Supporting First-Generation Professionals at Work

With a diverse workforce comprised of several different generations, ethnicities, and skills, just to name a few characteristics, it’s important to create an inclusive environment for all, including first-generation college students who go on to become first-generation professionals (FGPs). According to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Civil Rights, FGPs are “those who are among the first in their immediate families to enter the professional workforce, i.e., their parents held traditional blue-collar or working-class positions that did not require a college degree.” 

These employees bring diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, life experiences, skills, and talents to organizations, allowing them to bring a new lens to companies and their challenges. 

Understand the First-Gen Career Journey 

It’s important companies establish and enforce diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts to accommodate and support all of their diverse employees. To better understand the challenges and experiences that FGPs face, it is critical to hold and participate in awareness training—recognizing and accepting that their path to professionalism may not have been the same as others. The U.S. Department of Commerce is a good example as they took the DEIB effort seriously by creating their First Generation Professionals Summit to spark a facilitated conversation across the organization. 

Inclusive Communication 

Another DEIB initiative to support and raise awareness of FGPs is to make inclusive communication a core competency for all. 

An article published in the Harvard Business Review suggests the following for inclusive communication: 

  • Minimize corporate jargon and speak in a way that allows everyone to contribute, regardless of their background. 
  • Offer training and coaching opportunities for employees and managers to learn and practice how to avoid class-based language. 
  • When speaking to groups, use examples, stories, and analogies that aren’t specific to a certain socioeconomic class. For example, references to sports like golf or skiing or asking people to recall their childhood family vacations make those who aren’t familiar with those experiences feel left out and confused about the meaning of the message. 

Assign Mentors 

The first few weeks and months on a job can intimidate any employee. Leaders should make the onboarding process as smooth as possible. One way to do this is by assigning a mentor to each FGP. A mentor can encourage, support, and give practical advice to help them succeed in their careers with their unique background. Mentors should share their journeys with FGPs to help break the ice and relieve any anxiety they could be facing. Also, encourage FGPs to be a mentor to someone else one day. 

Encourage Professional Development 

Most companies offer employees a variety of ways to grow and develop in their roles. Be open and honest with FGPs about professional development opportunities. Remember, this may be their first exposure to these opportunities if they come from a lower socioeconomic background. They may not be aware or have the financial means to attend conferences, virtual training, or certification programs that can help them succeed on the job. 

FGPs bring value and fresh perspectives to the workforce. Share a piece of work advice for these employees in the comments!  

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