OCS Discusses Workplace Discrimination and Diversity

Harvard affiliates shared their experiences with discrimination and lack of workplace diversity during a discussion at the Office of Career Services on Monday. Guest speakers—a mixture of Harvard alumni and Harvard-affiliated professionals—provided advice and strategies for identifying and handling issues on the job at the event, entitled “Navigating a Less Diverse Workplace.”

One female speaker of mixed minority descent said that new clients often assume her inferiority to male colleagues.

Another speaker, the only Latino member of an investment bank summer associate program, said he felt he had to work harder than the average employee to establish himself as a valuable contributor.

During audience introductions, a senior voiced her concern over past interviews in which she had been probed about identifying as a gay woman and the implications it posed for her career and family plans.

The discussion touched on identifying and responding to subtle instances of workplace discrimination in which individuals are unsure whether they are being discriminated against. Two categories of discrimination were highlighted: barriers to entry and hindrances to success within an organization. The speakers urged students to be assertive and aware that stereotypes can be changed.

“We’ve had students who go into our recruiting [program] and everyone who interviews them is a white male, or has very different political beliefs,” said Robin E. Mount, director of career, research and international opportunities at OCS. How do you approach this situation? How do you decide that this is a place that is welcoming for you?”

Speakers emphasized the importance of screening potential employers to find a workplace environment that excites them while also looking good on paper.

Event attendee Denise Acosta ’15 said she learned much from the discussion.

“[This is] not something you get in the classroom—you learn it by meeting people, talking to people, hearing their stories. Coming from a Mexican-American background, sometimes it’s really comforting to see people like you who have made it,” said Acosta. “Just realizing discrimination exists and having strategies to work around it makes all the difference.”

—Staff writer Anneli L. Tostar contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Yen H. Pham can be reached at yenpham@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @yhpham.

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