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  • Creating a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion: Start With Small Wins

    April 06, 2016 | By NACE Staff

    Special Populations
    A group of diverse coworkers.

    TAGS: diversity and inclusion, students with disabilities, spotlight

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    When creating a culture of diversity and inclusion in career services, Shelagh Saenz recommends starting by focusing on making small gains.

    “Knowing how to systematically leverage inclusive tactics for student learning and student success begins in small increments,” says Shelagh Saenz, director of career development at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “In our office, we call it ‘finding the inches all around us.’”

    Saenz explains that “finding those inches” are identifying and taking small actionable steps because doing so will help career centers see their gaps and develop a more inclusive environment.

    “You also start creating a series of small wins that builds momentum, increases your center’s reputation, and gains allies who want to be part of your success,” she adds. “Some of these small wins are data-driven and some are through storytelling.”

    One example Saenz cited was that staff in the career development office at the University of Michigan School of Public Health wanted to create a center where students who have either a physical handicap or a learning disability would be able to have a quiet space to work on cover letters, resumes, fellowship statements, and more.

    “We were able to work with our leadership to identify a space—which is no small feat—and received funding for adaptable technology, a large computer screen, and a flexible desk arrangement,” she says. “This was one of our first small wins. We started creating more resources and we received a lot more buzz as we started winning awards on campus for this work. It was just finding the small things that we were able to do and implementing them.”

    While finding these small wins is crucial at the start, success in creating a culture of diversity and inclusion in career services requires a broad view and deep planning.

    “The most important element is having a well-coordinated, actionable plan in place that does foster diversity, equity, and inclusion at every level in a career center’s programs, resources, staff training, and employer relations,” Saenz says.

    Some other key elements for creating a culture of diversity and inclusion in career services include:

    • Understanding what diversity, equity, and inclusion are.
    • Knowing the benefits of a diverse work force.
    • Knowing what the demands on career services will be.
    • Having an awareness of the discrimination and bias that does occur during the hiring and employment process, and developing a clear sense of how this impacts your students and your operations.

    Saenz explains that because career services practitioners are not necessarily diversity experts, diversity and inclusion can be very daunting in terms of what to do and where to start.

    “Sometimes, we might be so worried about doing something wrong that we default to doing nothing,” she says. “That’s where the problem is. We need to move toward being equity-minded practitioners, and having diversity and inclusion efforts that are more central in our regular daily activities.”

    In addition to inactivity, some possible missteps career centers make when it comes to their diversity and inclusion efforts include not approaching it with a comprehensive and cohesive vision and approach, or not being data driven and considering the sustainability of the approach. Instead, Saenz recommends that you:

    • Understand and meet student expectations—All students want to be respected, valued, included, and welcomed. They expect staff members across the university to be trained and developed on equity and inclusion issues.
    • Understand and meet employer needs—Not all business representatives fully understand the employment equal opportunity laws or affirmative action principles to which career services need to adhere. Use your educational role with employers to discuss these laws and your limitations.
    • Keep staff involved—Make sure staff members stay involved and are contributing so they have buy-in to your plan.
    • Talk about your successes—While a lot of career services professionals are humble, they have to promote their work in this area because it needs to be recognized to build momentum.

    This focus will help career services offices prepare for the future.

    “Generation Z is going to be the most ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history,” Saenz says. “The question becomes whether career centers can adapt appropriately and remain relevant by understanding both the needs of the students and the work force that they are going to be entering. We have to be prepared to contribute to the success of all students. If we do this, higher education and the work force will benefit.”

    Shelagh Saenz will present “Building a Culture of Diversity & Inclusion Into Career Services” at NACE16.