Whether it’s implementing new technology, creating more opportunity through internal internship programs or establishing committed partnerships with employers, career services professionals are taking every initiative to best prepare students for satisfactory, fulfilling careers post graduation.
As professionals continue to revolutionize career services best practices, the next step is making career services and recruiting more inclusive for women, and for LGBQ, trans and non-gender-conforming students. It’s a conversation that is in the early stage, but those such as University of Denver Career Advisor Kyle Inselman and University of Utah Associate Director of Counseling Services & Operations Kelly Dries are igniting the discussion and kickstarting change.
Closing the Disparity Gap
The latest U.S. Transgender Survey Report — undertaken in 2015 — outlines the landscape for what trans and non-gender-conforming people experience professionally. The following are some of the main takeaways:
- The unemployment rate among survey respondents was 15 percent, three times higher than the U.S. unemployment rate at the time of the survey (5 percent)
- U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS) respondents were less likely to have individual incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 (21 percent) than those in the U.S. adult population (25 percent)
- Sixteen percent of USTS respondents who have been employed reported losing at least one job because of their gender identity or expression
- Seventy-seven percent of USTS respondents who had a job in the past year at the time took steps to avoid mistreatment in the workplace, such as hiding or delaying their gender transition or quitting
Career counselors, coaches and advisors are on the front lines of closing the disparity gap and can have a major impact in helping LGBTQ students find equal opportunities in supportive environments.
According to Dries and Inselman, the most important action is making these student populations feel comfortable raising the subject of their gender/sexual orientation, and expressing concerns and questions regarding career prospects.
“Looking at it from the career services side, how do you make sure you get people to feel included and express these concerns that they have?” Inselman explained. “On the flipside, on employment, how do we make sure we’re going beyond saying, ‘We recruit diverse populations,’ and we’re continuing to make sure there is inclusion during and after the hiring process?”
Creating a Supportive Environment in Career Services
The fact of the matter is that LGBTQ students have much more to consider as they pursue employment.
Many have to determine how much or whether or not they want their personal identity to be tied to their professional life. For some, it’s very important to find opportunities at organizations that are truly gender inclusive and LGBTQ friendly. For others — those that are more comfortable separating their personal identity from work — are constantly faced with “choosing an identity” when applying for benefits.
“Benefits discussions are a huge issue for trans students,” Inselman notes. “You have to check a box as ‘male’ or ‘female’ when you sign up for health insurance, vision insurance, dental insurance — it’s everywhere.”
Inselman finds that the best approach to addressing these concerns with students is to help the student understand their personal comfort with these types of questions.
Students’ comfort stems from the culture of openness a career services center promotes. That culture can be defined by hosting discussion groups, organizing workshops and having career counselors outfit their offices with material that promotes trans- or women-specific career events and organizations.
At the University of Utah, Dries has helped implement Lean In groups based off Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book. She explained that the book’s accompanying website has many great resources, including videos, that address navigating different career issues that women may face in the professional work environment.
“We originally started reaching out to just women. And then we thought, ‘This could be for everybody,’” Dries explained. “The conversations we’re having pertain to everybody, so it was a great educational moment for us. The topic at the time was focused on feminism. Many influential feminists in my life are men. So, having that conversation around feminism with students of varying gender identities helped us think about how we construct gender and how it impacts people regardless of their identification as a feminist.”
At University of Denver, Inselman focuses on providing resources that empower the student. He recognizes policy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity is always changing and notes the importance of making students aware of how they should go about researching potential employers’ stances on relevant policies.
One practice he finds helpful is indicating which employers attending career fairs have sexual orientation and gender identity or gender expression included in their nondiscrimination policies. He also promotes a setting conducive to discussion by posting flyers and information advertising LGBTQ career programs.
For example, in his previous role at Laramie County Community College, Inselman posted a flyer promoting the LGBTQ career conferences organized by Out for Undergrad. While meeting with one student to go over her resume and approach to her job search, she noticed the poster and mentioned that finding an LGBTQ-friendly job was important to her.
“Just having that visual signifier up lets students know that it is safe to bring that up,” Inselman reflected.
Sharing one’s gendered pronouns — such as “she” or “they” — has also become common practice in fostering a setting for open dialogue. When meeting with students, Dries and her staff introduce themselves by mentioning the pronouns they use, and they include pronouns in their email signatures.
“This is a small thing, but it helps create a safe environment where students feel free to do the same,” she said. “It’s about opening up the conversation with students and showing that we are a supportive environment.”
Forging Connections with LGBTQ Organizations and Professionals
Another way to empower underrepresented students in their career pursuits, is to connect them with successful professionals who share a common identity.
Inselman pointed to the impact his undergraduate scholarship — through the Point Foundation — had on his career advancement due to the foundation’s emphasis on mentoring, professional development and leadership development.
He and Dries believe in the importance of career advisors supplementing their efforts to create opportunity for LGBTQ students by developing partnerships with community advocates.
“When thinking about partnerships, we want to look at how we can help students see possibilities that are open to them, and get them excited about professional development,” Inselman explained.
One such organization is Trans*H4CK — a tech incubator founded by trans professionals. The community not only serves as a resource for trans students, but it provides them the opportunity to work in tech and pursue their own entrepreneurial ventures.
Institutions can leverage these partnerships to implement job shadowing and mentoring initiatives, as well as introduce their professional experience and expertise by bringing them to campus as speakers.
“For LGBTQ youths who feel underrepresented in certain career fields, it’s important to see someone they relate to succeeding professionally,” Inselman said.
At the University of Utah, one grant-funded partnership even guarantees students have professional attire at their disposal, making them feel empowered when going for an interview attending their first day at an internship.
The partnership has also allowed Dries and her staff to stay open to adapting to the needs of trans and non-gender-conforming students. The partnership provided women’s clothing from The Limited and men’s clothing from Mr. Mac.
One student brought to Dries’ attention that even though she identifies as female on her resume, she would rather not dress in clothing from The Limited. Instead, she wanted to wear clothes from Mr. Mac.
This student’s feedback furthered the importance of not making assumptions as a career services professional regarding gender. The Limited and Mr. Mac are still University of Utah’s professional attire outfitters, and now students have the ability to dress in either clothing — regardless of how they identify.
The conversation regarding gender inclusivity is still in the early stages within career services, but in speaking with Dries and Inselman it’s apparent that change will occur organically as more and more professionals open that discussion.
“It’s about how we transform systems to be inclusive by nature rather than trying to fit change where we can,” Inselman said. “You can make a difference, even if it’s just for one student.”