Blog Post

Three Ways Organizations Can Support First-Generation Professionals

By Paris Colbert and Tony Giannotti
January 26, 2023

Institutions of higher education have worked to support first-generation students (those who are the first in their family to attend college) since 1965. According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, more first-generation students than non-first-generation students entered the workforce instead of enrolling in continued education (i.e., 32 percent and 26 percent, respectively). First-generation students face many challenges in college, including lack of established networks, fewer opportunities for professional development, or feelings of exclusion, and these issues often follow graduates into the workplace. This category of employees is deemed first-generation professionals (FGPs) and is defined as white-collar professionals from working-class backgrounds. In addition to feeling confused and excluded, first-generation professionals of color face the added complexity of racial differences when navigating predominantly White workplaces.

In our recent guide on supporting first-generation professionals, we explore how FGPs with intersectional identities face multiple challenges. Supporting FGPs can be complex, but now is the time for organizations to prepare as FGPs make their way into the workforce.

Here are three things organizations can do to be more supportive of first-generation professionals:

Be Patient and Evaluate Potential Class Barriers

Imagine that your team just got a new member who happens to be a first-generation professional, and they are extremely excited about graduating and starting this new opportunity. But you get a sense that they are also feeling slightly overwhelmed. This team member might not have had access to experiences meant to grow professional and interpersonal skills. They might have gone through school with little to no mentorship or guidance. And they might struggle learning company culture and norms. As simple as it might seem, allowing time and space for FGPs to learn, reflect, and adapt is crucial to their success at your organization.

Ensure Support at Each Stage of the Talent Lifecycle

With all of this new learning and adapting occurring for FGPs, there is an opportunity for your organization to adapt to their needs. You might do so by creating onboarding trainings or skill development sessions that teach effective communication and interpersonal skills. Help give FGPs a fair start by ensuring new employees are taught common company terms, or seek to “minimize corporate jargon.” Also, consider using skills development training to address the way communication in the workplace may lead to people from different socioeconomic classes feeling excluded. For example, using experiences “like golf or skiing or asking people to recall their childhood family vacations” to relate to employees may lead to feelings of exclusion for those who are unfamiliar with those activities. Use training sessions to teach techniques for effective communication as well as to ensure all employees are equipped with the necessary skills to function in the workplace.

Create a First-Generation Professional Resource Group

To support employees from different socioeconomic backgrounds, consider creating a specific Employee Resource Group (ERG) for first-generation employees. ERGs can be a lifeline to employees from underrepresented groups and provide a sense of community, especially in hybrid work environments. It’s important that first-generation employees have the opportunity to tap into this group’s resources, attend networking events and workshops, and build relationship capital

As the workforce becomes more diverse and DEI practitioners strive to create inclusive environments, the importance of addressing the needs of employees with different backgrounds will grow as well. While these are only three ways to support first-generation employees, companies can take various steps to ensure their DEI efforts support individuals from all socioeconomic backgrounds and ensure talented employees can succeed in their roles.

If your organization is ready to take a step toward supporting first-generation professionals, contact us to see our full guide on Supporting First-Generation Professionals, or schedule a call with our Diversity Best Practices advisors, who can help develop a new ERG for your organization, integrate inclusive hiring practices into your Talent Strategy, and help evaluate your overall DEI Strategy.

About the Authors

Paris Colbert Headshot
Paris Colbert
Research Associate, Insights
Tony Giannotti Headshot
Tony Giannotti
Senior Associate, Advisory