Ensuring Your Professional Dress Materials are Inclusive: How do gender, race, age, class, ability, body type and culture intersect with professional dress?

Melena Postolowski – Director of Internships and Employer Relations, Eckerd College
Winner of the highest rated session from our 2016 Annual Conference 

I first entered the field of career coaching while I was in the process of completing my graduate degree in Counseling Psychology. At the same time that I was learning about the potential detriments of cultural assimilation in class, I was figuring out how to navigate conversations about professional dress with the clients I was working with on job search preparation. There was some obvious in-congruencemelena-photo between what I was learning to be “right” in the classroom versus what I was learning in my professional realm. This always caused internal tension for me.

One of my most memorable experiences was working work a bright, kind, highly competent international student from India. This particular student was a career coach’s dream: she always showed up to appointments with the utmost preparedness and followed all suggestions surrounding networking, following up and tailoring her resume to each job she applied to. The candidate had substantial past work experience, including running her own business, and an incredible transferable skill set. However, she continued to struggle with finding a job.

When it was time for the career fair, the student asked to meet with me to show me what she planned on wearing to the event. She arrived at my office in a beautiful, exquisite saree and I didn’t know what to say. The conversation ultimately resulted in encouraging the student’s freedom to choose for herself, but acknowledging that recruiters at the event would be expecting candidates to wear western style business suits. I went through all of the components of the outfit with her and even helped identify local shops where she could find something affordable. Days later she showed up to my office in the most typical, grey two-piece suit and my heart broke. I told her she looked great and wished her the best at the fair. Sure enough, she got a job offer almost immediately after the event and is one of the international students who was successful in remaining in the U.S. after graduation.

Was this candidate’s job search success solely based on whether or not she put on that grey suit? No one could ever be sure. But this experience, and my experience working with a variety of other students from different walks of life, really made me think about the concept of “professional dress.” Where do these ideals come from? Who are we helping by maintaining these ideals? Who are we hurting?

Obviously the student’s goal was to find employment and by those means, she was successful. I just wonder if her heart broke as much as mine did when she had to hang up the saree.

This past year I decided to start discussions on the topic of professional dress as it relates to diversity and inclusion. I wanted something to change in the way that we approach these conversations and the most obvious fix (to me) was beginning by removing the gender binary that is so often associated with this concept. Traditionally and typically in career services, professional dress is taught in a way that separates out what is considered appropriate male and female dress. Nonbinary students seeking career advice may feel limited by these explanations. Because research has shown that feelings of acceptance and belonging have a large effect on student learning, engagement and retention, updating professional dress materials to be more gender inclusive will allow for more students to be engaged in the professional development process. In turn, students will become more likely to benefit from career services offerings.

I presented on how to include the gender spectrum within professional dress educational materials at the 2016 FloridaACE Annual Conference and was blown away by my audience’s response. After the formal presentation, everyone in the room came together to discuss other ways in which diversity and inclusion are affected by professional dress standards and there was a call for a 2.0 version of the presentation. I had the opportunity to present again during the FloridaACE Drive-in Conference in the fall and included a variety of other recommendations based on the feedback I received from my industry peers over the summer.

Some of these additional diversity-related considerations are as follows:

  • Within your professional dress educational materials, do you have variety in racial representation? It is important to feature models that reflect your student body, not just one particular type of student.
  • Age may be less relevant for more traditional campuses, but there are plenty of blended campuses in which age diversity would be important to think about. Ensuring your veterans, for example, are feeling included as well as your more traditional graduate is something to keep in mind. Also, on the flip side – you can’t just have pictures of “adults” at work because younger students will not resonate with that.
  • In regards to socioeconomic class, are you also offering tips on finding affordable professional dress options within your community? Some schools offer consignment clothing that students can borrow for an interview.
  • Are you representing people with physical differences? Do students in wheelchairs have an example to look to? Also, in regards to body type, do all of your images depict GQ models? If so… you may want to rethink that.
  • Have you ever thought of including professional dress images with someone wearing a hijab? How about a yarmulke? If not, it may be worth reflecting on why this decision was made.

The reality is that there are industry expectations and business suits are not going out of style anytime soon, but there are ways in which we can handle the concept with some more flexibility. I don’t have all the answers and I know that it would be a difficult task to ensure that everyone feels included, but I also know that we can all be better at making sure more people feel included. Regardless of our own personal belief systems, political affiliation or culture of origin, we work in an industry that serves people and each day we show up to work we act as role models for the next generation entering the workforce.

So, what message are you sending about professional dress? Make sure it’s one you’re proud of.

#TBT…E-Mail Communication…It Works!

Sarabeth Varriano & Rex Wade, University of West Florida Career Services

Higher Education institutions are under the microscope to demonstrate students’ return on investment for their  attained degrees. Included in that assessment is student success in realizing their career goals. Career Services offices rightfully focus on career education and job search strategies and preparations with their constituent students. The authors of this monograph rightfully remind us of the importance of strategic employer development that results in meaningful partnerships, sponsorships, and effective talent recruitment.

