There is nothing more daunting to a college graduate than job hunting. The usual concerns of salary, location, and position seem to plague all of our minds. However, it is for the professionals of color and low-income graduates that these issues end up dictating where they land. Our decision no longer becomes where we want to end up but rather where we have to end up based on the obstacles in our lives. If companies want to develop and strengthen their relationships with young professionals of color and those of low-income status, they need to make concrete steps towards meaningful change.
Environmental Initiative’s Advancement Officer, Sacha Seymour-Anderson and Macalester’s Environmental Studies Department Chair, Roopali Phadke, helped facilitate this much needed discussion. I was on a panel with two other recent Macalester graduates, Alison Lange and Sasha Lewis-norelle. As students of color, they offered the perspectives that these white-led environmental organizations needed. As a low-income student, I shared the real struggles of having your career choices be solely dictated by financial stability. Together we made up the panel of students.
All three of us came with the experiences and knowledge of having worked with some of the organizations that were present in the primarily white zoom space. I can’t speak for the experiences of my peers, but I can speak for my own. I have been a part of two different environmental organizations, both different in their cause, size, and workplace dynamic. There was, however, one common thread: they were dominated by white folx. Despite the efforts that were made to build a sense of community, there was still a disconnect between the work that they were doing and the people they were employing.
As I reflect on these experiences and our discussion in the panel, I know what makes a welcoming and productive community. There are two things I, and my peers, have to consider: who am I working for and with and am I being compensated for my labor? There are opportunities that we often turn away from because they are not paid. Some of us even have to work multiple jobs to make a living and be able to work in the spaces we want to. These are our realities. For a place to be truly welcoming, we must feel like we are being valued and that our work is being honored.
As companies rethink the way they recruit, I would encourage them to remain flexible. Always keep in mind questions of accessibility, compensation, and community. My peers and I stressed the importance of being able to work remotely if needed, and sometimes these accommodations are a necessity for us. In cases where we are limited by location, working remotely would open a wealth of opportunities. Furthermore, recruiting is more than just how you advertise the position/internship. In what ways can you support young professionals in getting into these positions? Can you offer them reasonable pay for a job/internship? Can you offer reimbursement for public transportation? Make these positions accessible to them. If organizations truly wish to make change, then there needs to be greater effort put into hiring young professionals of color. Not because they want to “diversify” their staff, but because they understand the value and wisdom that these individuals will bring to the table.