“How Shall I Wear My Hair?” – Students Navigating Professional Identity Politics

Jade PerryJade Perry, Coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Student Success at DePaul University
Twitter: @SAJadePerry1
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/pub/jade-perry/21/667/b25/
Website: jadetperry.com 

During graduate school, I worked as the diversity program assistant in the primary career services department for a university. I provided programming and advising concerning the ways that our identities influence our career development process. I was asked a myriad of questions on topics that ranged from international visas and sponsorships, to gender in the workplace, to assessing a company’s commitment to inclusivity. But I could always tell that some of my students weren’t always paying attention to the resume/cover letter advice I was giving. They were looking at something else….my hair.

In my professional life, I have chosen to wear my hair naturally. For those that are unfamiliar with the term, this simply means that I wear my hair in the tightly coiled, curly form in which it grows. I work a myriad of styles: voluminous, curly afros, braids, wash-and-go, silky straight, and pompadours. Though the options are endless, these styles include anything that allows me to least amount of manipulation to the way my hair naturally grows.

Now that we’ve gotten definitions cleared, you might be wondering why I’m talking about hair in this particular form. It is because I cannot count the times that my students, particularly women of color, have asked in hushed tones, “So….I’m meeting a recruiter/employer tomorrow and I’m hoping to get a job. I wear my hair naturally. So, what do you do—what should I do—about my hair?”

It is one of my favorite questions, but it is always a loaded one. The trained ear will notice that these students are not just asking for fashion advice. They are trying to figure out how to navigate identity politics. They are looking for understanding on how they might “assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations…” as Heyes asserts. They are looking for ways to be authentic in spaces that may be largely homogenous, and in professions that may be largely male. Questions about hair are typically never just about hair.

They saw me sporting worlds of curls, yet would I admit to them how tough it was to get to that point? Would I tell them about the qualitative generational gap between Millennials and a few of the older professional staff of color: some of whom asserted that true professional style was wearing the hair straight and pulled back? Would I tell them about these conversations?

On the subject of hair, a male recruiter that attended a networking dinner for our students declared, “When it comes to your appearance, you do what you have to do to get that job. Your own expression of personal style comes later.” I cringed. A few other recruiters chimed in to admonish women specifically to wear the hair swept off of the face. In other settings, I’ve seen this question posed and witnessed career service professionals gasp at the thought that someone would face discrimination due to choice of hair style, among other things. I’ve witnessed this astonishment give way to awed silence, and students left without an answer. Then, I’ve seen other professionals admonish young women not to change a thing.

Since career services professionals know the concept of appropriate disclosure, I kept these anecdotes to a minimum in appointments. We all want to be taken seriously in our careers. Our students do, as do we. We want to have our personal and professional identity validated in the workplace. For many of us, your students and your colleagues, hair has a lot to do with that professional identity. In light of that, here is what I shared when students posed questions about hair and identity politics in the workplace:

Your experience is valid. Starting there is always a good idea. Students of color, low-income students, and/or first-generation college students are already working through varying intersections of their identities before they come to our offices. Often times, by the time they get here they have been silenced in both subtle and explicit ways. As student affairs professionals, we do well to understand that the career search process does not just involve crafting resumes, writing cover letters, strategizing searches, and so forth. We know that there is an internal process going on that is valid and that holds a variety of implications for their career-search process.

Reflect on your career values and which values you would look for in the workplace. Before an interview, I encourage students to get clear on the values they are looking for in a work environment. For example, it is important to me that I work in a context that is validating to my cultural sense of self (and that includes the natural way in which my hair grows and how I groom it). Typically, I assist the students in brainstorming a few of the values that they hold: large amounts of monetary capital? Cultural validation? Flexibility? Mentorship? Often times, this exercise has been particularly salient for the women of color that I work with. It is their time to decide what they want out of an experience. It often takes a lot of encouragement to sift through the opinions they have received from their community, family, friends, and industry professionals.