A helpful review of employer relations history and evolution over the past several decades provides a context for developing a comprehensive and effective employer development strategies that aligns with an ever changing world of work and economy that is in flux. A thoughtful treatment is provided for approaches, programs, marketing strategies, event coordination, fundraising, technological support, and program assessment no matter what the number of staff or size of the institution.

In just a few pages, the authors provide not just a approach to employer relations but practical examples that include sample job descriptions, event checklists, report charts, staff performance review forms, employer evaluation examples, miscellaneous printed and electronic ads, and much more that are a part of an information packed Appendix.

The authors stress the importance of having a dynamic program with a final chapter that provides insight into future employment relations issues and trends including topics such as accountability, internships, distance learning, recruiting trends and social media.

This monograph is a must for any new Career Services professional. As a veteran of over 20 years of Career Services experience, I also found it thought provoking and inspiring for new ideas, approaches, and strategies. As I add this book to my library, I am confident that I will often refer to it’s practical resources while developing and assessing an effective employer relations program.

We are looking forward to growing this communication process and are excited to explore new ways to measure its success.

ace

 

#TBT…Career Counselors Orchestrating Insight

Tom Broussard, Ph.D.

Insight (what some call the “Aha!” moment) comes to people in many ways, and not necessarily when they learn something new as much as when they see something that they know (or thought they knew) in a new way.  SO, what we try to do is create the conditions under which the individual (in even the smallest of ways) can be led to actually “see” something differently.

Of course, in order to do this the conversation must start with a discussion of seeing and how one learns “to see” anything…especially, how one learns to see things that they have never seen before but which have been right before their eyes all along.

As a precept of (much of) adult learning, adults already know what they need to know.  So effective adult education depends on creating the conditions under which the adult learner is led to see things in a new light.

The parable of the three stone masons is always a useful story:  three masons are approached by a  visitor while they are out cutting stone in the heat of the day.  They each are using a hammer and a  chisel and to all intents and purposes, they are performing identical tasks.  When the first stone mason is asked what he is doing, he replies, “You fool…can’t you see what I am doing?  I am slaving away in the hot sun cutting rocks!”

The second one answers the same question, “I am a stone cutter and this is what I do.  I cut rocks.”  The third one answers, “Why, I am building a cathedral!”  Nothing is different between the stone masons except what they see in their mind’s eye.

We all see things which we take for granted (and have taken for granted for so long) that often we can no longer see them in different (and exciting) ways.  Similar to the masons, work (the act of working) for many people has become narrowly described and discussed simply in terms of “what they do,” not “what they see.”

In today’s globally connected and service-dominated marketplace, more and more of work is defined by how people see a thing and less by the thing itself.   Successful builders of any edifice in this new world are the ones with the vision to see in different ways and help create the conditions under which others may share that new vision—that new way of seeing.

21st century career development (most of which must be self-directed—an even more challenging task!) must focus first on the act of seeing (and our capacity to change how we see things) as a necessary precursor to raising the cathedrals demanded in every modern organizational realm.  While we may all be stone cutters, the “Aha!” moment graces those who learn to see what others are late (or loath) to consider as part of their reality.

In a similar way, career counselors are (or try to be) adept at creating the conditions under which the “Aha!”  moment will be a more likely outcome of the encounter because they focus first on how their client sees anything–the world, themselves, their strengths, their weaknesses, etc. before turning to what they might do in the future.

These “castles in the clouds” rise from our experience, our education and the inner nature of things that construct knowledge as well as constructing cathedrals.  Great career counselors are particularly good at orchestrating what they have seen in the past and integrating it with the future.

 

#TBT…Creative Ways to Access Professional Development Opportunities

by Ommy Pearson, Assistant Director of Career Development Services, Lake-Sumter Community College

As Career Services professionals we already know the importance of staying up-to-date on industry trends and best practices as well as connected to our network. However, during these difficult economic times when many of us are struggling to secure professional development funds, how can we ensure that we keep growing as professionals? By accessing free professional development resources! Most of us are already very familiar with LinkedIn and the important role it plays in helping us create a professional online presence and connect with professionals. However, many are missing out on the invaluable information that can be accessed by joining LinkedIn Groups. By joining a variety of career services-related groups, you can access best practices, seek out ideas or feedback and even learn about relevant webinars (many of them free!). LinkedIn Groups are a fantastic way to stay on top of today’s hottest career services trends and issues. If you haven’t already, be sure to join some of the popular Career Services Groups on LinkedIn (see list below).

In addition to LinkedIn Groups, there are additional resources that offer free career services webinars. Some of these are intended for Career Services professionals and others are targeted at students and alumni job seekers. So in addition to professional development, you may find some neat programming offerings for your campus. Due note, however, that in order to access some of these webinars you may be asked to create a free account on the host’s website.

