Show Us Your Commitment to Equity
Gen Z Grads to Future Employers: Show us your commitment to equity
By KJ Ward
Much of the current DEI conversation – particularly as it relates to access and opportunity – is framed as a matter of justice or morality. And, while DEI may certainly be the “right” thing, a focus on the morality of access and inclusion can miss the fact that it also brings a competitive advantage to companies with clear commitments and visible track records of promoting equality within and outside of their organizations. According to the Institute for Education Science’s National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 2 million bachelor’s degree are projected to be conferred in 2022. And, according to education-insights company EAB, equality is the most important issue for the vast majority of these graduates.
Richard J. Helldobler is the president of William Paterson University, the first openly gay president of a New Jersey public university, and Board Co-Chair of LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education. In a recent speech to the New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce LGBTQ Business Resource Group Roundtable, Helldobler described a “college-to-career pathway for LGBTQ graduates” that is as much an imperative for businesses as it is an opportunity for job seekers.
Equality is the price of admission
Businesses need the talent, perspective and creativity of a young and diverse pool of recent college graduates – graduates who prioritize the justice orientation of the companies they work for. Citing a report from education-insights company EAB, Helldobler impressed upon the audience that “72% of today’s graduates believe that equality is the most important issue of the day and more than 60% cite social justice values as important to any organization they work for.” Recognizing this, Helldobler emphasized the leadership positions that “Corporate America” is taking when it comes to public policy matters that their customers and their employees care about. And this is more than just LGBTQ graduates looking for organizations that support LGBTQ equality. Helldobler noted that an entire generation of graduates across all demographics “believe that equality is the most important issue of the day, and they want to know that their prospective employers are actively engaged.
Active inclusion is the key to retention
Attracting talent is one objective; holding on to the talent is another. According to Helldobler, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are instrumental in “giving historically marginalized voices influence in the workplace and making those workplaces more welcoming, equitable, and productive.” And just like today’s graduates have an expectation that their future employers take clear stances and action in the area of social justice out in the world, they also expect their employers to create a working environment that facilitates their full contributions. “Our graduates, be they LGBTQIA+, people of color, women, or at the intersection of these and other identities, are increasingly expecting these kinds of work environments,” said Helldobler. “Our students are directly involved in all of these efforts and, together, they create a culture and a set of expectations around diversity, equity, and inclusion that includes being seen, being heard, and being fully recognized for what they bring to the organization.”
Helldobler described one structural impediment to full access to the workforce that marginalized groups contend with – the all-important professional network. LinkedIn has brought the world of network endorsements to the digital sphere, and members with endorsements from colleagues and clients are more likely to land a job. Helldobler then pointed to additional LinkedIn analytics that suggest that white and LGBTQ members were more likely than straight, cisgender, and POC members to have those networks. LGBTQ students and students of color entering the workforce are well aware of these structural, legacy disadvantages. Their understanding is that organizations that are aware of these disadvantages will work to dismantle them and create environments that allow them to shine. Organizations that make these commitments understand that creating these environments makes perfect business sense.
KJ Ward is a freedom fighter with a love of language and an appreciation of the power of the written word. Earlier in his career he worked as a case manager for the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services and as the director of Boston GLASS, a supportive services and advocacy program for LGBTQ youth. KJ also worked for several years as a communications specialist for McKinsey & Company in Germany.
Today, KJ partners with a small group of clients in service of their communications strategy and organizational development needs. He is a proud and active member of both the board of directors of Gender Spectrum and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, and from time to time he publishes his own writing. KJ is also a registered yoga teacher, committed to bringing this practice of individual and community liberation to those whose access to it has been limited.
KJ earned a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a master’s degree in developmental psychology from Harvard University.
See our Business Equality Excellence Awards for more information on organizations with clear commitments and visible track records of promoting equality. These organizations must show us your commitment.