For example, a student might say that he or she values authenticity in the workplace that straightening/processing his or her hair feels inauthentic, but they were told by a family member that it should be done to get the job. While they are sifting through these opinions, I ask students to briefly reflect. Through what lens might a student have been given this advice? Does this line up with his or her value of (insert chosen values here)?  What are the salient and non-salient points of the advice a student was given? Posing questions allow career advisers to serve as a guide for students to work through that type of dissonance. It also allows students to understand the thing that they value and begin to explore professional opportunities that reflect those values.

Do your research on prospective employment opportunities. Search for information on the culture of the company / organization. The “culture” of an organization might include anything from organizational structures and reporting lines, spoken and / or unspoken workplace norms, leadership trends and more. Knowing this information helps our students to understand what a company values and can serve as a loose discerning point as to what it might be like to work there. Does this provide a direct answer to the question, “What should I do with my hair?” Not exactly. Yet it provides keen insight for students to make informed decisions on their career journey. For example, I encourage students to ask the questions: Are there any professional affinity groups? Who is in leadership and what does that reflect? What can I perceive about the norms of a particular atmosphere? Do I have enough information? As we reflect on this, I typically pull up the website for the office that I work within. We mine the “data” for the mission, the leadership, the programs, the services and I ask them to work through such questions as What insights does this give you about the culture of this organization? Now, what might that mean for your personal choices in clothing and hair in this atmosphere?

There are times that I have chosen to naturally stretch out/ straighten my hair and pull it back. This was particularly early on in my career path, when I did not feel equipped with enough experience or knowledge about the organization. Moreover, there were times that I decided to do a large bun or a complicated pompadour. Three measurements allowed me to make my decisions about race/gender expression in an interview setting: 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? This was the practical piece as these measurements allowed me to show strong non-verbal energy and did not require me to compromise my own cultural validity. Typically, my students take these measurements as a rubric that they can use, as well.

Keep it real and “mind the gap.” Brown talks about “the gap” in her book Daring Greatly. The gap is symbolic for the values that we aspire to and what actually exists. In my office, we talk in great detail about “the gap” that our students are navigating; the world as we wish it to be and the world that is. It is a concept that I chat about with my students, as well. Navigating identity politics in the workplace is a complicated thing because of the gap. While we rightly hope for settings in which such cultural expressions of hairstyle are widely appreciated, there is also the reality that in some circles, the appreciation is not there. There are times that our colleagues and our students may be faced with cold stares and uncomprehending eyes. It is inexpressibly tragic that this is the case. Yet, I must prepare them for the world that is. So, I keep it real and talk about what to do if they sense workplace discrimination at the point of their interview.

You may be thinking, “This sounds awfully complex for such a simple question: How should I wear my natural hair for an interview?” And you are right. Navigating through identity politics is inherently complex. Students, particularly women of color, are not asking trite questions about fashion. In these moments, they are looking for our understanding and guidance on the ways we navigate identity in the workplace. Thus, as student affairs professionals, we have to come with a bit more complexity than, “You should wear it off your face.”

End Notes

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.

Heyes, Cressida. (2014). Identity Politics, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Hurtado, S., Milem, J., Clayton-Pedersen, A., & Allen, W. (1999). Enacting diverse learning environments: Improving the climate for racial/ ethnic diversity in higher education. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report Volume 28, No. 8. Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

The Insider’s Look at First Destination Surveys

Vanessa NewtonVanessa Newton, Program Analyst, University of Kansas
Twitter: https://twitter.com/vlnewt
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/vanessaliobanewton
Blog: www.wellnessblogging.com

 

 

Katrina Zaremba

Katrina Zaremba, Communications Coordinator, University Career Center, University of Kansas
Twitter: @KatrinaZaremba
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/katrinazaremba

 

Katrina (Zaremba) and I (Vanessa Newton) recently sat down and live-blogged our conversation about all things First-Destination Survey related. If you missed any of the other installments on this series, here’s where you can catch up:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2 – Branding Is Key
Part 3 -LinkedIn Limitations

Why is the first-destination survey important? 

