Diversity Committees at Work: A Unified Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity
By Marian Higgins
The NCDA Code of Ethics addresses the importance of cultural competency for career development professionals. Career counselors are tasked with continuously seeking opportunities to enhance knowledge, assess personal values and biases, and develop skills that will enable them to meet wide-ranging, ever-evolving client needs. Creating a diversity committee in one’s career development office is an avenue for counseling professionals to build and maintain their cultural competency. This type of committee or council is generally established to demonstrate an organization’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity. It serves to 1) bring awareness of the career development needs and challenges of marginalized clients, 2) increase the relevant knowledge of career professionals, and 3) develop strategies for client advocacy.
For over 12 years, I led a diversity committee at the University of Georgia (UGA) Career Center. I decided to form a committee so that I was not the only staff member responsible for diversity initiatives in our office. Since that time, our group has been effective in exhibiting a unified commitment to diversity and inclusion on campus and in the professional world. Here are five steps for other career professionals interested in starting a similar initiative:
Step One: Gain Leadership Support
In order for the diversity committee to be a success, it must be supported by office/organization leadership. Interested counselors may benefit from preparing a proposal that addresses how this committee will positively impact the team and its clients, and/or other campus/office colleagues, furthering enhancing the cultural competency of the organization at large. During a meeting with the Executive Director at UGA, I advocated for a committee by outlining the benefits to both the office and the students, including:
- increasing awareness of career services,
- broadening those services beyond large-scale diversity events,
- expanding our definition of diversity to be more inclusive of various identities,
- and establishing connections with employers committed to diversity recruitment.
Step Two: Establish the Committee
The key to establishing a great committee is to have members who want to serve and are not forced to join it.At least half of the career counselors initially volunteered, ranging in experience and knowledge regarding diversity, inclusion and equity issues. Over time, the majority of the colleagues on our staff asked to be involved.
Step Three: Define Purpose and Goals
Everyone on the committee needs to have a voice and contribute to the development of the purpose and goals. Creating a strategic plan can assist with outlining these key aspects. A few questions to consider during this process include:
- How will you define diversity as it relates to this committee and career development? How does that definition fit or contrast with diversity efforts elsewhere in the organization?
- What are the needs of the unique populations served by your office? What may be methods for meeting those needs?
- How will clients and potential clients know that you have made a distinct commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity?
- What type of training do members need to be effective? How will related skills and knowledge be built, proven, and assessed?
- What resources should become or remain available to best serve a diverse range of clients?
- How could the committee collaborate with other groups and organizations (e.g., external agencies, non-profit organizations, student organizations, campus leadership, employers, alumni) at various levels to deliver services?
Our committee’s strategic plan focused on four main areas: increasing students’ awareness and knowledge of the resources available at the Career Center, expanding our definition of diversity while creating more inclusive services and events, developing a cultural competent staff, and connecting underrepresented students and Career Center staff to employers and alumni. After we outlined each of these areas, we developed specific objectives to accomplish the larger goals.
Step Four: Delegate
One purpose of a diversity committee may be for career counselors to share the responsibility of becoming culturally competent. After identifying populations the office would like to learn more about or support more directly, each committee member could be responsible for seeking out information related to serving an individual group, bringing back ideas to share with the committee. For example, at the University of Georgia Career Center, each committee member holds a liaison role with an underrepresented student population. The member then identifies the type of training the broader staff may need to best understand and serve that population, such as having an expert speak to staff. The committee member is also responsible for posting relevant resources on our website and ordering useful books. For example, one of our members initiated a campus-wide committee that regularly met to address the issues of international students and to discuss related programming. Our liaisons also created a series of programs and produced a career guide specifically for international students.
Step Five: Track Progress
An annual report is a great way to document the progress of a diversity committee, providing accountability and ensuring the group has met their stated goals. It can also demonstrate areas for growth the group may want to pursue in the future, and serves as documentation for team efforts regarding cultural competency. The report ideally reinforces the value of having a diversity committee, and should be shared with office leadership, and possibly clients and other stakeholders. Elements of this report could be shared online or used in marketing materials to demonstrate a commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and equity,.
Through quantitative and qualitative assessments, our diversity committee has received positive feedback on our initiatives. Students have appreciated our attentiveness to understanding their unique backgrounds and helping them navigate career planning. Other campus offices have commented on the level of service that we provide for minoritized students. Alumni praise our efforts and explain how they wish our diversity programming existed when they were students. Employers have been impressed with our ability to connect them with a range of students through unique programming. Our efforts have also led to recognition in career services at the national, regional, and state levels.
Anticipating Challenges and Changes to Encourage Success
Establishing a diversity committee can be rewarding yet challenging. It is fulfilling to collaborate on initiatives that will benefit team and client needs over time. However, it can be frustrating to generate great initiatives only to be constrained by limited time or resources. Therefore, when creating the committee, start with small goals and activities to build a solid foundation for increasing staff cultural competency. Continuing to replenish the committee with interested members and continually evaluate the direction and initiatives . These changes may be influenced by a university or office’s diversity planning, an evolving client or student population, and the political climate.
Regardless of whether one is a career counselor at a university, in a secondary school setting, in the community, or in private practice, a diversity task force or committee can be a practical approach to boosting and employing cultural competency. Through planning, collaboration, and assessment, diversity committees can emerge and thrive to support unique populations in an ever-changing career landscape.
Marian Higgins, Ph.D., LPC is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the College of Education at the University of Georgia. Prior to assuming this role, she served as the Director of Career Development and Programs at the UGA Career Center where she coordinated the diversity initiatives for the office and provided consultations to employers on effective diversity recruitment strategies. She is an experienced speaker and consultant with expertise in areas such as diversity and inclusion, supervision and management, career preparation, and employee development. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.