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Wednesday, December 11, 2019
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DiversityTips & Training

How to support clients facing bias in their job search

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Have your clients seeking job search assistance ever shared concerns about how employers will judge their age, gender, body type, ethnicity, race, ability or hair? Has a client ever displayed anxiety and expressed concern about how their personal characteristics will be perceived by a hiring manager? Maybe a client has asked you a question like these during their job search:

  • Should I wear my hair natural for an interview?
  • Is my birth name too ethnic for my resume?
  • Is it time to take my graduation date off my resume?
  • I’m pregnant. Should I say something during my interview?
  • I have an accent, but I am a US citizen. How do I answer the question “Where are you from?”
  • Should I tell the recruiter what I was incarcerated for?
  • I identify as queer and go by a different name other than my legal name. Which should I put on a job application?

Chances are if you have been working in the career development field, you have encountered similar questions. To me, these questions are loaded and can be addressed using a variety of lenses including social justice, multi-cultural awareness, fair labour laws, fair hiring practice, etc. In relation to career development, the intent behind these questions intersects with employability skills training, job search strategy, client self-efficacy and self-esteem, and client mental health and well-being.

Anxieties and challenges in job search

Over the past decade, I have had the pleasure of working in three different career centres in the Baltimore Metro area within the state of Maryland – one private institution, a large state university and a medium-sized state institution serving adult learners. Regardless of the student body, students have expressed anxiety about their diversity variables having a negative impact on their ability to obtain gainful employment. This includes every part of the job search process, from developing a resume, to writing a cover letter, to interviewing and accepting a job offer.

In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported 76,418 charges were filed in 2018 with the agency regarding employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, religion, colour, age, disability, equal pay and genetics. Despite laws prohibiting hiring discrimination, these numbers show that jobseekers’ anxiety about hiring discrimination is based in reality.

The good news is that there are laws that seek to prevent discrimination and bias in hiring in Canada (e.g. the Employment Equity Act, the Canada Labour Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act) and the United States (e.g. the Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act). As career development professionals, we also have a role to help ensure equal employment including helping clients overcome anxiety associated with hiring bias; educating employers on the benefits of hiring a diverse workforce; and helping clients appreciate the unique strengths, talents and culture that they bring to the work environment.

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The role of career practitioners

Our lens as career development professionals in regard to the effect of diversity variables on the job search process can be drilled down to two factors:

  1. Diversity variables have an impact on hiring practices.
  2. Clients are aware and concerned about the impact their individual diversity variables will have on their job search.

The question is: How do we, as career development professionals, help our clients navigate the complexities of job searching in conjunction with the reality of prejudice, bias and unfair hiring practices? I recommend taking the following steps:

  • Assess your own awareness of diversity in the workplace, especially areas where you may display unconscious bias. We all make generalizations about other cultures and may have hidden areas of bias called unconscious bias. A few tips for building your own level of multi-cultural competence include:
    1. Review the NCDA Minimum Competencies for Multicultural Career Counseling and Development
    2. Learn about other cultures.
    3. Assess your implicit bias with the Harvard implicit bias assessment Project Implicit.
  • Adopt a multi-cultural awareness philosophy based on your own diversity experiences and learn about relevant multicultural theories.
  • Learn about the anxieties and fears your clients have regarding job searching and provide an opportunity for your clients to discuss their feelings about the job search. Strategies to facilitate an open dialogue include:
    1. Ask open-ended questions to discern if your client has anxiety concerning the job search or generalized anxiety disorder.
    2. Take note of past experiences that are carrying over into the present.
    3. Help normalize job search anxiety by sharing your own experience if appropriate, reminding them that most jobseekers experience some level of stress.
    4. Discuss strategies for managing anxiety during the job search and/or during interviews.
  • Have open conversations with clients about their diversity variables to help them develop their own strategies for confronting the reality of discrimination and hiring bias.
  • Challenge employers to adopt fair practices and educate recruiters on the challenges facing your clients.
  • Use a strengths-based approach to boost students’ self-esteem and self-efficacy, especially when working with underrepresented groups.

Of note, when talking to clients about the impact of their diversity variables on job attainment, it is imperative to listen intently and show empathy whether you can relate or not, and also allow the client to identify and select their own strategies. A few tips include:

  1. Remember that it is the client’s decision to minimize or display their diversity variables during the hiring process.
  2. There are typically multiple strategies that a client can use to address their diversity variables.
  3. Anxiety is a very real component of the job search process for many jobseekers – never minimize this for your clients.

Lastly, remember that that the impact of diversity variables on the job search process is a social justice issue. As career development professionals, we can have a positive impact on our communities by educating both clients and hiring managers of the negative impacts of biased recruitment practices and the positive effects of a diverse workplace.


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Lakeisha Mathews is Director of the Career and Professional Development Center at the University of Baltimore. She is also the owner of a career coaching business called Right Resumes & Career Coaching, LLC, which she launched in 2012. Mathews holds several industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Resume Writer, Global Career Development Facilitator, Certified Career Services Provider, Certified Business and Employer Services Professional, and is certified to teach Etiquette to Adults and Professionals. She received her M.S. in Human Resource Development from Towson University and a B.A. in Communication from the University of Maryland College Park. Mathews is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Education in Higher Education Leadership and Innovation from Wilmington University.
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Lakeisha Mathews is Director of the Career and Professional Development Center at the University of Baltimore. She is also the owner of a career coaching business called Right Resumes & Career Coaching, LLC, which she launched in 2012. Mathews holds several industry certifications as a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Professional Resume Writer, Global Career Development Facilitator, Certified Career Services Provider, Certified Business and Employer Services Professional, and is certified to teach Etiquette to Adults and Professionals. She received her M.S. in Human Resource Development from Towson University and a B.A. in Communication from the University of Maryland College Park. Mathews is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Education in Higher Education Leadership and Innovation from Wilmington University.
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