Vanessa: It’s an important tool for students and parents to use when planning their academic journey. They can see how other graduates were able to leverage their experiences at the University of Kansas (KU) and be successful. Seeing how peers can be successful can be a really powerful tool. You are able to show people the results rather than just telling them.

Katrina: We are increasingly receiving more questions about students’ post-graduation plans from administration, prospective students, parents, and faculty. Having this data is helpful when communicating with outside constituents. From a marketing perspective, having this information gives us the ability to communicate key data points and illustrate the value of our institution to stakeholders.

What did you learn this year? 

Vanessa: The power of asking questions, whether for getting data or learning new things, asking questions was the biggest thing I learned this year.

Katrina: We are constantly learning new ways we can collect and share data. I’ve learned that it is important to remain open-minded to new ideas.

What is one key takeaway you’d share with others?

Vanessa: There are no bad ideas. We are constantly evolving and trying out new processes to get a higher response rate. Others have different processes that they have been sharing with us, so we are getting an idea of how other people are doing it. Spoiler alert:  It takes more than just an e-mail [to the graduate].

Katrina: Branding is key.

What is a goal you have regarding first-destination surveys?

Overall, our goal is to increase our knowledge rate. We also want to maintain the openness to ideas and make sure that we are keeping the conversation going with first-destination surveys. The process never really stops.

Vanessa: Organization is important: making more comprehensive timelines to aid in planning.

Katrina: To capitalize on campus partnerships. Many offices/departments on our campus have an interest in the data as well, and by working together, we can help each other achieve our goals. One way I’d like to do this is via social media, by asking campus partners to share our content and encourage their graduates to participate in the survey.

What’s your advice to someone new to collecting destination survey information?

Vanessa: Keep it simple. You don’t need fancy software. You don’t need flashy surveys. Those are great to have, but bare bones, you just need the data. You can do a lot with frequencies and percentages that are easy to calculate in Excel. Those types of numbers are easily interpreted and understood by everyone.

Katrina: Teamwork. Collecting, analyzing, and sharing this data is (and should be) a group effort. You have to rely on other people’s strengths to contribute to the whole.

Once More a Student: Will an Ed.D. Make Me a Better Counselor?

Janet R. LongJanet R. Long
Founder, Integrity Search Inc.
Career counselor, Widener University
Blog: http://inyourownvoice.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/janetrlong/
Twitter: @IntegritySearch
Blogs from Janet Long.

When I made the transition from executive search to higher-ed career counseling a year ago, I felt pretty sure that my mid-life master’s degree in higher-ed student services completed my formal education. Gaining a foundation in a dozen counseling theories and learning about challenges such as lack of access for underrepresented groups provided important context for my role at an institution that serves many first-generation students. Graduate internships at very different types of institutions—one a religiously affiliated private university, the other of a large regional community college— offered invaluable opportunities for applied learning.

As I continued to apply this learning in my first formal higher-ed role, I realized there was still more to learn and integrate. In a moment of suspended sanity, I applied and was accepted to the higher ed doctoral program at my own institution, a continuation of the master’s degree I earned two years earlier. No one pressured me to do this or suggested that it might make me a better counselor, especially since the program’s focus is on leadership and administration. And yet, here I am a student once again, steeping in the literature, relearning APA-ese, and regaining my appreciation for nighttime caffeine. I can compare notes with my students on writing end-of-term papers, mastering SPSS, and keeping a complicated life in balance.

The past year, I feel like I won the lottery. As my institution’s career liaison to undergraduate liberal arts majors—from history to astronomy to anthropology— I’ve melded pure exploration with hands-on skills development and pulled out my back-in-the-day undergraduate English major when it underscored a point. I’ve also been humbled by how truly difficult it is to be a student today, how different it is from my previous experience when internships were a “nice-to-have” and a decent entry-level job for a hardworking English major was reasonably assured.

