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Working Paper Number rsm2019-03
Rodney L. Terry and Aleia Clark Fobia
Component ID: #ti1338778929


The Office of Civil Rights, under the U.S. Department of Commerce, oversees efforts to identify and eliminate barriers to workplace inclusion based on protected diversity characteristics, such as race and gender. In an interagency project between the Office of Civil Rights and the U.S. Census Bureau, the Census Bureau’s Center for Behavioral Science Methods conducted focus groups and qualitative interviews to investigate potential barriers to workplace inclusion for First Generation Professionals (FGPs), or professional employees who are the first in their immediate families to hold a white-collar professional position. The purpose of this research was to investigate whether socio-economic status (SES) may also be a diversity characteristic for which there are barriers to inclusion for employees from low SES backgrounds. Five focus groups were conducted with a total of 29 FGPs (four groups with non-supervisory staff, one with supervisory staff). Thirteen people, all supervisory staff, participated in the qualitative interviews, and five were FGPs.

Overall, results found that the First Generation Professionals in this study had experiences and circumstances that reflect a lack of resources that are typically available to people with middle- and upper-SES backgrounds. This disparity can result in barriers to workplace inclusion and career advancement. These resources include (a) development programs and internships before college, (b) educational and professional networks, (c) disposable income for social events with coworkers, (c) orientation on how to navigate office culture and advance one’s career, and (d) career mentors. However, they also identified several efforts they said would help to reduce these barriers, including orientations to workplace culture, networking skills training, and career advancement counseling. Results also indicated that First Generation Professionals from all career stages could benefit from efforts to reduce barriers, and most FGP participants described perceiving a stigma associated with being a First Generation Professional. Finally, despite the disparities and barriers associated with being an FGP, many participants also described positive aspects of FGP status.



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