As a black woman, I have had my fair share of experiences with being the minority. I once worked at a corporate office where the population mainly consisted of WASP’s (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). I was also the youngest person there, essentially making me a double minority. I remember how comforting it was to find another person of color in the office. Even though we rarely spoke to each other, there was an unspoken respect between us. Days would pass when I wouldn’t see anyone who looked like me, and I felt incredibly drained and alone on those days. That was the moment I realized how important diversity is in the workplace.
As part of my major, I am looking for internship opportunities for the summer, and I am also taking a professional development course to aid me in my search. In class, we are given practical tools that we can use to help us along our career paths. We have resume workshops and routinely meet with industry professionals for networking opportunities. Our professors also do a lot of leg work by recommending job openings and connecting us with new people. However, some issues are overlooked regardless of the class’s advantages. One, in particular, is a lack of awareness of diversity and inclusion.
In other words, there is a lack of cultural awareness when recommending businesses to students. For example, I was recently encouraged to reach out to a publication for an internship. At first, the company seemed like a great place to work until I looked at its demographics. I slowly realized that the company was predominantly white and lacked coverage of BIPOC. Flashbacks from my old job at the office began to flood my mind, and I became increasingly disappointed. I was mainly displeased with the fact that I was encouraged to look into this company despite how much of an outlier I would be. I wondered if the person who encouraged me to take this opportunity (a white person) thought about the difficulties I may face as the only woman of color in the company—that is if I got the internship to begin with.
UNCG is an extremely diverse campus; diversity, inclusion and representation are values that the college constantly strives to showcase. And outside of college, more organizations understand how important diversity and inclusion are to a successful business and healthy work environment. However, there is still work to be done on practicing cultural awareness when supporting students. Not only should students be doing their due diligence when looking for opportunities, but their support systems should be too. That includes professors and other faculty alike. In college, such people are a student’s greatest resource, but what if your resource is ignorant about what they may be introducing you to?
As previously mentioned, UNCG emphasizes diversity and inclusion extensively through curriculum and action. However, there is still work to be done so that professors and other faculty members do not put students in uncomfortable positions like mine. Seminars and discussions are great ways to educate people about representation, but education can start by asking individual questions like: “Who is working at this company? Does this organization have anything in place to be inclusive? Can I see my students grow at this organization, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, etc.?” Asking questions like these is a quick way to see if an organization’s values align with the personhood of the student and the overall values that UNCG stands for. These questions are especially important to ask when talking to a student of color about a company.
My initial disappointment eventually subsided after remembering that the person who introduced me to the company was just trying to help. Instead of being angry, I appreciate them for trying to help me, and I hope that they find ways to be more culturally aware so they can better help students. Doing so will result in students having a support system that is fully informed and guiding them in the right direction. People of color continue to face issues when entering the workforce, and we need all the support we can get to combat those issues. At the end of the day, no one wants to walk into a room and feel alone.