Diversity in the Workplace Series: Expert Career Advice From Professionals of Color

By Megan Randall, CPDC Undergraduate Career Coach

Diversity in the Workplace is a CPDC career series for People of Color (POC) in which students and a panel of Professionals of Color come together over lunch. Students listen to panelists’ expert career advice and learn how they’ve navigated the workforce as POC, how to build a network, and much more. This space for POC to connect with and learn from one another is critical because POC experience additional hurdles in the workforce due to systemic racism and oppression. This series was created after our team had conversations over time about the ways we can support and lift up the voices of POC.

After attending a couple of our panels as a White ally in this work, I know I do not experience life in the same ways as POC, nor can I ever fully understand what it is like to navigate the workforce as a Professional of Color. During this crucial moment, I wanted to take the time now to amplify the wonderful advice I heard as an ally and highlight the key quotes and paraphrased takeaways that emerged directly from our panelists’ expert advice during our November 2019 and January 2020 panels:

Theme #1: Identify Companies That Are Inclusive in Your Interviews
Remember, “You’re also interviewing each company”. Do your research to see if a company is a good cultural fit, then ask more questions during your interview, including:

  • Ask what employers mean when they say, “We’re looking for the right cultural fit”.
  • Ask, “Are there POC here (company and city/state)?”
  • Ask, “Who is on your board of directors and in leadership positions?” to see if the company has diverse leadership.
  • Ask, “Is there room for me to join the table at the top?” to see if there will be opportunities for you to rise.

Theme #2: Be Your Full, Authentic Self with Employers
“The most important advocate for yourself needs to be yourself.”

  • “Cultivating a sense of belonging means empowering POC to show up as their true, authentic selves and be recognized for who they are.”
  • “Belonging is about being able to show up as your full self all the time.”
  • “Strive to be your whole, authentic self from the beginning. If not, you’re doing a disservice to yourself.”
  • Don’t shy away from talking about your identities and why they’re important to you. “Help people get to know the real you and ask them to respect you for who you are.”

Theme #3: Find a Mentor, Fast!
“Find mentors who will advocate for you.”

  • “Find a mentor and find them fast. Don’t wait until you’re ready for a career, do it right away. If you find someone who’s willing to be your champion, go with it”
  • “Interview people to be on your mentor board – not just anybody should be on your board.” Find mentors who are willing to bring up conversations for you when you’re not in the room.
  • “You can find mentors in a lot of different people. A mentor could be someone you report to, a colleague, or even a friend who’s moved up in the ranks.”
  • “Mentors also don’t always have to look or sound like you. You can learn a lot from mentors who aren’t exactly like you, and provide them with a return on investment because they can learn from you too.”
  • “Don’t use the term “mentor” when asking people because it can be off-putting. Instead, set up informal 1:1 coffee meetings or lunches. Start small and informal to test the waters.”

All of us in the CPDC acknowledge that this is an ever-growing list of advice, and we remain committed to continuing to create intentional spaces like our Diversity in the Workplace series for POC to learn and grow together. Updates about our 2020-2021 Diversity in the Workplace panels will be published soon in our Handshake Events. We invite you to join us at our future panels!

Special Thanks

I would like to thank the many incredible people who have made our Diversity in the Workplace Series and this post possible. Thank you ALL especially for engaging with me during my writing process for this post, sharing your feedback and suggesting changes I incorporated, and giving me your approval to publish this post.

  • Thank you to my colleague, Carmen Gold-Johnson, our CPDC Assistant Director of Employer Engagement and Internship Development, and James Jackson III, Founder of the Utah Black Chamber (UBC), for creating and continuing to offer this incredible series for our students!
  • Thank you to our November 2019 panelists: Karen Rodriguez (Code in Color), Laura Stireman (WCF), Nikki Walker (Domo), and Risshan Leak (eBay).
  • Thank you to our January 2020 panelists: Deneiva Knight (Comcast), Isaac Ewaleifoh (Goldman Sachs), Krystal Guerra (Instructure), and Robyn Cohen (W Collective).
  • Thank you to my colleagues, Carmen Gold-Johnson; Crystal Cory, Career Coach; Devon Darland, Assistant Director of Programming; and Mary Arola, Career Coach, for working with me to edit and finalize this post for publishing.