Each year, thousands of college graduates attempt to launch their careers, all competing for jobs in their respective fields. And while a candidate’s education ranks high on many employers’ lists, cultural competence is an increasingly important quality for employees to possess.
The Center for American Progress reports that as the minority population continues to increase, so will the diversity of the nation’s workforce, with minorities ultimately accounting for 83 percent of employment growth.
As the workforce continues to become more diverse, people who are accepting of and able to work well with all people — regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and any other number of factors — will appeal more to the majority of employers.
Companies are now looking, more than ever, to hire candidates with strong cultural competence, which means that students coming from institutions where diversity and inclusion are valued may have the upper hand.
The Importance of Understanding
According to Vicky Ayers, senior search manager and coordinator of continuous quality at RPA Inc., companies want employees who can relate to their customers, and that means a range of people from different cultures and backgrounds.
“Effective and successful companies understand that the business world is no longer as white-, European-, male-centric as it once seemed to be,” Ayers says. “Employees now function in a global marketplace, and diverse campuses are hothouses for growing employees who understand and can connect with individuals from across what used to be cultural divides.”
Ayers explains that to become more attractive to employers, students must have an understanding of more than just race and ethnicity.
“Diversity is a much broader concept than [race]; [it] encompasses age, gender, physical ability, religion, nationality, first language, status as an ex-offender, veterans’ [status], and more,” she says.
According to the American Council on Education, diversity not only makes the college experience more fulfilling for students, but also promotes a healthy society and personal growth as it helps build a workplace atmosphere of tolerance, teamwork, and respect. Because of this, colleges and universities are attempting to prepare students from all backgrounds to be outstanding and respectful leaders before they even enter the workforce.
At San Diego State University (SDSU), programs like One SDSU give students opportunities to engage in open dialogues on a regular basis, ultimately gaining a better understanding of cultural differences.
One SDSU sponsors campus-wide events and activities — such as plays, guest speakers, and movie series — to help students become more knowledgeable and accepting of differences in regard to race, religion, gender identity, disability, and more.
The school also holds career fairs, meet and greets, and information sessions. Recruiters are also invited to spend time on campus, providing opportunities for students and potential employers to interact.
“The more energy we put into diversity and inclusion education, we’re finding corporate recruiters are responding favorably,” says Aaron Bruce, PhD, chief diversity officer at SDSU. “We work to make our students globally minded because diversity is already part of many recruiters’ goals.”
At Oklahoma State University (OSU), the Career Services Center plays a major role in preparing students for the diverse workforce that awaits them. Jawauna Harding, senior career coordinator at OSU, says that as a consultant, her job is to show students how they can grow in their understanding of diversity and how to promote themselves.
“We don’t want students [leaving] here with a one-note résumé,” Harding says. “Whether it’s studying abroad, getting involved in AmeriCorps, or going into urban developments, it’s important to diversify their personal and career growth.”
Harding explains that having these types of experiences on a résumé helps employers see how students have been involved in learning more about diversity and inclusion in real-life settings.
Jason Kirksey, PhD — vice president of institutional diversity, chief diversity officer, and an assistant professor of political science at OSU — says that the university not only focuses on bringing recruiters to campus, but on creating relationships between students and companies as well.
“It’s important for companies to hear and interact with students and understand the environment they’re in,” Kirksey says. “Employers are able to see the quality of diverse students through the collaboration between companies and OSU.”
Each institution has its own way of educating and promoting diversity to attract recruiters; however, the most successful ones understand that diversity is about more than the numbers.
“The goal is not only to graduate as many students as possible,” Kirksey says, “but [also] graduate students who will go out into the world confident and competent on matters of diversity and inclusion — not just be competitive, but conscious.”●
Madeline Szrom is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. Vicky Ayers is a member of the INSIGHT Into Diversity Editorial Board. San Diego State University and Oklahoma State University are both 2015 INSIGHT Into Diversity HEED Award recipients.