Image credit: Nettrice Gaskins, “Electric Spring”
Racial inequity in access to good jobs in the U.S. has increased in the past few decades. Though Black and Latine workers have made progress in high school and college completion, the wage gap with White workers has grown at every level of educational attainment (Carnevale et al., 2019). In the tech sector, despite well-funded federal programs and industry investments, representation of Blacks and Latines has remained stagnant. Even after making it into the tech workforce, retention is often a challenge (Collins-Puri, 2023). These are indicators of the limitations of a “pipeline” model for addressing equity that focuses on individual skills training and credentials. Black and Latine youth persist through college or vocational training only to encounter persistent biases and structural barriers to good careers. These include economic and infrastructural barriers, as well as often overlooked cultural barriers, such as pervasive racial bias, the stress of navigating workplace culture as a racial minority, White-dominated conceptions of what it means to be “professional,” and a charity mentality among employers.
While recognition of problematic racial and cultural dynamics in career equity have been growing among scholars and practitioners, the pace of change has been slow (McWhirter and McWha-Hermann, 2021; Bustein et al., 2019). Unlike direct economic assistance and training for youth, cultural change is a slow process of collective shifts in mindsets, policy, and practice. A systemic cultural shift means moving beyond a focus on training, “fixing” BIPOC youth and individual representation metrics, to look more broadly and deeply at institutional policies, ingrained practices, and the dominant culture (Kantamneni and Fouad, 2023). It means reflecting on whether youth development and workplace settings collectively honor the identities, communities, strengths, and culture of minoritized youth and workers. It also means recognizing and centering race in conversations about equity in educational and workplace settings.
As a result of a three-year research partnership delving into these issues, we offer a framework and a resource site to support mindset, policy, and practice change in career advising. After first describing the background on our project and process, we outline the challenges that this resource site addresses, and its approach and purpose.
Between 2020 and 2023, the Equitable Futures Innovation Network (EFIN), stewarded by the Connected Learning Lab and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, investigated and supported asset-based approaches to career equity through research-practice partnership and youth participatory action research (YPAR) with BIPOC-serving career development organizations: Bresee Youth Center, Business and Career Services, Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, Community Share, Digital Nest, New Door Ventures, OAI, and Timbuk2 Academy. Research fellows Dr. Miguel N. Abad and Dr. Janiece Mackey worked with youth and educators to research, reflect on, document, and redesign ways in which career development organizations engage youth voice and racial equity. Dr. Elizabeth Mendoza and Dr. Mimi Ito partnered with Drs. Abad and Mackey to support the coordination and administration of the project, and the translation of project outcomes into a framework and resource site. The project team also engaged in a series of interviews with researchers, practitioners, and leaders in the career advising field to get feedback on the framework, and inform our understanding of challenges and promising approaches.
Most of the project took place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and a renewed movement for racial justice catalyzed by the murder of George Floyd. Racial dynamics in everyday interactions, as well as structural racism embedded in policies, culture, and practice were front and center. The pandemic also raised awareness of the importance of mental health, wellbeing, and social connection in educational and workplace settings. These themes were intermingled currents that informed the direction and focus of the project. Eventually the resource site and framework coalesced around the term “race-grounded,” informed by these themes and the research expertise of the team. Dr. Mackey’s research has focused on the value of recognizing and grappling with racial dynamics, in contrast to race-neutral or race-evasive approaches (Mackey, 2020; Mackey et al, 2021). The framework also builds on Dr. Abad’s ongoing research on deficit-oriented cultural assumptions within vocational youth development settings (Abad, 2020), as well as Dr. Mendoza’s work supporting healing for racialized trauma.
Image: The group working at an EFIN retreat in Pacific Grove, CA.
The partnerships with nine career development organizations were sources of collegial joy, inspiration, and co-learning. Engagement among project researchers, educators, and youth persisted through the pandemic in online meetings, workshops, and interviews. We were also grateful to have the opportunity to convene in person twice during the project, to deepen relationships, dive into challenging topics, and enjoy some meals and walks on the beach together. We have done our best to capture the wisdom of our partners in the insights animating the framework, as well as case studies of some of their approaches. These stories of race-grounded career advising practices are featured on the resource site alongside examples from other organizations interviewed in the final phase of the project.
Challenges and Tensions in Career Advising
Through the EFIN partnerships and YPAR focused projects, review of the literature, and interviews with field leaders, our project has gained some visibility into the multi-faceted challenges that equity-oriented career development organizations face. These include system-level issues such as lack of integration of career advising within school systems, complicated compliance and accounting requirements, lack of coordination between different organizations, and misalignment between funding and youth and community needs. Practitioners also spoke to personal challenges in navigating their own career trajectories in this space, and burnout from intense professional and emotional demands. They also spoke to the lack of resources and support for addressing the true needs of the youth they serve. These include basic access such as transportation and the need for time in programs to be compensated as well as the unique needs of particular populations such as returning citizens, foster youth, and youth in detention centers.
