Identity + Career
At VCU Career Services, we affirm and celebrate the diversity of the VCU community. We are committed to creating an inclusive environment where all are welcomed, respected, and supported as they contribute their unique and important ideas, skills, and perspectives to the world.
We actively promote and are deeply invested in the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, multicultural competence, and constant learning. As a team of individuals representing a diverse set of intersecting identities, we will continue to advocate and make positive change that helps open new doors to professional connections for VCU students, alumni, employer partners, and community members. Our staff is dedicated to providing equitable access to services and resources for VCU students and alumni as they:
- consider career options,
- engage in experiential learning,
- apply for employment and volunteer positions, and
- pursue graduate/professional education.
We are receptive to your continuous feedback. Your engagement with us is essential to fulfilling our mission of empowering all students to lead meaningful careers and lives. We will work hard each day to earn your trust as a source of support along your path to professional success, in alignment with your values, interests, and needs.
The career and graduate/professional school search process is a time when you’re trying to figure out who you are and what opportunities you want, while also considering how others will see you once you've decided to apply. With so many employment options and graduate/professional development programs available around the world, and depending on what you want to accomplish with your life, there's something for everyone. Many of them may appear to be viable possibilities in professional life, but do they meet your needs and aid in your growth? Race, ethnicity, gender, class, ability, age, religion, sexual orientation, family position, and other aspects of your identity and culture are assets that you will bring to your future employer or graduate/professional school. You may, however, be unsure about how and when to communicate certain aspects of your identity. How do you filter down the options to a small list that will get you closer to your professional goals while also honoring who you are as a person? The following are a few questions to consider as you gain information on options and opportunities during your search process:
- What does the organization, institution, or program’s website say regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, or support for your own intersectional identities? Consider not only words on a homepage, in a mission or vision statement, diversity-focused section, or HR page, but also images and more subtle information regarding paid leave and holidays, healthcare and childcare options, accommodations, etc.
- Can you get a sense of who leads and works for or within this organization, institution, or program from an About Us, Our Staff, or other personnel pages with names and photos? Are there ways to read about individuals’ identities, values, interests, education, and training through staff, student, or faculty bios?
- Are there clear ways to get involved in identity-related affinity groups or other inclusive social or mentoring activities, as stated on the website or social media of your organization, institution, or program of interest? If you wanted to meet and learn from others who share your lived experience, how difficult would it be for you to find them and build those relationships?
- What else is critically important to you regarding your next employer, institution, or academic program, and how could you conduct preliminary research to determine potential alignment with your needs, goals, and values? Consider informational interviewing, VCU Link and LinkedIn connections with alumni, and third-party tools like GlassDoor as resources for exploration ahead of applications and interviews.
For additional guidance
- What do diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to this organization, and how are they each encouraged and cultivated?
- What kind of training do team members, managers, and leaders participate in related to diversity, equity, and inclusion? Who leads these trainings? Are trainings mandatory or optional?
- Does this organization have affinity groups or opportunities for employees to develop networks and mentorships based on identity, if interested?
- How are team members rewarded and recognized? What does appreciation look like here?
- How does this team handle differences of opinion or approach? Can you provide an example of healthy conflict management within this organization?
- How are ideas and feedback solicited, shared, and discussed within this office/organization?
- Who tends to be consulted and how before decisions are made within the organization/office?
- How is professional development encouraged and supported (e.g.,coaching, time, funding, suggesting opportunities, invitations to research or co-present) within this office/organization?
- [If you haven’t already gotten the chance to do so] Can I connect with anyone in the organization who is also [shared identity] to get their perspective on working here?
- What kind of efforts and programs are in place to continue to diversify the organization and senior leadership?
- How do you prioritize social engagement opportunities that different team members feel comfortable participating in?
- Is there a dress code or standard of professional attire, and if so, how are those norms set, enforced, evaluated, or appealed?
- [If not readily available on the website or as part of the application process] Does your organization/institution have a diversity statement? Do you feel as though your statement is inclusive and up-to-date?
- Regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion, where do you think the organization needs to improve most?
- What does work-life balance or work-life integration mean for this organization/office? What kind of flexibility do employees have to take care of responsibilities at home or other personal commitments?
- Who or what is the office/program/person responsible for actively maintaining workplace safety and equity for all employees?
Graduate/professional school programs
- What do diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to this program/institution, and how are they each encouraged and cultivated?
- What kind of training do faculty members and program/school leadership participate in related to diversity, equity, and inclusion? Who leads these trainings? Are trainings mandatory or optional?
- Does this institution/program have affinity groups or opportunities for students to develop networks and mentorships based on identity, if interested?
- How are students rewarded and recognized for their contributions? What does appreciation look like here?
- How do individuals within this program handle differences of opinion or approach? Can you provide an example of healthy conflict management within this program?
- How are ideas and feedback solicited, shared, and discussed within this office/program?
- How is professional development encouraged and supported (e.g.,coaching, time, funding, suggesting opportunities, invitations to research or co-present) within this program?
- If you haven’t already gotten the chance to do so] Can I connect with anyone in the program who is also [shared identity] to get their perspective on being part of this program/institution?
- What kind of efforts are in place to continue to diversify the students and faculty within this program?
- How do you prioritize social engagement opportunities that different cohort members feel comfortable participating in?
- [If not readily available on the website or as part of the application process] Does your institution/program have a diversity statement? Do you feel as though your statement is inclusive and up-to-date?
- Regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion, where do you think the institution/program needs to improve most?
- What does work-life balance or work-life integration mean for this program? What kind of flexibility do students have to take care of responsibilities at home or other personal commitments?
