How the University of Hertfordshire is helping employers improve racial equality
George Floyd anniversary: How the University of Hertfordshire is working with employers to improve race equality in student recruitment.
The University of Hertfordshire is proud of the diversity of our student population. Around 53% of our Home/EU full-time undergraduate community are Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic, a total of around 7,500 students. And around 42% are first in family to go to university.
Race equality has been at the centre of the work of our Careers and Employment Service for many years, working towards reducing the awarding gap and the graduate employment rate.
Nobody looks like me
We received feedback a few years ago that some students didn’t feel represented at careers fairs as there weren’t employer representatives from similar ethnic backgrounds.
We acted on the feedback by strengthening our message to employers about representation via a positive action statement and by raising awareness of the issue with graduate employers more broadly via our ISE article ‘Diversity matters but action matters more’ and in one-to-one conversations with employers.
Through student feedback we know that seeing employers that looked like them was important:
“It is important for students to be able to see people who look like them or somewhat represent them, and for students to be able to say ‘Hey, they’re like me, if they can do it so can I.’”
“I was able to connect with the sessions provided due to the fact it was directly aimed at my demographic and featured people that spoke and looked like me and understood the struggle of being a black person in a predominantly white society/ industry.”
Case study campaign
Ensuring we worked with role models and inspirational speakers who had come from similar backgrounds to our students was key for us.
This message was highlighted further when the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gained momentum following the death of George Floyd. In response to this and as part of Black History Month we launched a case study campaign of students and alumni, with the aim of promoting their relatable and inspirational experiences to our students. We used contacts and LinkedIn to reach out to people.
Perhaps in support for BLM and because of the difficult labour market we found our students facing, we had a fantastic response from our alumni and student community, offering up their time to support others.
The campaign also showcased the diversity and achievements of our students and alumni to employers and we received positive feedback. We now have over 100 brilliant case studies to repurpose into content, going beyond our original aim to include a wide range of ethnicities. Most participants also offered their time to support future events such as speed networking. We were struck by the common themes that came out of the advice our case study participants wanted to share with other students and graduates:
- Build supportive networks as they are essential
- Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there
- Be pro-active and take every opportunity that presents itself and create your own opportunities
- Resilience is key, persevere even in the face of rejection
- Go the extra mile: it will be noticed
- Frequent comments about reaching out: don’t be afraid, you are not alone; don’t be shy; don’t feel like you are a failure; reach out and ask for support and advice when needed
“Ever since I started saying ‘yes’ to an opportunity whether big or small, it has opened more doors to even better opportunities. You just need to start somewhere.” (Deepa)
“My advice would be, do not be afraid to create your own opportunities if no one is willing to give them to you. The worst that could happen is it fails, and you just end up where you are right now anyway, but what if it’s a success? So just go for it!” (Michelle)
These themes fit with the work we are trying to do to build the social capital of those who are first in family to attend university. We offer opportunities to build networks and have used the themes to create responding resources and workshops such as building confidence, resilience and networks, growth mindset and building your brand. These are themes that employers could feed into as part of our delivery to students.
Employers get involved
Bringing employers and alumni into the university is key to widening student’s horizons and to building their networks. It is helpful when employers link us up with any of our alumni that they might have working with them. We can then invite those alumni to support our speed networking, work shadowing and alumni panels. Employer case studies are also a great way for us to highlight to our students that employers are interested in recruiting them.
Last year we joined forces with five other diverse universities: University of Greenwich, Kingston University, London Metropolitan, University of West London and University of Westminster who, as a group, have students self-declared as approximately 54% from under-represented minority ethnic groups with 19% Black students.
We ran a successful virtual Inclusive Futures Fair in 2020 which attracted a wider range of employers than usual. We have another planned for 3 Nov 2021 and University of Roehampton has joined the group this year. The group also arranged other events such as workshops and panel sessions with a focus on the wider diversity agenda, such as disability inclusion, low socio-economic groups and the LGBTQ+ community.
The University of Hertfordshire links its offer to the Office for Students Access and Participation Plan targets we have as an institution and would welcome the chance to work with employers on targeted activities for our Black male and Asian female students. Contact Recruit@herts.ac.uk to get involved.