Most of my students compete for multiple internships—nearly always unpaid—while juggling at least one “gritty” part-time job, student research, significant community service, half a dozen extracurriculars, and full course loads.  As a group, they are inspiring, appreciative, exhausted—and fearful about the future. In short, they are like so many of the students that we support at our NACE member institutions. As their counselor, I celebrate every milestone with them—a sought-after interview, an offer, a grad program acceptance—and empathize with every disappointment.

In my alternative universe as a student, while two years away from formally starting my dissertation, I have begun to shape a research agenda around the career applications—and implications—of earning a liberal arts degree outside of a small liberal arts college. In this light, the dreaded advanced statistics courses become an avenue to discovering knowledge with the potential to make a difference for both my students and the organizations that might employ them. Will this make me a better counselor?  I certainly hope so.

 

Seeking Minimalism in a World of Clutter: My Office Décor Tour

tiffany waddellTiffany I. Waddell, Assistant Director for Career Development, Davidson College
Personal blog: www.tiffanywaddell.com
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/tiffanyiwaddell
Twitter: @tiffanyiwaddell

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find that the life of a career adviser, coach, or counselor (pick your fancy) requires a great deal of organization, balance, and efficiency. Particularly when we, as higher-ed administrators, are called to do and be more with student needs, ideas, and skill gaps—with the same amount of time to use each day. I consider myself a fairly good manager of my time—I am a list queen, of course. As an introvert, I tend to plan my attack on the day long before I get into the office, and I am at my best when I am organized.

However, I am always on a quest for more balance and clarity. For me, that often begins with the physical space around me. How can I maximize my productivity and create a warm and welcoming environment for students who visit my office? How can I create a space that encourages my own creativity and idea generation, but that is still professional and organized? Transitioning into a new role this year gave me the opportunity to try something new with my work space, though it is always evolving.

Here are a few pictures of my work space, and the items that make my home-away-from-home a comfortable space to coach, create, and conquer.  Enjoy!  I hope it inspires you to create a warm, comfortable work space of your own!

globe light

Fun globe light:  Most days I work in my office without the use of an overhead light.  Overhead lights can be rough on the eyes, contribute to headaches, and even make you feel a little blah. It’s not easy to turn off the overhead light when the weather is gloomy, but using lights like these instead help brighten up the room without being too jarring.

 

tissuesHand sanitizer, tissues, and an hourglass: Hand sanitizer and tissues?  Sometimes students and visitors bring flu and cold germs along, so I always recommend having some of both available within arm’s reach.  The hourglass was a fun find. I don’t actually use it to time sessions.  Ha!

 

 

prints

Wall art: Prints courtesy of a Google search. I love to add a splash of color in an otherwise neutral space, because it’s unexpected, vibrant, and allows me to add a bit of my own flavor while still being professional.  The quotes are also two of my all-time favorites.

 

organizer

Workstation organizer: When I arrived, the organizer was already in my office—and I find that it comes in handy to store folders of commonly used teaching tools and handouts (like career assessment access instructions!). This also minimizes the amount of clutter floating around the office space, leaving the tabletop free for project work or program prep.

sound machine

Sound machine: A must have.  It helps calm the space, muffles  outside noise, and (I think) helps minimize noise that travels from my office into the larger office.  Also helpful when I’m writing, because it provides just the right amount of white noise.

 

 

Desk Mantra

Desk Mantra: Speaks for itself.  This is double-sided and serves as a reminder for me …and all of the students and staff who visit.  We can definitely do anything.  But not everything.

Thanks for reading! Please share in the comments below how you jazz up your office space and create a warm, inviting space to counsel and coach clients. I would love to hear from you.

LinkedIn Limitations

Vanessa NewtonVanessa Newton, program analyst, University of Kansas
Twitter: https://twitter.com/vlnewt
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/vanessaliobanewton
Blog: www.wellnessblogging.com

I cannot tell you how many times I hear people chirping on about how great LinkedIn is and how useful it is to “up that knowledge rate” on your first-destination survey. And while I agree with that, I think it’s time we acknowledge some of the limitations of relying on LinkedIn for information. Blame it on my scientific research background, but I think discussing and acknowledging limitations is a good thing.