- Who or what is the office/program/person responsible for actively maintaining classroom environment safety and equity for all students?
Examples of identity-specific questions:
- Has your organization/program issued a solidarity statement related to Black Lives Matter at any point?
- What kind of childcare options or other support exists at this organization to support working parents?
- Are the standards of professional attire for this organization inclusive of [e.g., natural and protective hairstyles, head coverings for religious purposes, facial hair for religious purposes]?
- What is the structure for paid holidays and time off within this organization/program, and how are team members/students supported if they need to take off work for a religious or cultural observance where the office/institution isn’t otherwise closed?
- What are the standard benefits related to medical leave, short- or long-term disability, or other potential needs related to health, wellness, and caretaking?
Deciding when and how to disclose elements of one’s identity to others, especially in professional or academic settings, is a personal, nuanced, and potentially difficult choice. It is not often clear if and when sharing information about our mental or physical health, gender identity or expression, family structure or plans, religious beliefs, political affiliation, sexual orientation, ability status and accommodation needs, or other identities is safe to do, even if these things have a direct impact on our career decision-making process and/or workplace needs.
Legally, there is very little an individual is required to share prior to applying for or accepting a job, internship, or graduate/professional school program offer (see details on illegal interview questions below), and many of our intersecting identities are not necessarily visible or clear without explanation. However, as one seeks to find a supportive environment or best fit for their own core needs and values, there may be benefits to sharing key pieces of information during the networking or hiring process.
Being forthright about certain elements of one’s identity can help ensure there is support and flexibility available at a given organization or institution before deciding to work/go there, and help determine where one could actually thrive and be able to be most authentic on a daily basis. While the commonly-used adage of “if they knew about [insert identity/situation] and weren’t supportive, would you really want to work there?” may apply, every situation is different and it will always be up to each person to decide if, when, where, how, and with/to whom to disclose. Our team of career advisors is always here to help if you want or need guidance on your specific situation, to practice your own language around disclosure in professional settings, and to determine what may work best for you.
In the United States, it is illegal for potential employers to ask you about any of the following during the hiring process. While sometimes well-intentioned, these questions can lead to discrimination in the recruitment and selection process and direct answers should be avoided or deflected until or unless an individual wants to share any of this information with their new employer:
- marital or relationship status
- current or future parental or caretaking responsibilities (including pregnancy)
- religious practices
- political affiliation
- race or ethnicity
- nationality or citizenship
- sexual orientation
- disability/ability status
- sex or gender identity/expression
- housing/living situation
- arrest record (for most employers)
If you are asked about any of these topics during an interview, application process, or networking conversation, you can decline to answer, redirect to a related skill or competency you’d like to highlight, or use this as an opportunity to disclose, only if you feel comfortable doing so (e.g, if work-life balance is highly important to you, mentioning your family in the interview may give you a chance to see if there is value alignment with your potential supervisor or the organization more broadly; sharing your pronouns or name of use could give you more confidence throughout an interview instead of constantly being deadnamed or misgendered throughout the experience). If you are asked an illegal question during an interaction with an employer you connected with through a Handshake posting, VCU Career Services event, and/or Federal Work-Study position, please contact the VCU Employer & Experiential Development Team at firstname.lastname@example.org for support. For additional guidance and practice on how to navigate illegal questions or topics, we encourage you to meet with a career advisor.
For additional support
- FastCompany - "10 Interview Questions to Determine if a Company is as Inclusive as it Claims"
- Glossary of terms related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (Colorado State University)
- National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)
- Scouted - "13 Questions you should ask to understand if a company cares about diversity, equity, and inclusion"
- The Crown Act legislation
- TINYpulse - "How to Create an Inclusive Workplace"
- Disability-Related Resources
- AAPD Disability Equality Index
- Ability Jobs
- AskJAN - resources for individuals with disabilities approaching the job search process and employer organizations
- Getting Hired - Database of jobs with employers dedicated to hiring professional individuals and veterans with disabilities.
- Inclusively - Provides people with disabilities equal opportunities to get hired and succeed at work. Matches candidates and their Success Enablers (accommodations) with employers who want their commitment to diversity to be truly inclusive.
- USAJobs - federal hiring practices for individuals with disabilities
- WRP - workforce recruitment program specific to students with disabilities
- LGBTQIA+ & Gender Identity-Related Resources
- Coming Out as Non-Binary at Work
- Out & Equal Workplace Advocates - Organization working exclusively on LGBTQ workplace equality. Resources, programs, events, and opportunities.
- VCU Call Me By My Name Resources - relevant information for making sure those in a professional setting know and utilize your name of use.Tips related to applying for jobs/graduate programs, starting a new job/program, professional associations, etc.
- The Muse: “Practical Advice for Transgender and Nonbinary Folks Navigating the Job Search”
- Transitioning Employers: A survey of policies and practices for trans inclusive workplaces
- Yale’s Guide to Gender Identity and Affirmation in the Workplace
- Your Journey: A Career Guide for Trans and Nonbinary Students
- Zippia’s Trans Job Seeker Guide
- Military Veteran Resources
- Military.com - Database of jobs, employers, and career events that are catered to veteran populations.
- Military Hire - Database of jobs created and maintained by a team of both military veterans and corporate recruiters.
- Veterans employment toolkit - Government-wide tool that brings together real job opportunities, and provides transitioning Service Members, Veterans and their families tools to translate their military skills into plain language.
- Additional Identity-Based Resources
- Latpro - Database of jobs with employers in the Americas who are committed to diversity and inclusion with an emphasis on Hispanic and bilingual individuals.