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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Best Practices in Meeting the Needs of Generation Z

Wednesday, May 13, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Melissa Minato & Lauren Wooster
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Our traditional age college students currently represent Generation Z (Gen Z) and will for the next few years. As MPACE colleagues who met at a recent MPACE conference quickly realizing we had many similar interests, this topic became a point of acute interest to us when we realized that our coworkers still spoke about assisting ‘these millennials’ in student services. This inspired us to research the specific demographic needs of Gen Z in order to improve our career services.

Gen Z students were roughly born between 1996 and 2010 and they are the first digital native generation. The cultural influences that have impacted this generation have included growing up during financial crisis in the early 2000s, 9/11, increased school shootings, legalization of marijuana, the first African American president, and same sex marriage becoming more commonplace (Flippen, 2017). They are also the most culturally diverse generation. For comparison, Gen Z is only 55% caucasian while the Baby Boomer generation was 70% caucasian, and multi-racial births have risen from 1/100 in 1970 to 1/10 as of 2011(Fromm & Read, 2018). When looking at these facts, it is easy to see why one of the critical themes of supporting Gen Z is to support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts in career services. This article dives into the definitions of those terms that our offices have used and the effective programming we have designed to support DEI efforts. 

Shared Collegial Understanding: Defining Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
One of the first steps in understanding DEI is reflecting on your own personal values and privileges as well as having shared conversations with your colleagues. When was the last time your work team collectively discussed these terms and their intersection with individual coaching methods, office/institutional practices, workforce trends, and greater systems? By creating agreed upon office definitions of terms, building shared understanding, and forming conversation guidelines, more fruitful conversations can be had.

Image 1.1: Diversity, equity, and inclusion practice can be applied at various levels. As career education professionals, our positionality and power equips us to influence systems change.

Workplace Trends 
Some of the workplace trends that we identified for Gen Z include an increase in hiring and wages alongside a decrease in benefits, increased workplace flexibility and virtual opportunities, retirement of baby boomers, and artificial intelligence changing and replacing existing job structures (Flippen 2017). Despite the technological advances, Gen Z remains an introspective group with anxiety about their opportunities. Though their personal communication occurs largely through social media, this group largely prefers 1:1 attention and feedback in their work environments (Fromm & Read 2018). In addition, the current COVID-19 pandemic is projected to have further impact on the job economy and the virtual work landscape (Doyle, A. 2020). The following list outlines career center strategies for addressing DEI and workplace trends:

  • Acknowledging intersectional identities through programming
  • Collaborating with employers, local business, and entrepreneurs to help define transferable skills
  • Creating a pathway for alumni connections 
  • Educating on company research and salary/benefit negotiation
  • Mental health first aid trainings and building relationships with campus counseling and psychological services (CAPS) offices

From Learning to Action: DEI and Gen-Z Best Practices

Informing Programming and Communications with Gen-Z in Mind
To balance the university mission and our efforts to help students successfully navigate their futures, the Office of Career & Professional Development (OCPD) located within a private institution serving 2500 undergraduates and 2500 gradates, University of Redlands in Redlands, CA worked with a company called Gapingvoid to create a ‘Culture Wall’ that represented our philosophy in a series of fun engaging images. The images are cartoonish in character but meaningful in message and appeal broadly to our Gen Z audience. For instance, one depicts a wild collage of colorful shapes with the phrase: “there is no right major.” We have used the 20 images to communicate our message to students through classroom presentations, lawn signs, social media, stickers, and buttons. University of Redlands received great feedback from the community at large.

In addition, the OCPD offers an ongoing webinar series called “Identities at Work.” The series is a panel of people who identify with the focus group and speak to each identity from the standpoint of an alumni, employer, or support service personnel. We have hosted the following webinars:

  • Navigating the Job Search for LGBTQIA Individuals
  • Navigating the Job Search for Individuals with Disabilities
  • Navigating the Job Search for Military Veterans

These webinars continue to be an example of the OCPD brand and values.

Aligning Gen-Z Values with Campus & Community Initiatives
The OCPD has implemented the use of Alumnifire to better connect our current students with University of Redlands alumni to assist with Career & Professional Development topics. Through the free version, alumni can designate what career topics they want support. Alumnifire caters to the Gen Z population as it allows students to research and outreach through forum posts, groups, and filter potential mentors (Bulldog Alumni) on topics of shared interest from majors to campus organizations. 

