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Diversity Issues in Career Development

Diversity brings creativity, opportunity and possibilities to careers and organizations. Consider the contributions you may make because you bring something unique to a career or to an organization.


How can diversity issues promote my career?

There are a growing number of organizations that are recognizing that, in a global economy, it is critical to be able to relate to others beyond one's familiar circle. Successful leaders will need to be able to handle multicultural issues skillfully. Companies working internationally will need specialists to assist in communications and interpersonal relations.Many organizations now realize they have missed out on large segments of the population by designing and marketing services to only the dominant culture. Your ability to bring a connection to your unique or multicultural group can be an important asset for an organization.

What steps can I take?

Take advantage of opportunities during college to develop your multicultural skills. What at times may feel like a burden may be turned into an asset as you may bring diversity to an occupation or organization that has been lacking this diversity. You may offer new ideas, new perspectives, and pave the way to allow that organization to connect better with others from your group. In this way, diversity becomes a real advantage to be celebrated and nurtured.


What about the challenging side of diversity?

Although there are many positive opportunities associated with diversity, it is important to recognize that the power and opportunity structure can create barriers for many people who identify with various categories of diversity. These include gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual individuals, people who have a disability, people who are members of a racial or ethnic minority, and women.

What are some of these barriers?

One important issue in developing career goals involves being able to "see oneself" in a career. We derive motivation and confidence from the role models we encounter. You may recognize that you are most affected by a role model if you see that person as similar to yourself. Someone who is much older than you, or from a different race, or a different gender than you may not be as convincing to you, as someone with whom you can closely identify. This is an important issue in multicultural career planning.

At this time many people of color, women, GLBT, and people with disabilities are not well represented in some of the most prestigious and high-paying professional areas. When considering career planning, it is important to consider your options broadly and not rule out possibilities just because they are unfamiliar to you.

Another barrier involves a lack of a professional support network. Many career opportunities flow from our connections with other people. Most people find their comfort zone with others who are similar to them, in a variety of ways. That might be people who work in the same profession, people who share similar values and interests, and inadvertently, it may mean people who share the same demographic characteristics. For example, it can be difficult for a woman to build a professional network of colleagues to find job opportunities, and to learn the ropes about a profession if she is entering a "male-dominated" profession.

There can be very difficult barriers in the form of discrimination against women or members of minority groups. This can take many forms including unequal pay, sexual harassment, negative stereotyping, and insidious barriers to opportunity by not receiving as many high-profile responsibilities at work that might lead to promotion.

Sometimes co-workers or employers have fear or hostile feelings toward people who are different from them. Career planning is certainly more challenging when you are faced with barriers, whether they occur at an individual, organizational, or societal level. Although it is important to recognize barriers, it is critical for your success not to be overly discouraged or feel defeated by them. Instead, it’s important to reach out and work with others to find solutions.

What can be done?

Of course, it would be most helpful for large-scale systemic change to happen to provide equal opportunities to all people, regardless of their diversity status. Societal change is a slow process, so it’s important to take some steps at the individual level right now. Here are some thoughts about leveling the playing field, so to speak.

  • When considering career goals think broadly about possibilities that interest or intrigue you even if you don’t see a lot of people "just like you" in the occupation. Ask yourself, "what things have I just automatically ruled out, and why?" Try connecting with people who can help you make connections. At Illinois State University, the Alumni Office maintains a network of alums in various professions and in various parts of the world that are willing to be contacted for information about careers.
  • Consider visiting Web sites that address your special population (e.g. Web sites for persons with disabilities) or your career interest. The Web can offer opportunities for connecting with others in a profession, and assisting in finding support networks. Some of the following sites may be useful:
  • When you encounter challenges in the work place (e.g. "How will I be feel about being the only Hispanic staff member in a large organization?") talk with others who have coped with similar problems. You may not find someone in your specific area, but you may find people who can help you develop some solution strategies for taking care of yourself, communicating effectively, and developing positive work relationships.
  • Be aware of your rights as an employee or member of an organization. Issues can surface for discussion if you recognize where the problems are. Seek mentoring and advice about working toward productive solutions when problems arise.

2016-08-30T15:53:46.053-05:00 2016