A lot of companies are selling their services to look up your graduates on LinkedIn. For just 50 cents per student or $5 per student, they do all the work and find information for you. That sounds great (sans all the money you could be spending if you have a large graduating class), until you think about it. Yes, these companies can find that information for you, but what if 60 percent of your graduating class doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile? What if everyone in the graduating class has a LinkedIn profile, but half of them made their profiles because they were required by a class two years ago—and they haven’t updated their information since? The data that you paid for could say (wrongly) this person is currently a Student IT Help Desk Worker!

And what about other data on the LinkedIn profile…how do you know that it is correct? How can you reasonably assume that the graduate is still a bartender? I have graduates who fill out the destination survey and indicate in the comments that the job that they are currently working is just to pay the bills and they are actively seeking a more professional position.

And then you get into the really fuzzy section—nontraditional graduates who appear to be working in the same position they held before they started working on their degree. Did they get the degree to move higher up in the company or did they just want to get the degree?

Then there are the graduates (I find this often with arts majors) who are working on building their businesses, but are also working multiple jobs to pay bills and make ends meet. How do you classify that information? Because I think the fashion designer who is working as a receptionist and a hostess might indicate on a destination survey that they are employed full time—and not mention the other two jobs.

LinkedIn is a hub for information, but it isn’t the end-all be-all source of information. Yes, we can educate students on how to use LinkedIn, and encourage them to use it, but when it comes to pulling destination survey data from LinkedIn, it should be used with caution and in conjunction with other methods of finding information.

Manage Your Time – Don’t Let It Manage You

Jason Bauer-Clapp

Jason Bauer-Clapp, associate director of Internships & Programs, Smith College, Lazarus Center for Career Development
Twitter: @jason_bc
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jbauerclapp

Whether we’re helping students manage competing priorities and deadlines, or supporting ourselves and our colleagues’ efforts to stay on track with current responsibilities and new projects, most career services professionals are drawn to approaches that enable us to accomplish work more efficiently and effectively.

In this post I’ll share a few of my favorite workflow “hacks”—productivity practices that promote action rather than reaction, which can lead to checking items off our to-do lists more smoothly. This is a topic I have long been curious about, but it wasn’t until a few years ago (coinciding with becoming a parent) that I began actively exploring, practicing, and sharing these strategies.

Effective approaches to managing time—or, more precisely, how we focus our energy and effort during that time—will vary by individual, and I suspect many of these ideas will be familiar for readers. Here are my favorite tips:

Break projects into small action steps. With a large-scale undertaking, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the project’s scope, complexity, and how far it is to the finish line, all of which create resistance. Bypass this reaction by deconstructing a project into micro-steps, each of which will bring us a little closer towards our goal and create momentum. Use action verbs to define each step, and strive to make each action one that can be accomplished in a single sitting.

Externalize to-dos. As amazing as our brains are, they are relatively poor at remembering tasks and lists. By offloading the responsibility of remembering to-dos to a reliable, accessible, and external source (paper or digital), we free up cognitive resources for addressing the tasks. Choose a method that is simple to implement and easily accessed virtually anywhere: You want to be able to capture ideas quickly and have your list close at hand for regular review. I recommend using one integrated list rather than separate lists for home, school, work, and so forth.

Do your most complex work when you’re at your best. What time of day do you tend to be most alert and engaged? Each of us differs: for many it is early- to mid-morning, for others it is late at night. To the extent that is practical for you, reserve this time for your most mentally demanding work, those creative, strategic, or problem-solving tasks that benefit the most from your sustained focus.

Minimize “always on” e-mail. Do you find it difficult to resist checking your inbox when you know new messages are waiting? Few people enjoy being interrupted when immersed in a project or conversation, yet we do this to ourselves when e-mail inboxes are kept open throughout our work days, encouraging a state of constant vigilance and dispersed focus dubbed “continuous partial attention” by researcher Linda Stone. Set aside dedicated times throughout your day to review and respond to e-mail messages; outside of those times, close your e-mail client or inbox tab so you can focus on other tasks.

