10 Key Ways Your Company Can Support Diverse Early-Career Talent
When was the last time your company audited its approach to recruiting and retaining diverse early-career talent?
Too often, early career-focused DEIB initiatives take a backseat to other hiring and recruiting priorities. Many companies allocate the bulk of their time and resources to finding and developing mid-career and more senior talent. But if your strategy for building out a robust pipeline of diverse talent doesn’t also include reaching folks at the very beginning of their career journeys, you could be at a major disadvantage later on.
What Gen Z Wants at Work
By 2025, Gen Z will make up 27% of the global workforce. People in this age group don’t always respond to traditional recruiting tactics, which, to Gen Z, can sometimes read as fake or overly transactional. And once recruited, Gen Zers come to companies with different expectations for what work should look like compared to previous generations.
For one thing, seeing their values reflected in their day-to-day work, including when it comes to DEIB, isn’t just preferred by many Gen Z professionals — it’s a requirement. And they have different expectations for the when and where of how work gets done, too. Those currently under the age of 24, for instance, are the demographic most likely to quit if required to return to an office full-time, a recent ADP report found. This means companies that hope to stay competitive among Gen Z candidates don’t simply need to offer location flexibility. They’ll also need to overhaul their onboarding and employee engagement processes to help bring young, diverse talent into their cultural fold from afar.
Meeting Diverse Early-Career Talent Where They're At
Companies that hope to create cultures that support diverse early-career professionals should consider more than their employee engagement programming. They'll also need to keep in mind the obstacles, including financial challenges, that many in this group face when working to access the white-collar workforce in the first place.
As a 2022 report found, the average Black student loan borrower in the U.S. takes on almost 50% more debt than their white peers, owing an average of $25,000 more at the end of a bachelor’s degree. This debt alone can hold early-career workers back, but it doesn’t end there. With interest, per a Brookings report, 51% of white loan-holders are facing loan balances that exceed what they originally took out — and that number climbs to nearly 60% for Latinx borrowers and 75% for Black borrowers. Intersectionality applies here, too; women have more debt than their male counterparts and take two years longer than men to pay it off.
Student loan reform may be an issue of federal policy, and President Biden's recent move to cancel up to $20,000 of student loan debt for millions of borrowers is sure to have a transformative effect on the careers of countless diverse professionals. But there are other things we can be doing, too, to create company cultures and policies that support diverse early talent and their unique needs.
Is your company overdue an update to its early career recruitment and retention strategy? In our Executive Forum event “Finding & Engaging Diverse Interns and Early Career Professionals In a Zoom World,” we heard from subject matter experts about what companies need to do differently today to better reach (and hang onto) Gen Z talent. Here’s what they suggested.
10 Key Ways Your Company Can Support Diverse Early-Career Talent
1. Offer scholarships and paid internships for multiple types of entry-level talent.
Unpaid internships help support entrenched socioeconomic and racial divisions, so make sure that you’re not contributing to the income gap by asking new-to-the-workplace talent to work for free. You want your company’s culture to be one of supporting on-the-job growth. That’s why it’s also great for retention of diverse early-career and career-switching talent to offer scholarships for continued education and professional development.
2. Make career paths clear and support internal rotations.
Underrepresented talent may be impacted by explicit or implicit bias about what kind of work they should do or what kind of promotions are available to them. Take away some of the opportunity for subjectivity by clarifying the career paths available at your company and what talent needs to do to advance to each level. Offering internal rotational programs gives talent opportunities to get outside of their comfort zone and try out different versions of your company culture without having to look for an external role.
3. Double down on the mentorships you offer.
Traditional mentorships are powerful, particularly if they give diverse talent an opportunity to find a mentor who has shared life experiences with them. (And that access to a relatable support network can be especially crucial for first-generation college students, who might not have deep benches of professional support.) But reverse mentorship, when the tables turn and early-career talent are the ones answering questions and advising more experienced workers, can have a major impact, too. It gives diverse talent a chance to have their voices heard and to shape the future of the company — which gives them motivation to invest and be invested in at the same time.
4. Partner with external organizations, like PowerToFly, Handshake, BYP Network, and the Washington Internship Institute, to reach targeted, diverse candidates.
A big part of finding diverse early career talent, whether you’re looking for entry-level candidates or bringing on interns, is knowing where to look. Connecting with candidates on platforms they’re already frequenting is key, as is the need to prioritize long-term relationship building with this talent pool. Reaching early career candidates through third-party organizations that have already cultivated a relationship with them makes the job easier. (From the candidate’s perspective, think of it as being sent opportunities that were vetted by a friend, versus relying purely on impersonal job boards!)
5. Start dialogues with HBCUs, women’s colleges, and bootcamps that are regularly engaging with diverse young professionals.
Ask your employees to participate in recruiting at the schools they attended, as well as to connect with their schools’ alumni associations and career centers. Companies are also seeing success allowing interns to do social media takeovers on Instagram, showing what an actual internship experience is like while representing their school.
6. Be open and honest about the future of remote work and potential for growth at your company.
The more you can transparently share upfront, from practical info like your company’s remote work plan and the role or internship’s salary band to the potential career paths your organization is able to offer, the better chance you’ll have at getting applicants from less-privileged backgrounds.
7. Create regular spaces for reflection, empowerment, and healing.
This looks like facilitating connection between employees with similar experiences (like in identity-based employee resource groups) as well as providing separate opportunities for people to talk and share their experiences with people who don’t have the same background (like in listening circles and facilitated conversations). For this policy to work, it needs to be regular — not a one-off conversation after a round of race-based violence, but something more like a quarterly practice.
8. Level up your DEIB training.
Learning is different from reflecting, and it needs a different kind of programming. Show up for diverse talent by bringing the rest of your organization along in their own development, pushing beyond introductory sessions on inclusive language and allyship with the help of trained professionals.
9. Embrace data and analytics when it comes to inclusion and engagement at work.
It can be easy to talk, high-level, about how important it is to support diverse early career talent. But have you asked them how they’re doing and what they need? And compared those answers over time? If not, you’re missing out on the best guidance for what your specific company needs to improve upon its culture. Get granular, with data on retention, employee satisfaction, amount of employee referrals, participation in ERGs, racial bias incidents, and more.
10. Don’t assume young hires will be digital natives; provide them with all the training they need.
Starting a job you feel under-trained in is overwhelming, particularly for early career professionals who can benefit from more instruction and mentorship upfront. When onboarding early career professionals, you should set up checkpoints every day and be as comprehensive with your training materials as possible. How set up for success your Gen Z hires feel from the outset can majorly impact your likelihood of retaining them down the road.
Download the full “Finding & Engaging Diverse Interns and Early Career Professionals In a Zoom World” report here.
Want to hear from experts and collaborate with other executive-level thought leaders on ways to take your DEIB strategies for early career talent to the next level? Join us at our upcoming (free!) Diversity Reboot virtual summit: Early Career Connections & Mid-Career Pivots.