Equity-oriented work in the field is framed by a tension between preparing youth for the world that exists, and working to change inequitable structures. Ellen Hawley McWhirter and Ishbel McWha-Hermann call on the field to continue to attend to both the needs of individual youth at the micro level, while also tackling systemic change. “The scope of change and chronic injustice experienced by so many calls us to re-envision our profession’s role and purpose” (2021, p.12) Youth workers must navigate a series of tensions and practical dilemmas: whether to encourage assimilation or resistance to White-dominated norms of “professionalization”; balancing financial success with connection to community; practical career choices versus passion-driven ones; and maintaining high expectations while being compassionate about trauma and structural constraints. Scholars and practitioners spoke of supporting individual success geared towards meeting foundational financial needs, while also pursuing collective advocacy and culture shifts towards more systemic change.
While particular institutional, funding, and programmatic challenges varied widely between organizations and localities, these tensions were pervasive. Also pervasive across the conversations we had were a recognition of the importance of an asset-based culture and values orientation to effectively serve marginalized youth. Although this cultural orientation is only one dimension in the complex field of influences and challenges in career advising, we feel it is foundational. Although harder to track and quantify than financial assistance, training, or placements, its impacts are no less real in terms of concrete career outcomes.
Research in the field is increasingly recognizing the impact of culture, belonging, and identity in career outcomes, even as solutions still focus on individual training and placement (Barton and Tan, 2019; Bevan et al., 2018; Ito et al., 2020; Vakil and Ayers, 2019). Related research has also emphasized the importance of critical consciousness of structural inequality to support positive ethnic identity and self-efficacy for marginalized youth (Diemer and Blustein, 2006; Hipolito-Delgao and Zion, 2017; Ito and Cross, 2022. Further, Kanamneni and Fouad (2023) succinctly highlight that practitioners and scholars “need an explicit understanding of how intersecting identities affect individuals’ work decisions. Those decisions will be limited by the marginalization that is due to sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism (to mention a few) and these may intersect[.]” (p.21). Our framework for race-grounded career advising is offered as one contribution to this unfolding conversation and grappling in the field.
A Framework for Race-Grounded Career Advising
At the core of the framework is a distinction between deficit and asset-based perspectives towards BIPOC youth that manifest in career advising settings. The first part of the framework teases out this contrast, and suggests four “race-grounded recognitions” that can reframe a deficit perspective into an asset-based one. These four recognitions include dimensions commonly recognized in asset-based and culturally-sustaining pedagogy, such as the positive embrace and connection to BIPOC culture and community assets, and recognizing structural inequity rather than blaming individuals for limitations (Yosso, 2005; Ladson-Billings, 2014). They also include a holistic emphasis on wellbeing and purpose, which is a newly emerging area of emphasis for asset-based approaches.
The framework also offers some visibility into how these race-grounded recognitions manifest in orientations towards youth engagement and voice, and the kinds of youth outcomes they support. Finally, the framework offers examples of race-grounded approaches and what they look and feel like in terms of key dimensions of career advising: guiding, collaborating, relating and caring. The pdf of the full framework can be downloaded here.
The resource site also offers some ways of engaging with the framework as a personal reflection tool or in professional development settings. These are tools for reflection and dialogue that are likely most amenable for personal growth and internal conversations rather than external formalized professional development. We offer a set of awareness building activities and conversation starters for individual or group reflection, and idea generation activities to reimagine programs and approaches.
Also included in the resource site are links to case studies of race-grounded career advising organizations, as well as a list of additional resources, scholarly publications, and the consolidated citations from our project writings. Our hope is that these resources offer a contribution to the growing momentum in the field to address racial equity in a holistic and culturally informed way, one that recognizes the systemic and collective work needed for true progress.
Explore the resource site and full framework here.
This post and the resource site was a collective effort that grew from the EFIN project team and partners, as well as a broader network of collaborators. Miguel Abad, Janiece Mackey, and Elizabeth Mendoza led the development of all of the work produced by the project. The team was also advised, enriched and supported by team members who contributed at varied stages of the project, including June Ahn, Phebe Chew, Julie Herrick, Oshin Kachikian, and Vera Michalchik. We are grateful for Jenna Abrams, Cindy Hau, Victor Lazo, and Megan Blair for all their work in producing the resource site and related content. Special thanks to our colleagues at the Gates Foundation, Maurice McCaulley, Emily Lockwood, and Carina Wong for thought partnership, vision, and support.
Post by Mimi Ito
Mimi Ito is a cultural anthropologist, learning scientist, entrepreneur, and an advocate for connected learning—learning that is equity-oriented, centered on youth interest, and socially connected. Her work decodes digital youth culture for parents and educators, offering ways to tap interests and digital media to fuel learning that is engaging, relevant, and social. She is Professor in Residence and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning at the University of California, Irvine, where she directs the Connected Learning Lab. The CLL stewards the Connected Learning Alliance, an expanding network of educators, experts and youth-serving organizations mobilizing new technology in the service of equity, access and opportunity for all young people. Mimi is also co-founder of Connected Camps, a non-profit providing online learning experiences for kids in all walks of life. Her publications include: Algorithmic Rights and Protections for Children (2023), Social Media and Youth Wellbeing (2020), The Connected Learning Research Network: Reflections on a Decade of Engaged Scholarship (2020), Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning (2018), and From Good Intentions to Real Outcomes: Equity by Design in Learning Technologies (2017).