The list of individuals exploring and offering advice on productivity and time management is lengthy. Some I’ve found particularly helpful (and whose work inspired this post) include Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction; time management expert Elizabeth Grace Saunders; writer and researcher Daniel Goleman; David Allen, creator of Getting Things Done; and Scott Belsky, founder of 99U and author of Making Ideas Happen.

What practices or approaches help you stay productive? What’s missing from this list that you’d like others to know about?

 

Building Stronger Partnerships Between Career Centers and Employers

BlessVaiBless Vaidian, Director, Career Counseling for Pace Career Services – Westchester, and Founder, Career Transitions Guide
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/blessvaidian
Twitter: https://twitter.com/BlessCareers
Blog: http://careertransitionsguide.com

As we begin a new year, it’s a great time to reach out to employers to review 2014. Asking the right questions to see what can be done to improve relationships, meet goals, and place candidates is important to do on an ongoing basis, but especially now. Answers to these questions can then be applied to your 2015 strategy. Career centers can maintain long-lasting employer partnerships by surveying these areas:

How Can I Help Recruiters Meet Their Objectives?

Recruiters collaborate with the career services team for several reasons each semester: sourcing candidates for vacant positions, branding their company, and/or educating students on career-related topics. As career development professionals, we try to make sure the human resource goals are met for our employers when they partner with our office. Before we solicit speakers or attendees, we have to know what the employer’s recruitment goals are for that cycle or even beyond. Asking the right questions at the right time will help employers and the career office make strategic decisions as to whether the event will produce placements, or if the event is to brand and educate…or both. Never assume an employer is hiring. Know ahead of time what the goal is and tap the right student cohort into each program.

What Did the Recruiters Think of the Quality of Students?

Employers gauge the quality of students from a college using many criteria. How students represent themselves in person and in writing matters. Often students are placed in communications and writing programs to develop these needed skills as part of their academic curriculum. Interviews, resumes, and cover letters reflect the university at large. Bad impressions make an employer wonder if the student population is worth hiring from, or if they need to recruit elsewhere. Having employers run career center resume and interview workshops can make some employers feel vested in the student body. Preparing students for career success is a challenge. Not everyone comes into the career center office. Mandating appointments and attendance at career center programs is one way to change that. Webinars and online resources on a variety of career topics help students access resources within their time frames so they can make positive impressions when meeting employers.

What Can I Do to Help an Employer Find the Right Candidates?

An employer’s timeline for recruitment is not always congruent with career center events. Many recruiters have internship programs, rotational programs, and entry-level positions they are looking to fill during every cycle. But hundreds of others simply want a career center to find the right candidate as the need arises. Not being able to offer resumes when a recruiter requests them is bad business, and, if done often enough, it can move schools toward the bottom of lists that capture hiring outcomes. Career centers need contacts within various academic departments, student organizations, and other university offices to collaborate with. Targeted outreach needs to reach the appropriate pool of students. The resume of a student looking for entry-level jobs or internships can be sent out on the student’s behalf as positions are created, until the student is removed from the list of “seeking.” Once an employer-based event is put together it’s essential that the number of attendees that match company needs is high. All departments and organizations on campus (not just career services) should know about the event and encourage participation. There is nothing worse than having an event with an off-campus guest and not having the attendance to make it worthwhile. Student success stories are dependent on making matches happen.

Employers are sourcing candidates on campus earlier than ever and rank universities on quantifiable results. Every college wants successful outcomes for all their graduates, and that starts with collaboration with employers. Many companies have internship programs that they use as a gateway to fill entry-level postings. Employers also host information sessions and networking events to source students. Even if recruiters are on campus to conduct career-related educational workshops, they keep their eyes open for students who can be potential hires. The partnership between employers and career centers is an important one that needs to be nurtured all year long. Now is a great time to assess what worked and what didn’t in the partnerships you rely on.

.