Case Study: Increasing Engagement With Career Services Among Students With Diverse Social Identities

Organizational Structure
Diverse students sitting in class

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


The following case study discusses ethical considerations when a career center seeks to attract students from diverse social identities 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:

  • The role of career centers in attracting students from diverse social identities to their services, programs and resources;
  • Developing clarity around driving forces to examine career center practices related to the implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives;
  • Auditing website and printed content and delivery technologies for use of inclusive, non- biased, and non-gendered language;
  • Staffing considerations when seeking to more effectively connect with students from diverse social identities; and
  • 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 social identities.


Scenario: A career center wants to do more to increase engagement with students with diverse social identities. 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 BIMPOC students. A staff member discovers that many other career centers reference specific resources for BIMPOC students. Another suggestion is to hire a BIMPOC staff member designated to advise BIMPOC 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 social identities to your office and website is to understand the driving forces for doing so and the specific needs of your student population(s).

  • Is there institutional pressure to improve career readiness outcomes for all students that includes increased engagement from specific groups? If yes, how will the institution track and assess outcomes?
  • Are employers requesting opportunities for engagement with specific student populations through the career center in order to enhance their diversity recruitment efforts?
  • Is the focus on specific student populations coming out of a genuine inclusion initiative for the office?
  • 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?
  • What ethical issues are raised by the ideas generated by the focus group?
  • Does it make a difference if the proposed web pages are accessible to all students even though the resources and opportunities are directed at specific student populations?
  • Is it equitable or reasonable to have staff aligned with students with specific social identities, e.g., veterans, athletes, students with disabilities, as specialists?
  • What is every staff member’s responsibility to support students coming from diverse social identities?
  • What training and resources are available for staff to provide equitable service to all students?
  • What other options are there to attract all students to the programs and services with a focus on inclusion of all?
  • Are there opportunities to collaborate with other offices, programs, or initiatives on campus that may be advancing equitable and inclusive practices?

Diverse social identities are defined in this document as formal and informal associations and ties based on individual identification along the lines of race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, gender preferences, country of origin, dis/ability, and cultural, political, religious, and other group affiliations.

BIMPOC is defined as Black, Indigenous, Multiracial, People of Color.

LGBTQIA2S+ is defined as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, two spirit, and other sexual orientations.

Analysis: If students from specific social identities access the career center’s services and resources in lesser percentages than their representation in the overall student body, the career center should take steps to address the imbalance. The suggestions generated by the focus group may be good starting points for consideration, but they should be thought through carefully. The reliance on a focus group alone to generate an action plan is problematic and if relied on should align with qualitative research standards on designing and conducting a focus group. Instead, gathering data through multiple research methods such as a student needs assessment, existing data from institutional research, or studies conducted by the campus diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging office or other identity group research centers will provide a richer view of student needs from diverse groups. Further, layering institutional research data from multiple sources with data gathered from a peer review of career center programs and services targeting students of diverse social identities may provide best practice ideas that could resonate with the student body.

Students from diverse social identities—including BIMPOC students, first-generation students, students with disabilities, student veterans, student athletes, LGBTQIA2S+ 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 continue to lack diversity, 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 illegal to hire an employee based solely on their race, national origin, or any other legally protected classification.  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, inclusion, and belonging offices with regard to the recruitment, hiring, and training of existing and future staff.

Principles That Apply:

  • Principle 3: Ensure equitable access by proactively addressing inclusivity and diversity.
  • 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 students with diverse social identities 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 “social identity” 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 BIMPOC students, LGBTQIA2S+ students, first-generation students, international students, student veterans, and student athletes. 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, equity, inclusion, and belonging 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. Staff should be encouraged to attend trainings and programming offered by their institutions on equity, diversity and inclusion.

While new sections of the website could be used to highlight the existing diversity programs and services, the center should take care not to imply an exclusivity reserved only for students fitting a particular social identity. Instead, it may be preferable to encourage students to look for unique opportunities posted in an existing centralized database providing equitable access rather than segregating opportunities into distinct categories according to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or other identities.

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. Similarly, “parallel programming” should be avoided. For example, creating a workshop titled “Interviewing Skills for BIMPOC Students” may suggest that the standard interviewing skills workshop is geared toward non-BIMPOC 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. Alternatively, career center staff may consider leveraging institutional alumni and/or hiring organization representatives to co-present workshops to add diversity of thought/perspective and identity representation among presenters.

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 (or any other legally protected classification) 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 BIMPOC students or other protected classifications or are somehow unqualified to do so, and it also 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. Roles may be established for designated career advisers to liaise with campus 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.

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? Does the career center director regularly approve state, regional, national and international professional development, both in-person and remote, from associations known for presenting information on best practices in regard to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging? Does the office have a working committee that actively reviews resources and presents information on new approaches that better serve all students and employers? 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. One consideration is to add a statement about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging practices in every job opening position description.

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. Tailoring interview questions to inquire about a candidate’s demonstrated allyship and their experiences in creating or increasing equitable access to services and programs can provide insight into how potential career center staff will approach inclusive career advising practices. Consulting with employer partners that have been effective in diversifying their candidate pipeline may provide best practices that could be incorporated into the career center’s hiring practices.

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, working professional alumni, 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. If the career center has an employer advisory council, alumni advisory council, campus partner advisory council, and/or a student advisory counsel, they may want to consider hosting a meeting focused on the topic of increasing engagement among students from diverse social identities.

Other Considerations, Partnerships: Perhaps the most effective way to increase use of the career center by students from diverse social identities is through partnership with the diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging office and other student support units on campus, e.g., campus/student life, residential life, federal work study, disability resource center, as well as with student organizations focused on racial, ethnic, cultural, and other identity affiliations.

For all students, early exposure to career center programming, events, and services may provide an overall increase in student engagement across all populations. For example, marketing a part-time job fair to first-year and transfer students or an internship fair to third-year students may resonate more than a career center general overview presentation.

In addition to traditional communication methods, career center staff can also leverage relationships with student organizations and student support units to amplify marketing of events, programs, and services to students of diverse social groups. A commitment to forming relationships with student organizations will help the career center be seen as more accessible and their offered programs and services more equitable across all 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 internal staff and operations, a similar, robust evaluation should be conducted. Assessing issues such as accessibility, e.g., internet connectivity, required hardware or software, surveillance, data collection, use, and ownership, encoded biases in our technologies, and who controls or accesses our technologies becomes as imperative as training internal teams and choosing the right partners. Special care should be taken to examine the language, examples, avatars, graphics, and images used within the technology platforms to ensure they are inclusive, unbiased, and non-gendered.

Career center programs, services, and events delivered remotely through technology have made it easier for all students to engage with their career center. Through liaison roles and partnership with student support offices emphasizing the availability of these remote engagement opportunities, increased student engagement across social identities may be achieved.

Reviewed and revised by the 2022-23 Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee.

NACE24 Virtual Faculty Attitudes and Behaviors: The Integration of Career Readiness Into the Curriculum NACE's NEW Coaching Certification Program