Defining Opportunity: A Q&A About Education’s Role in DEI

Woman of color using her education assistance benefit after work

How do you use education to genuinely impact D&I in your workplace? According to Jared Fitzpatrick, senior vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the Dallas Regional Chamber, it takes more than providing classes. To really be successful, education has to be woven into an entire HR strategy. Jared, a guest in our recent webinar about education’s critical role in D&I, says nuances around education can make or break how well development works. Jared sat down with us to talk about why education opportunities matter so much, and how to ensure they’re actually able to do what you want them to do.

Bright Horizons: College has become a gateway to good jobs, with research showing that 2/3 of future opportunities will require some post high-school education by 2027. Does that make degrees the focal point for diversity? 

Jared Fitzpatrick: Degrees are part of it. But not all of it. They’re just one type of education. When I talk about “tuition reimbursement,” I’m not always talking about going back to traditional school. That’s not going to work for a lot of underserved populations. A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to go and get the four-year degree because of time or funding or maybe because they’re the only person in their family who can work. So certifications, especially in technical areas, can provide people opportunities to do online learning that meets their needs. Those types of non-degree courses are opportunities -- often overlooked – that help employees to level up and take that next step in their career. Not every role requires the same approach. 

BH: Is expanding educational opportunities alone enough? 

JF: Education is about providing opportunity. And opportunity isn’t just the career paths people have after they have degrees, but the opportunities they’re given first to be noticed. If you talk to a lot of people in underserved populations, you’ll hear frustration over the idea that everything would be better if they just went to school. But there are other issues around hiring and promotions. To be really impactful, education has to be part of a larger effort.

BH: What does a larger effort mean? 

JF: Think about your typical job requirements. So many require a bachelor’s degree just be seen in the candidate pool. But because of funding or time or maybe family obligations, there’s this huge group of people who don’t even have the opportunity to go get those four-year degrees. So they may never have the opportunity to get noticed and set themselves up for future development opportunities.

BH: How do you fix that? 

JF: One way is to think about how we screen resumes. There are a lot of talented people who haven’t gotten skills in a traditional way. Maybe they went right into the workforce; maybe they did a little community college. So let’s ask if a degree really needs to be the baseline for every role. Because if all of your roles require four-year degrees to even get noticed, you not only won’t see their resumes; you’ll miss out on a lot of talent. 

BH: Do you have examples of how that plays out? 

JF: Absolutely. So, one woman I work with went to community college for two years. Then a member of her family got sick, and she went to work in a department store’s HR department for five years. That’s great experience. But because she didn’t have a four-year degree, her options were limited. Had we not brought her into our program, we probably wouldn’t have even seen her resume. So if we always look at degrees as the baseline, we’re going lose valuable people before they get started. 

BH: Does that minimize the importance of education?

JF: Not at all. Just the opposite – as we said earlier, by opening up development to certifications and other credentials, it broadens the way you help people get skills. 

What else does Jared have to say? Check back with us next week for Part two when he we talk about the pipelines, and one of the biggest myths about why DEI suffers.

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Woman of color using her education assistance benefit after work

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