may not be released to the employer. And, even if the CCD does not release the names, but instead offers to send the invitations (on behalf of the employer) to designated underrepresented students, it is problematic because selecting individuals for the list requires excluding certain students based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or other demographic characteristics.

    Instead, the CCD may recommend student organizations the employer should consider inviting. While this may seem like following the same route, it is different because a) students self-select into organizations and b) student organizations are not exclusive. An even better approach would be introducing the recruiter to one or more of the diversity support offices on campus for assistance with promoting the event. The CCD may still assist in sending invitations to officers of selected student organizations.

    The CCD may also recommend broadening the employer’s interpretation of diversity. Efforts to reach out to students with disabilities, LGBT students, first-generation students, or student veterans may need to be just as robust as those made to students of color or from specific ethnic backgrounds. Inclusion means casting a wide net that ensures representation in its broadest expression.

    What if other students want to attend the dinner? While the employer may reasonably restrict attendance to students affiliated with specific organizations or programs, the CCD may advise the employer to also allow these students to attend. Just as diversity career fairs do not exclude students, neither should employer diversity initiatives.

    Is it acceptable to provide similar assistance to other employers even though they are not donors to support programs on campus? Absolutely. Principle 3 makes it clear that equitable access to students—including underrepresented students—should not be influenced by donations or other forms of financial support. While this does not oblige the career center to underwrite the expenses of employer diversity outreach initiatives, it does mean that the assistance provided to employers will be equitable.

    Other Considerations: Note that in this case, the employer has a track record of recruiting many graduates of the institution over a period of time. This suggests that the employer’s interest in the institution as a core recruiting school is broad based and that the diversity initiative is an augmentation to their existing efforts. It makes sense to review the scope of the employer’s involvement over time to better understand the context of the request. Perhaps the company has been successful recruiting at the institution except for students from certain backgrounds. The company may need a consultation on how it can better appeal to all students and improve the composition of its candidate pool.

    The career center should actively partner with diversity support units on its campus. This practice not only facilitates a more seamless response when similar requests from employers occur, it raises the career center’s visibility with students who need assistance. The mission of diversity support units is to connect students with campus resources that can help them succeed and achieve their goals. By building a bridge to these units, the career center becomes an advocate for underrepresented students and strengthens its own networks. Alliances with diversity support units often prove critical when the career center seeks expertise around diversity and inclusion issues.

    Posted June 2017.