The real value of a diverse and inclusive workforce in helping young professionals in the job market

Posted by: JasmineThompson
Posted on: 03/10/2022

Last year, Fred Gough, a research and knowledge exchange coordinator at University of Derby, won the Generation Next Diversity and Inclusion award for his commitment to introduce and promote equality, diversity and inclusive (EDI) practices within his workplace.

He shares with us his journey to winning the award, and why it’s so important for businesses to place EDI policies at the forefront when supporting professionals in the workplace.

Recently there has been a growing movement for places of work to ensure positive diversity and inclusion practices are held to encourage every stakeholder and end-user to feel that they can be their whole self and feel valued by the service they are using.

Regularly practising this and offering first-hand insight saw me become the first winner of the Generation Next Diversity and Inclusion award in July 2022 while working within the University of Derby’s careers and employment services team.

I feel my journey to being recognised for this accolade truly began when I began pursuing my quest to find work during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic – I was one of many young individuals seeking professional employment after being in higher education. Throughout my academic chapter, I gained a further awareness of my diversity, having been diagnosed with autism and dyspraxia following a change of programme throughout my studies at the University of Derby.

However, it is vital to say that I have been a social justice ambassador and champion for many years within other capacities and roles. The shift in my curriculum also affected my confidence and interest in forging a career in a particular direction. I have never wanted others to feel let down or alienated due to a poor personal experience.

Despite the challenges I personally faced and applying for other roles, I felt that the higher education institution, which has the four fundamental principles of valuing people, being bold, future-focused and striving for brilliance, would offer me the best stability moving forward as well as an opportunity to allow me to embellish my skillset as the Derby Talent Programme network coordinator beginning in September 2021.

The role would be alongside others in a varied group of alumni from different experiences and fields of specialism. Still, all had applied to take steps within the university’s careers and employment service (CES) team and were determined to make their mark.

New perspectives and communication

As a fresh-faced and eager group of recent graduates joining the CES team, we were all keen to provide new observations different to those within the more established permanent team members. The existing CES team guided us through what they had done previously, which taught us how current techniques were struggling, and possible routes we could take to develop better engagement with existing students and recent graduates.

It was hoped that by taking on a bunch of recent graduates, the CES team could learn from our own experiences and how we saw fit to improve it, hopefully by using our knowledge and familiarity of being a student in regular discussions and meetings. Having this perspective on things was healthy and encouraged different routes to find out what an individual may look for when they think about what interests them post-academia.

Throughout working life, you will discover various personality types within all groups with people of all abilities and talents. Some people are more extroverted and direct, others may prefer being creative, and then there will be individuals who diligently keep things moving in the background. I am more in the last category of traits, with a solid determination to make sure everyone is happy with what they are doing and how they can contribute and feel valued.

As a coordinator, it was one of my responsibilities to find the best approach to keep up morale and listen to all voices within the graduate group, along with seeing if there was anything that I felt had value and should be explored further or needed resolving due to many different attitudes and concerns.

I had to work efficiently to establish strong communication and understanding of each person’s personality to ensure I felt I could achieve my goals and help them with theirs if need be. Furthermore, I was in charge of supplying the engagement interns with the opportunity to keep up their targets by working on data collection.

I achieved this by offering several colleagues time to talk informally or in group meetings with or without more permanent team members and deciding how to move forward professionally and encourage creative individuals. I also championed those who felt left in the shadows.

What makes an EDI leader

A confident diversity and inclusion leader is a team member who can increase the productivity and effectiveness of all around them by being supportive of all, not judgemental, and willing to adopt an active listening position, knowing when is appropriate to speak, when is right to take a step back and be calm. There were times often throughout the process where my usually exteriorly quiet and methodical mindset was called upon to decide how to decide what to do next and that sure-footed.

A diversity and inclusion leader’s role will mean others can benefit from being heard and encouraged and get on with their strengths without becoming overwhelmed or troubled, knowing it is in the hands of someone who can guarantee it gets dealt with or resolved.

Problem-solving together and a better understanding of your stakeholders and customers

All projects undertaken during my eight-month internship included considering ways to initiate and incentivise exclusive offers for students and recent graduates. These people would be challenged by similar demands to which we had all encountered in finding short-term or long-term employment, both during the 2021-2022 academic year or after the completion of their studies. The pressure was that we needed to get better outcomes and encourage individuals to think more about what they wanted from a careers service.

We, as interns, also quickly discovered that there is no one size fits all way to attract those who could be using the service. We also needed to gather a consensus data sample to see what barriers may be causing people to make progress. Therefore, early discussions were had between different team subgroups on how we could find that information and what routes we could offer to help coordinate individuals through these obstacles was vital, and discussions were had about how to mitigate unconscious bias.

Throughout the academic year, a large portion of my role was to collect and present the data to the engagement interns and other staff while checking on how productive this case loading had been. Once data had been collected and I had forwarded it to the relevant person, it was the other intern’s responsibility to attempt to establish a relationship with the person and signpost them over often unique but different hurdles.

The best results came after the initial advertisement in the late autumn and winter. Personalised emails and confident-sounding social media campaigns steadily got the word out enough to develop the caseloads of more than 150 graduates between four interns.

This project, called the Derby Talent Programme, developed momentum when team members pitched to engage those wanting tailored support to improve their next steps’ successes. In addition, we often took time to see whether or not one tactic worked in another project before implementing or taking some liberty of the idea. This approach allowed us as a team to attempt it to see if we got similar results or whether it needed tweaking further.

As each engagement intern had job-hunting experience or had taken advice from the more established careers team, they should have been in the perfect position to offer a reassuring hand to those who felt that using the service would help them and a reminder of them being in the shoes of the individual they were there to help was sometimes required.

It should be made to feel it is done for their benefit and help them create success stories of their own. Eventually, several of those who had received the one-to-one guidance managed to prevail and land professional roles. Furthermore, I would like to think that obtaining data early enough in the ongoing communications allowed the end-user to feel they could get better support.

Additionally, in early 2022, the opportunity to discuss integrating an additional avenue of helping those struggling to find a job arose in the way of incorporating a constructive mental wellbeing application suite to the other offers currently provided.

It was an honour to be asked by the head of the service to provide insight and opinions on whether the product would aid the end users due to my commitment to being responsive to those who feel challenged by poor mental health. It is certainly something that must be considered when developing a workforce, and ensuring everyone works to their best ability.

As someone who had the support of a Disabled Students’ Allowance mentor who encouraged and provided me with methods to help me during my time learning, I determined that help post-conclusion of studies was not always accessible or affordable for those who needed them and that if it could be tied into the promise of support supplied by the CES team, then there would be a good take up.

Knowing what your customers and end-users expect from your service or enterprise can help you produce better success as it shows you are looking at the problems and how you can resolve them, especially at a personal level.

The importance of taking a chance

Since the decision to incorporate a trial of this application suite, I have moved on to another team within the University of Derby. However, I am a result of people deciding to take a chance on me, and I wanted to use my skills to help remove barriers, therefore, it continues to be my determination to integrate and develop better diversity and inclusion practices.

Ensuring that others reach their goals will be something I continue to participate in, no matter what role I hold in the future, as I am keen to make everyone feel successful and appreciated.

Everyone is human, no matter their race, colour, sexuality, gender, religion, social origin, as well as experiences with mental health or neurological conditions. So, I feel it is essential to raise the bar to encourage creativity and innovation.

Therefore, I feel it is only reasonable and responsible of us to all become influential leaders and inspirations to others and provide better service to those around us by actively engaging in equality, diversity and inclusive practices.

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