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Career Considerations for Students of Color Webster University I Career Planning & Development Center

Information and website links have been provided as a convenience for users and the Webster University Career Planning & Development Center (CPDC) is not responsible for the contents of any linked site. This resource is not a comprehensive list. Guides are periodically evaluated and updated to provide current information and resources.

Students of color encounter specific considerations in their career development. Find resources and tips on various topics below.

Overview

  • Researching Employers
  • Professional Attire
  • Networking
  • Wage Gap
  • Employee Protections
  • Job Search Resources
  • Webster Resources

Researching Employers

Research employers by exploring company websites, reviews, social media, and news articles. It can be helpful to connect with mentors or other professionals through alumni or personal connections, professional organizations, etc. By researching employers, you can better understand the culture of the company and if it will be an environment that will be positive for you and your professional growth as a person of color. This will also allow you to target your applications to employers of the most interest to you. You can gather additional information by asking tailored questions in the interview about those topics of most importance to you.

As you research employers, consider some of the following questions:

  • Are there employee resource groups that pertain to you?
  • Are there clear non-discrimination policies posted on their site or employee handbook?
  • Is inclusive diversity something that is valued by the company or included in their mission/values/initiatives? Do the company's actions match the level of commitment to diversity they have expressed?
  • How diverse is the board or upper leadership? Are there individuals of color in leadership roles?
  • Has the organization been recognized for its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
  • Does the organization visibly support employees of color and related causes and organizations? (e.g., inclusive marketing, donating or volunteering for relevant events or causes)
  • How easy is it to find information about the organization valuing a diverse workforce? Is it a single sentence about their values or do they provide specific examples of the policies, resources, and opportunities they offer?
  • What is the demographic makeup of the organization?
  • How do current or former employees of color describe the company culture?
  • Does the company have a formalized dress code? If so, how inclusive is it?

Use the resources below to explore companies that are noted for greater inclusivity.

Professional Attire

There are some consistent standards for professional attire, but individual workplaces and professions will have different norms. Dressing professionally as an early childhood teacher will look different than a lawyer representing a client at court. Learn more by reading our guide on Professional Attire.

There are several ways you can seek to find dress code expectations at organizations. Some employers will provide that information online in an employee handbook or on the Human Resources section of the website. If you have connections with someone who works at that organization, you could reach out to that contact or ask as part of an informational interview. You may find information embedded in company reviews such as on Handshake or Glassdoor as well as shared in discussion forums and websites specific to your profession. You can also research typical dress codes by profession, e.g., common expectations for attire at law firm.

Unfortunately, there are biases in the workplace. Students of color may experience inappropriate comments or non-inclusive dress codes that prohibit natural hairstyles or facial hair. There is a growing movement to pass legislation against hair discrimination. The CROWN Act or “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair" has passed in several states such as California, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. Find more information about legislation status at the CROWN Act website.

Jade T. Perry suggests three questions as a guide when considering your hairstyle as part of your self-expression:

  1. Do I feel comfortable with the process it took to get my hair this way?
  2. Does this style allow ample room to see my face?
  3. Will this style hold without touch-ups after arriving to the interview site?

Hairstyles can be just one way in which biases are embedded in the idea of "professionalism." Individuals may experience microaggressions or discriminatory behavior based on wearing professional attire consistent with their cultural or religious identity. For instance, a recruiter may consider more colorful attire as "less professional" than a plain black suit. Workplaces may ban facial hair which can cause problems for men of color especially if they have facial hair in accordance with their religious practices. Dress codes are typically regarded as legal for employers to set as long as they are applied in a consistent manner, have legitimate justification, and do not violate Title VII which prohibits discrimination in the US based on a number of factors. An employer discriminating against a potential employee because she wears a hijab would likely violate Title VII.

There is no one right way to address these issues. Some individuals may decide to adhere to a particular workplace dress code while others would not feel like their authentic self working in the same environment. Ultimately, you want to choose attire and a personal style that will help you feel confident and congruent with your self-expression. If you experience microaggressions or a non-inclusive dress code, you will want to consider whether you would feel comfortable in that environment and if there are sufficient positive reasons to work there. In the event of these issues arising in your current role, it can be worthwhile to discuss your concerns with a mentor, supervisor, and/or HR representative. If you have experienced discrimination, you can also take steps to report this behavior.

Networking

Networking can be a useful way to learn from others and identify organizations that may be a good fit for you. It can often be most helpful to get information about a career or a company by speaking directly with people in those roles. LinkedIn, personal connections, chambers of commerce, professional organizations, cultural associations, and other networking groups can all be great ways to find individuals who have navigated similar career challenges. Read Building Your Contact Network for more ideas on identifying networking contacts. Informational Interviewing can be a great way to connect with professionals and learn about their experiences and career progression. To learn how to use LinkedIn effectively, read our guide on Making the Most of LinkedIn.