We have also sought to enhance our impact on campus to build stronger partnerships with faculty and embed a career ecosystem. To achieve this goal, we implemented a Faculty Career Fellows program. Five faculty members were selected from student nominations about the faculty’s impact on their career development. Our 5 fellows serve as liaisons for our academic departments to share how our office can support academic programs and garner a broader sense of career development activity across our campus. We know that Generation Z looks up to their faculty and have relied on their partnership. We look forward to utilizing the data collected to enhance opportunities to provide relevant curricular material for all of our academic departments. 

Aligning Gen-Z Values with Employer and Community Partner Education
At the Career Engagement Office within Seattle University, a Jesuit Catholic university with an enrollment of roughly 4,800 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students located in Downtown Seattle, we understand that Gen-Z’s value diversity, inclusion, and more progressive thinking around equity and social justice. This knowledge has informed the work of the Career Engagement Office and the content and training delivered to employers and our community partners. As a team, we recognize our role is to not only support students in finding employment, but we are in a position to also inform sectors on emerging trends. Thankfully our work around DEI informed training is supported by the mission and values of Seattle University. 

The Career Engagement Office piloted the Engaged Employer Symposium in August of 2018, a one day, conference-style program which reached over 100 participants from new and existing employer partners which represented all three sectors. Our team planned the program and also delivered the day’s content, in partnership with Seattle University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The day included a keynote address from Seattle University’s Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion on unconscious bias and its role in student career development, creating an inclusive organizational culture and practices, and a recent alumni panel. The DEI learning was furthered at the Second Annual Engaged Employer Symposium in August 2019. 

Informing Programming and Communications with Gen-Z in Mind 
Since Gen Z has primarily grown up with smart devices at their fingertips for most of their lives, we understand the significance of the digital presence (Twenge, 2017). Paid student graphic design interns have been instrumental in our social media presence including Facebook and Instagram accounts. Additionally, career coaches will be shifting traditional career education guides to blog-style content. 

With the exception of a few signature programs such as quarterly career fairs, all other planned programming from the Career Engagement Office is either done in partnership with student groups/leaders or with student feedback in mind. Student clubs have partnered with us to coordinate programming such as our annual Engineering & Tech Takeover, Arts + Media + Design Day, and Career Treks. Student club leaders support planning efforts, marketing, day-of volunteer support, and recruitment of program participants including students and community members. By partnering with students, our office has more bandwidth to offer the programs which best apply to specific career interests and the kind of programming Gen Z wants to see, as our Gen Z students are the audience driving the work. 

As career education professionals, our work around DEI has only started to touch the surface when it comes to the charge we hold in working with partners, including our own students, in the making of inclusive and equitable workplaces. As Gen-Z continues to join our campus communities, colleges and employers alike will have the opportunity to adapt and pivot, reshaping our methods to best serve this forward-thinking and resilient generation.


About the Authors
Melissa Minato (Seattle University) and Lauren Wooster (University of Redlands) met at the MPACE 2018 Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA. They discovered a parallel in structural changes and innovative programming at their universities and started collaborating on a proposal for MPACE 2019. The following is adapted from their MPACE 2019 Annual Conference presentation by the same title.

Sample framing used for ‘DEI’ in our own work together:
(NACE Blog, 2019)

Diversity: Makeup of a room or population; including demographic representation of individuals, as well as inherent, social, economic, behavioral, and cultural differences.  

Equity: Who is trying to get into the room but cannot? Whose presence in the room is threatened or at risk of erasure? 

Inclusion: What ideas are most readily heard? Whose voices are heard and included and how does this reflect the views of the majority or dominant culture?

Armstrong, K. (2019, June 25). What exactly is diversity, equity, and inclusion?... [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://community.naceweb.org/blogs/karen-armstrong1/2019/06/25/what-exactly-is-diversity-equity-and-inclusion 

Doyle, A. (2020, March 20). Coronavirus and the workforce: What you should know. The Balance Careers. https://www.thebalancecareers.com/coronavirus-and-the-workforce-what-you-should-know-4799675

Flippen, C.S. (2017). Generation Z in the workplace: Helping the newest generation in the workforce build successful working relationships and career paths. Dr. Candace Steele Flippen.

Fromm, J. & Read, A. (2018). Marketing to GenZ: The rules for reaching this vast and very different generation of influencers. American Management Association. 

Twenge, J. (2017) iGen. New York, NY: Atria Books.

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