Popular Career Services LinkedIn Groups:

Sites Offering Free Job Seeker Webinars:

Sites Offering Free Career Services Webinars:

Remember that…“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” ― Abigail Adams

 

Words of Wisdom from Boca Raton’s CEOs, Part 2

A continuation of our blog post from last week, Words of Wisdom from CEOs:

Kelly Vons, General Manager, Boca Raton Resort & Club

  • Find out what you love to do
  • Try different things
  • Love who you are working with

Dr. Levy, Marcus Neuroscience Institute

Daily process:

  • Focus on your goal
  • Check with yourself that your goal is doing the right thing
  • Ask yourself if there is anything I could have done better today?
  • Have you treated your customer the way you would treat your mother.

Dan Kane, CEO, Modernizing Medicine

  • You can’t force change but you can be a catalyst
  • The type of people you surround yourself with will define you and your company culture
  • Like a fine wine, let things breathe
  • Have the ability to see opportunity
  • Find out what people are willing to pay for
  • Be passionate
  • If it’s not fun, do something else
  • Fail fast, succeed faster
  • Social media – you must be able to monetize

 

#TBT…African-American Male Students and Career Decision-Making Behavior: Tools for Success

Sunday, April 29, 2012 06:59 PM
L. Felix Daniels, Ed.D., University of Central Florida

“I have no idea of what I’m good at.” “I just want to make a decent amount of money.”  “If I can find a stable job with enough money to take care of a family, I will be happy.”  “I just want to help people, but I have no idea how.”  Reminiscing about my work as a career counseling practitioner over past 8 years, I find that these are just a few of the revelations that surface during my sessions with undecided students.  I’m sure many of you may be able to attest to this precarious predicament by virtue of the work you’ve done or by your own personal experiences during your undergraduate days.  Even after graduating from a local community college years ago, I too found myself undecided about my career choice once I arrived at my four-year institution.

Today, more than ever, it appears that career indecision is on the rise amongst college students.  According to a survey of freshmen students, approximately 75% cited getting a better job while 73% noted making more money, as the most important reasons for attending college.  Due to the data revealed from this survey, as well as my sometimes intense encounters with students, it appears that family, a forever fluctuating economy, and more often than not television shows also influence the career decision-making process of today’s millennial students.  Although relevant, these influences don’t always make for “ideal” sessions with our undecided students. As such, it is necessary for career counseling practitioners and administrators to continue gathering information to assist our undecided (and often decided) students.

In order to gain more insight into the experiences of our students, I chose to embark upon an intense information gathering exercise.  In other words, I began working on my dissertation.  From the lens of Social Cognitive Career Theory, I chose to examine the experiences that impact the career decision-making behavior of African-American male transfer students.  According to recent statistics, these students are facing serious challenges with retention in our systems of higher education.  As a seasoned career counseling professional, one may assume that career indecision plays a significant role in the matriculation of these students.  Guess what?  It does!

The participants revealed insightful information that may aid us in our quest to help students make sound decisions about their careers.  Participants noted that experiencing less than desirable job salaries, academic  ability, and gender also played significant roles in the process of selecting a major.  Of the experiences that led to the development of career decision-making self-efficacy: choosing a major consistent with self, engagement in practical experiences, working independently and solving problems, meeting with advisors, and being involved in extracurricular activities were all imperative to the retention of this group.

What does it all mean?  Although this study alone does not solve the problem of the declining number of African-American male students, it does offer some insight into what we can do as practitioners and administrators to address the issue.  Engaging students in various forms of self-assessment, career research that includes practical experiences, making students aware of academic resources and challenging them to utilize them are all strategies that can enhance career decision-making behavior.  Along with these strategies, we may also want to make concerted efforts to reach out to this population as students tend to visit Career Services when they need a job or at graduation.  However for many of our students, that may be too late!

Connection, Spring 2012 Edition

Words of Wisdom from CEOs, Part 1

Great tips for our Student’s and Alumni!

Burt Rapoport, Founder & CEO, Rapoport’s Restaurant Group

  • Must read: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Must watch: Shark Tank
  • Do what you say you are going to do
  • Make decisions based on your values
  • Always begin with an end in mind
  • The nicer you are to people the more successful you will be
  • Make your own luck

Andrew Duffel, President & CEO, Research Park at Florida Atlantic University

  • Know when to listen & when to talk
  • Be flexible
  • Master critical thinking
  • Everyone has something to contribute
  • Everything that gets accomplished is through relationships

Charles Deyo, CEO, Cendyn

Philosophy: I don’t want to be the best I want to be the only one doing it.

To have a sustainable business you must have recurring income.

Rick Hayduk, President, Boca Raton Resort & Club

Philosophy: Work your ass off.  Remove your ego.  Be first one in, last one out.  Be flexible.

Must read:  Good to Great