Finding Mentors

Mentors can be a great asset and can help by providing career advice, sharing their own experiences, and potentially opening doors for employment opportunities. Research has consistently shown the benefits of mentoring including increasing retention and advancement opportunities for professionals of color who have mentors. You may naturally find mentors in supervisors, professors, or from your personal network. There are also formal mentoring programs through professional organizations. Read more about strategies to consider when identifying mentors.

The Regional Business Council (RBC) Mentor Network is a year-long program open to students who are committed to working in business in the St. Louis area. Applications for the program are due early in the fall semester.

Professional Associations

There are professional associations focused on constituent groups in particular professions such as National Association of Black Accountants, The National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Association of Black Psychologists, and The Federal Asian Pacific American Council. Professional organizations may also have dedicated committees or subgroups to connect professionals of color. Other organizations may be focused on particular topics or background rather than by profession such as the National Urban League Young Professionals or the NAACP. Search the websites of professional organizations that are most relevant for your field to determine what resources are available. Local events and groups may be found on sites like Meetup and EventBrite. You can discover professional associations by searching online, asking professors in your major, talking to professionals in your field, and reading our Professional Associations guide.

Chambers of Commerce

Most larger cities in the USA have local chambers of commerce to further business interests and networks in a community. Some also have additional chamber of commerce groups focused on specific populations. For instance, the St. Louis area has many chambers of commerce including the St. Louis Regional Chamber, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis, and the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of St. Louis.

Wage Gap

Research has consistently shown that wage inequality exists in the United States with individuals with certain demographic characteristics making more than other individuals for performing the same job. This wage gap also has an intersectional component. For instance, men tend to make more than women while white women on average earn more than Hispanic or Latina women.

This is a systemic issue, but you can do your best to advocate for yourself by being aware of these issues. Use sources like Glassdoor, job descriptions with salary ranges, and salary surveys by professional associations to have a better sense of salary range for your profession. You can also look at the Wages & Employment Trends section for each profession on O*NET Online. Learn about best practices for Negotiating Salary.

Some cities and have states have passed legislation intended to decrease this wage gap by promoting greater transparency of salaries and preventing employers from asking about salary history. Organizations can also take responsibility for reducing this gap by being transparent about salaries, conducting periodic analysis on employee salaries, hiring and promoting diverse candidates, and instituting policies to support employees like paid maternity leave.

Additional Reading on Wage Gap

Employee Protections

There are federal laws to protect employees against employment discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes that you are protected from discrimination based on “your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.” You are protected while as an employee of a company and as a job applicant. One such area to be aware of is inappropriate or discriminatory interview questions.

Inappropriate Interview Questions

There are several approaches you can take when asked an inappropriate question:

Answer the Question

Employers may be trying to get to know you and asked the question out of ignorance, not malice. If you want to answer the question, you are free to do so.

Interviewer: “Where is your family from?”

Job Seeker: “I grew up in Illinois and moved to St. Louis for college.”

Address the Concern

You can choose not to answer the question, but address what you think they are concerned about and the motivation behind the question.

Interviewer: “Are you a citizen?”

Job Seeker: “I am authorized to work in the United States.”

Decline to Answer

You should not feel obligated to answer an inappropriate or illegal question. You are perfectly within bounds to simply ignore the question, question the relevance, or let the interviewer know that is in fact an inappropriate question to ask you. If you see that other interviewers also realized the inappropriateness of the question, you could address the misstep in a gentler way or the other interviewers may step in to redirect. Know that you can end the interview at any time especially if you feel that the interviewer is being hostile. Consider that this may be an indication that this is not an environment that you want to work in and what steps, if any, you would want to take to report this behavior.

Interviewer: "So, what race are you?"

Job Seeker: "I fail to see how that is relevant to the job position. I’m not comfortable answering that question."

Reporting Discrimination

If you have experienced discrimination in the workplace or in the interview, there are several steps you can take. You can report this to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the appropriate state agency, and/or the Human Resource department of the company. If you experienced an employer asking inappropriate interview questions or showing bias at a Webster affiliated career development event or through Handshake, please notify our office at careercn@webster.edu.

Internship & Job Search Resources

There are job boards and resources that focus on recruiting students of color. For instance, the Professional Diversity Network and affiliate sites have opportunities for students and professionals across industries while other sites are discipline specific like the American Indian Science and Engineering Society or may be connected to a professional organization. Search online and talk to professionals in your field to see what resources fit your needs.

There are many internship programs across the country that seek to hire students from underrepresented groups. Some examples of such programs are the Diversity Awards Program – Internship through the Smithsonian and the National Diversity Internship Program (NDIP) through the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Find more resources about job searching on the CPDC website.

Webster Resources

There are a variety of resources available to you at Webster. Find some examples below for connecting with other students and identifying support systems on campus.

Connect with the CPDC

For additional resources, please explore the Career Planning & Development Center's collection of online career guides. You can also find information on scheduling an appointment with your career advisor.

Thanks to Larry Morris, MCISA Assistant Director of Multicultural Affairs, for providing feedback in the creation of this guide.

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