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  • Case Study: When Employers Seek Connections With Students From Diverse Identity Groups

    Organizational Structure
    A young college student smiles.

    TAGS: diversity and inclusion, students with disabilities, case study, ethics, principles, employer relations

    Summary

    The following case study discusses ethical considerations when an employer seeks to connect with specific student populations through the career center in order to enhance diversity recruitment efforts. Principles 1, 3, 4, and 5 of the Principles for Ethical Professional Practice are used to address this scenario.

    This case study provides insight on the following:

    • Using employer events designed for specific populations as an augmentation to overall recruitment efforts by the employer.
    • The career center’s role in protecting student information.
    • Appropriate outreach that supports the employer’s goals as well as access to opportunities for students.
    • The role partnerships with student organizations and campus diversity support units can play in employer relationships and recruiting activities.

    The Case

    Scenario: An employer contacts the career center about assistance with its diversity recruitment efforts. The recruiter requests a list of junior and senior students who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color), and students with disabilities 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 hiring graduates from the institution, and alumni are well represented within its ranks. The CCD further realizes that, although this particular request focuses on an employer wanting to connect with students of color and students with disabilities, the request raises questions that are relevant to a variety of connections employers might seek with students from many diverse identity groups. The request is therefore an example of a specific question that the career center may need to consider in the larger context of its larger diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

    Questions:

    • Is holding an informational dinner for students of color and students with disabilities appropriate?
    • Is it permissible to comply with the employer’s request for the names of students?
    • Should the career center promote this event only to the students requested by the employer?
    • What if other students want to attend? Is there an equity issue in providing a list to “partner employers” only?
    • In a broader sense, how should career centers handle requests from employers seeking connections with students from diverse identity groups?
    • How can the career center respond to the current question from an employer in the context of inclusion efforts on campus, as well as in a way that is supportive to an employer partner that also has diversity and inclusion goals?
    • What is the CCD’s role or connection to departments that have received financial contributions from this employer, and what, if any, responsibilities or expectations does this create? How does this impact the CCD’s level of service? How are sponsorship programs communicated around campus internally?

    Principles That Apply:

    • Principle 1: Practice reasonable, responsible, and transparent behavior by clearly articulating and widely disseminating the organization’s policies and guidelines.
    • Principle 3: Ensure equitable access without stipulation or exception relative to contributions of financial support, gifts, affiliation, or in-kind services, and by proactively addressing inclusivity and diversity.
    • Principle 4: Comply with laws in a timely and appropriate way if complaints of non-compliance occur.
    • Principle 5: Protect confidentiality of all personal information related to candidates and their interviews, and their engagement with services, programs, and resources, as well as student information related to professional plans.

    Analysis:
    Creating events for specific 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 diverse talent, they are a logical part of the company’s recruitment strategy. It is recommended that a consultative conversation occur between both parties with the focus of gaining a better understanding of the corporate culture to ascertain if it promotes and exemplifies growth in DEI areas. If this is found to be the case, in understanding the student demographic that is to be served, the career services professional and the employer should then work together to align the company's DEI strengths with the needs of the student population. The consultative conversation should galvanize a well-structured DEI placement and recruitment framework. Often, such events engage not only the students, but also the staff and administrators of diversity support units on the campus.

    The CCD understands the potential value of such programs, but has concerns about the implications for students who are not included. If diversity is defined too narrowly—for example, if the employer invites 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 for students to access the employer, such as participation in a career fair or in on-campus interviews that appeal to all potential candidates, students who were not included in the event 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. Any steps taken must be actions the career center would take for any requesting employer, regardless of donor status.

    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 it permissible to comply with the employer's request for the names of the students?

    No. This is not only addressed in Principle 5, but also by law, specifically the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Students’ names may not be released to the employer, unless students provide written consent for the disclosure of such information. Even if the CCD does not release the names, but instead offers to send the invitations (on behalf of the employer) to students from designated identity groups, this is problematic because selecting individuals for the list requires excluding certain students based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or other demographic characteristics. Additionally, if the CCD were to do so, the CCD would be disclosing the names of students with disabilities or identifying those students to the employer, which could violate EEO laws. For the employer, generally, an individual is not permitted to be questioned as to whether they have a disability during the hiring process. Specifically identifying students with disabilities could give rise to a claim for discrimination.

    It is also worth noting that not all students disclose demographic characteristics, and the career center may not have accurate and complete data on student demographics. Additionally, should the CCD engage in the selection of appropriate individuals, it is exposing itself (and the educational institution) to potential liability for violation of state and federal EEO laws, statutes, and regulations, as it has now actively participated in the potential discriminatory acts.

    Instead, the CCD may recommend student organizations the employer should consider contacting. 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. The CCD should further make it clear, in writing, that it will not be involved actively in selecting students who are appropriate for the event. An even better approach would be introducing the recruiter to one or more of the diversity support individuals and/or offices on campus for assistance with promoting the event, provided it engages in such an endeavor for other recruiters who seek assistance.

    The CCD may also recommend broadening the employer’s interpretation of diversity. For example, 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 and market toward students affiliated with specific organizations or programs, the CCD should advise the employer to also allow these students to attend. Just as diversity career fairs do not exclude students, neither should employer diversity initiatives. To that end, the CCD may recommend combining outreach to student organizations with posting the event for all students in the career center’s database and using other targeting efforts. This may help to ensure that students are not excluded, or inadvertently missed if they don’t belong to one of the student organizations contacted. This may also help in the employer hosting a more inclusive event.

    • Is it acceptable to provide similar assistance to other employers even though they are not donors to support programs on campus?

    Absolutely; in fact, it is recommended that you present a high-level overview of services offered depending on their recruiting needs and provide necessary introductions to other departments on campus. Principle 3 makes it clear that equitable access to students—including students from diverse identity groups—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 its 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 and perhaps develop an action plan around these types of requests. This practice not only facilitates a more seamless response when similar requests from employers occur, but also 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 serves as an ally and advocate to students from diverse identity groups and strengthens its own networks. Alliances with diversity support units often prove critical when the career center seeks expertise around diversity and inclusion issues.

    Related Resources:
    Case Study: Career Services for Diverse Identity Groups

    FERPA Primer: The Basics and Beyond

    NACE’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement

    Reviewed and revised by the 2021 Principles for Ethical Professional Practice Committee. Posted September 2021.

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