The Importance of Equity in Career Education

A conversation with Dave Merry, associate provost and executive director of the Center for Career Equity, Development & Success
Equity has long been at the heart of Suffolk’s mission. Dave Merry, associate provost and executive director of the Center for Career Equity, Development & Success, explains how the University is making it a core part of career education.
Dave Merry, Associate Provost and Executive Director of the Center for Career Equity, Development & Success

Q: Suffolk has put equity at the center of its career services program, including the department’s name. Tell us about this change.

A: College career centers have been doing a lot to try to address inequity, but what that’s often looked like is creating targeted resources for people marginalized by the hiring process and in the workforce. That’s absolutely necessary, but it ends up creating more work for students, professionals, and mentors who are underrepresented themselves to support each other and mitigate those inequities. Black alumni are called on to help Black students who face injustices in the workplace. Students who are disabled are asked to utilize different resources, come to different workshops, and seek out specialized employers. LGBTQI students are required to come out to their advisors just to get resources that are relevant to them.

This amounts to real work, not only in terms of people hours but also the mental energy required, and the lack of a feeling of inclusion.

Q: So how do you change that?

A: We have always asked for people who have been left on the outside to find a way in. What we need is for people who are on the inside to realize that they’re there, and open the door. That’s the kind of education that we’re working to infuse in our one-on-one advising conversations, our events and workshops, and throughout the Suffolk curriculum. When we talk about being a leader in your professional life, we are also talking about the responsibility we all share to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace.

When we have general events, it’s important to include issues that are relevant to underrepresented students. So in addition to talking about how to research companies based on their salaries, we’ll also look at their commitment to promoting, supporting, and retaining diverse candidates. That type of information has to be part of general mainstream programming, so that students don’t have to seek out specialized support for biases that are really outside their control.

When we have alumni panels, we will ask panelists to talk about how they, as leaders in their field, promote equity and inclusion. We want to make sure those conversations are part of all of our programming.

Q: What kind of tools can the Center provide to help change work environments for the better?

A: Because our faculty are often the front line in talking with students about career education, we want to give them tools to help begin the conversation on how social identity impacts your career path. That’s a difficult discussion. We’re really fortunate at Suffolk to have faculty who are eager to partner with the Center. They have been receptive to introducing issues around workplace equity into those early conversations with first-year students. As students start to hear that message, they will be more receptive to learning about it in other content-specific courses, as well as during internships and capstone classes. There are opportunities throughout the curriculum to explore who’s left out of this conversation.

We have also created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion toolkit on our website as a resource that can help employers recruit, hire, support, retain and promote—we want the whole pipeline. We have hired a director of Career Equity and Access, Ade Igbeineweka, who speaks with employers to help them generate ideas. She connects recruiters and companies that are looking to improve their processes for recruiting and hiring a diverse candidate pool.

We are really fortunate that there is a pretty equal rate of Suffolk graduates getting a job or going to grad school, regardless of their race and gender. What’s not the same are their salaries, the support they receive on the job, or the amount of inclusion they feel. We need to do better at collecting that data, and looking at their trajectories after graduation—were they initially underemployed and then stuck in an underemployed career? Are they on track for leadership and c-suite positions or are they being overlooked for those promotions?

There is a real, historic, measurable, true-in-the-data imbalance in how people who are white and how people who are not white are educated and how they prosper in our economy. That is inarguable. So when we talk about systemic bias, it’s not that people are racist and don’t want to hire nonwhites. It’s that we’ve created a system where we talk about cultural fit, and we look for people who look like us, who look like people we’ve worked with before, or who share our similar experiences. And we say, “Oh, that person wasn’t a good fit for our organization,” without saying, “Maybe that’s good. Maybe we need somebody who can help our organization change.”

Q: Many students think of a career center as just a resource to help them get an internship or job. Is that a misconception?

A: A job is different than a career. You can find a job on a job board. Building out a career is finding a calling. It’s finding a set of jobs and a path for yourself that will change over time. And that’s what the Center for Career Equity, Development & Success will help you build. It means identifying your values and life goals, and learning how to build a professional network of mentors and colleagues who are going to be able to support you when you’re having success and failures in your professional life, and who will also make you aware of new opportunities.

We know that the number one reason students invest in a college education is to improve their future career prospects. It’s our job to help them realize that that’s not something that happens in the last three months of college, but something they can start building from day one. So the big idea is that you’re going to be in a career for most of your life, and it’s going to change a lot. We want to give you the tools to have active control over your career, and not be at the whim of fate.

Q: What are you most excited about as students are coming back?

A: Some career centers are like dentist offices, where students visit once or twice a year. I’m excited for the Center to be a vibrant part of campus—a place where students come regularly because they know they are going to get great help and advice.

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Greg Gatlin
Office of Public Affairs
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