I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: My students have talent. As business school dean and accounting professor at South Carolina State University, a historically Black university, I believe in my students—even when it seems like many employers overlook them.
Attending a historically Black college or university comes with challenges that students at other institutions might not face, particularly a lack of funding and name recognition. Many recruiters seem to exclusively chase pupils from large state schools or well-known private schools. What they don’t realize is that they’re missing out on promising employees.
I have seen firsthand the effect that this can have on my student body. Many of them will not pursue certain careers simply because they don’t possess the confidence to compete. Their senses tell them that they are not prepared to make the transition from classroom to workplace.
With many companies recently making new or increased commitments to a wide range of diversity measures, I encourage them to commit to building stronger relationships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Schools like mine provide a largely untapped resource of bright, hungry students.
For businesses looking to innovate in a challenging economy, looking to diverse sources of talent is not just the right thing to do—it can help to drive bottom line profitability, too. Diversity in representation brings diversity of thought, and that in turn drives innovation.
Here are three recommendations for companies seeking to build stronger relationships with HBCUs:
Build relationships with the faculty
Companies must engage faculty members to make sure courses are preparing students properly. PwC is an example of a company that does this well. The professional services firm hosts a yearly faculty forum where it updates HBCU representatives on the latest capabilities it is looking for in new hires, and listens to feedback from our side.
These efforts mean a lot to us. The firm shows that it genuinely wants our students, and takes strides to help us better prepare them for lasting careers. Even something as simple as periodic conversations with faculty members to mutually share any feedback, roadblocks, or advice can go a long way. Real progress in this space is rooted in strong, trust-based relationships.
Be present with students
A few years ago, my institution launched an executive speaker series where we host representatives from companies to share career advice. Topics range from “a day in the life” to the skills and knowledge that hiring managers expect from recruits. Two companies that do this effectively are BMW and Boeing: Boeing designates a certain day each year where company representatives speak in different classes, and both companies provide students scholarships.
Efforts like these don’t just offer vital advice to future workers—they send a message to my students that they have a chance to fill a role where they have an equal footing from day one. This form of direct interaction can speak volumes.
Hire our students
Offering money is great, and so is sharing advice. But when it comes down to it, our students need opportunities. I have seen firsthand how internships can turn even the shiest, most self-doubting student into one who speaks up, shares with other students, and exudes newfound confidence.
Our students deserve serious consideration, and the companies we’ve partnered with already have done that well. Now, the recent rise in virtual recruiting makes it easier for other companies to offer crucial on-the-job experience that can change the trajectory of their lives.
Most HBCUs don’t have access to resources that a large university can offer, so financial support is important. But if a good relationship is built first, the financial support can follow.
Companies and HBCUs working together is mutually beneficial. And at South Carolina State University and other HBCUs, we’re offering qualified, diverse students who are ready to compete in the workplace, bring fresh and innovative ideas, and drive greater productivity.
Barbara L. Adams is the business school dean and an accounting professor at South Carolina State University.
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