Career counselors are working with increasingly diverse populations. In response, most counseling programs focus on developing cultural competency and some embed a culture-infused approach (Arthur & Collins, 2010) throughout their programs. Not surprisingly, NCDA’s career counseling competencies include a section on diverse populations; Competency 8 is “Advocate for the career development and employment of diverse populations.”
However, this notion of advocacy implies going beyond direct work with individual clients. Counselors need to know how to influence policies that impact the employment of diverse workers. They may also play a significant role in equipping organizations to recruit, retain, and fully engage diverse employees. The following 10 tips provide practical strategies to support career counselors in fulfilling the advocacy requirement to “advocate for the...employment of diverse populations.”
Define diversity broadly. Whether reviewing counseling literature, business reports, policy papers, or the popular press, it’s clear that there are many different understandings of the term diversity. When supporting diversity within the workplace, it’s helpful to be as inclusive as possible – ultimately a productive and engaging workplace is one where all workers are respected and don’t have to hide or disguise key aspects of their identity to feel safe or respected. Consider age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, race, culture, and differing abilities in your definition.
Begin with the end in mind. Stephen Covey’s principle for effective people holds true in supporting employers embracing diversity. Consider the outcome you’re trying to achieve and develop a plan to get from where you are now to where you’d like to be. Perhaps you’re advocating for appropriate and meaningful employment for a specific client group or assisting a corporate client to reach out to under-represented populations to address skill shortages. Your strategy will be different according to your focus.
Speak the employer’s language. Many career counselors work from a client-centered approach (i.e., what’s best for the individual client is the focus). Most employers, on the other hand, have an eye on the financial bottom line. To effectively advocate for better employment opportunities for diverse workers it is essential to help employers understand how embracing diversity will support their strategic business initiatives and result in a good return on their investment.
Get buy-in from the leadership team. Leaders will be instrumental in shaping diversity policy, allocating financial and human resources, and freeing up employee time to participate in training or events. It’s essential to have their support as you play an advocacy role for diverse clients.
Shape the culture. It’s generally accepted that a diversity event (i.e., a workshop or intervention) isn’t going to result in meaningful, long term change. Aim for an ongoing comprehensive program that enhances diversity awareness amongst all employees and creates a culture where diversity is appreciated, not simply tolerated.
Provide useful tools. As an advocate, it’s unlikely that you’ll have the capacity to support all employers in your network on your own. Instead, consider introducing employers to tools that an in-house diversity champion could use without much training or support. The SEED toolkit is freely available online at: www.embracingdiversity.ca. Also see www.diversityatwork.ca.
Introduce training opportunities. Some diversity champions would benefit from structured training to orient them to their roles. One online course that uses the SEED toolkit as a resource is Managing Diversity at Work: www.lifestrategies.ca/resources/flyers/Managing-Diversity-At%20Work-Course.pdf
Facilitate learning opportunities. Many professional associations, chambers of commerce, service clubs, and boards of trade welcome offers from local speakers or trainers to present on topics of interest to their members. As part of your advocacy role, consider approaching some of your local organizations with your willingness to speak at an upcoming event.
What’s measured, counts! Keep and share local and regional diversity-related statistics and get permission to share success stories from employers who’ve successfully embraced diversity. Numbers talk and employers may be more receptive to your diversity solutions if they have tangible evidence that a similar approach has worked somewhere else.
Keep learning yourself. Understanding diversity is a lifelong endeavor, not something mastered in grad school. Within Life Strategies’ Career Management Professional program, for example, are courses including Understanding Diverse Clients, The Immigrant Experience, Women at Work, Retirement Readiness, and International Global Careers, all pre-approved for Continuing Education Units for Global Career Development Facilitators. Find out more at: www.lifestrategies.ca/services/courses/career-management-professional-program-cmpp.cfm
It’s not uncommon to find career counselors and organizational leaders that “get” the importance of embracing diversity – members of both groups understand the challenges of recruiting skilled workers and the advantages that diverse workers offer. However, time and again I’ve seen the advocacy efforts of career practitioners and the best intentions of leaders thwarted by managers, supervisors, or front-line workers who weren’t adequately prepared for a diverse workplace.
These tips are intended to help career counselors advocate more effectively for the career development and employment of all of the diverse clients served, and support employers in their networks to embrace diversity. Together we can make a significant difference!
Arthur, N., & Collins, S. (2010). Culture-infused counselling (2nd Ed.). Calgary, AB: Counselling Concepts.
NCDA Career Counseling Competencies. Retrieved from http://associationdatabase.com/aws/NCDA/asset_manager/get_file/3397/counselingcompetencies.pdf?ver=3407
Dr. Roberta Neault, CCC, RRP, GCDFi, CCDP is president of Life Strategies Ltd., editor of the Journal of Employment Counseling, and a counselor-educator at several Canadian universities. She was an invited presenter on the topic “Supporting Employers Embracing Diversity” at the international symposium in San Francisco, prior to the NCDA 2010 conference. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her websites at www.lifestrategies.ca and www.diversityatwork.ca