Intentionality. Equity. Mobility: Necessities to redress barriers to professional success

University of North Carolina Chapter Hill Career Services Interim Executive Director Dr. Tierney believes three factors are essential to helping students along their career path.

Intentionality. Equity. Mobility. These words describe the lens with which Tierney Bates, director of University Career Services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, uses to frame his work within the industry of career development.

Tierney Bates, director of University Career Services at UNC-Chapel Hill

As an undergrad majoring in mass media communications with a minor in African American History, Bates did not know 100 percent what he wanted to do for his overall career objective post-graduation. In experiencing a personal journey from the perspective of “job” to “career mapping”, Bates discovered three major factors that helped him to arrive at this point in his career path.

First, supervising the division of Multicultural Affairs provided access to employers and their desire to reach historically marginalized populations. Challenging the status quo, Bates proposed the creation of diversity fairs to increase opportunities for students. Second, Bates recognized a disconnect in employers’ requests for students to be prepared for professional success without actually providing opportunities and internships to work at organizations. Third, Bates wondered whether the students were truly prepared for professional success or, similar to his own path and many others, were they just taking jobs without an understanding of how to develop and manage their careers.

Bates realizes and is a firm believer that all students need experiential learning or an internship before graduation. These experiences help them to determine what they truly want to do (with preferably more than one) and to invest in undergraduate studies and experiences that align with their career objectives. Bates holds a particular interest in creating fair access to increase the utilization of career services for persons within the African American and Latinx communities.

As an educator, he recognizes the demand for social mobility and imparts this belief to his students and colleagues. Achieving this skill will enable anyone, especially students, to determine for themselves what they want to do next. It is in recognizing this gap within higher education and workplace expectations that Bates has dedicated his career to shift that outcome for students.

By using a solution-focused lens and starting with a “compass” in mind, a compass gives you a direction and, on that journey, you determine the stops, experiences, and vision. Students’ collegiate careers can be used to actualize a life designed with intentionality, equity, and mobility. Read on for a look at our conversation about how Tierney Bates redresses topics of “fit”, social justice, and student identity formation in the realm of career development:

Why is dismantling the idea of “fit” in higher education and corporate culture important to your work in career development?

That is my goal, to dismantle fit, and for a few reasons. First of all, fit ostracizes people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and women, especially, women of color. When we talk about fit, that means I have to fit in and assimilate into a culture that never had me in mind.

So, I want to “dismantle fit” because a lot of times when our students of color, LGBTQIA+ community, or women go into a certain atmosphere they must change their identity or assimilate. The reason for this is that most workplace environments for years have been homogenous, lack true communication or speak to cultural needs, have no true consciousness of inclusion, and do not build a sense of belonging. Therefore, imposter syndrome sets in but for many it is rooted in historical exclusion.

The second reason for dismantling fit is because of homogenous cultures within organizations. I’m trying to go into organizations on a national scale and talk to them about their cultures and how we need to dismantle fit by developing job descriptions assisted by search engine optimization or using gender decoder to understand the language on a description. This then promotes a balance in the types of applicants received. Most people of color will not apply unless they have 80-90 percent of what’s in the job description, whereas Caucasians feel as though, if they have roughly 40-50 percent, then they will still apply.

Additionally, for employers to receive a desired diverse candidate pool, posting the salary will help people of color, in particular, to make a better decision. It’s about cultural add – not fit or cultural fit. This relates to how employers can open up their minds and attract great diverse talent to make their organizations better.

How would you describe somebody who would excel as a social justice advocate within the career development sector?

One of my colleagues, Roderick Lewis, an associate director within the UNC-Chapel Hill University Career Services, is doing amazing things in this regard. With an MBA background, Roderick has a solid understanding of corporate recruiting and just in the past six months has created a diversity equity scorecard.
This tool has been used by NACE and can be used for both employers and internal higher education institutions and non-profits for accountability measures. Organizations can use this tool to look internally at themselves and assess whether they are doing what they are saying they are doing.

For example, in redesigning the types of programming higher education institutions offer, we can intentionally focus on African American/Black and Latinx students. But there’s a flip side to creating these spaces for employers and students to connect.

Academia must realize that everybody can’t recruit your students, employers can cause harm based on their tactics and this is why, we must guard our students from those whose organizations are just trying to do performative acts, which will lead to young professionals from historically marginalized populations leaving homogenous cultures sooner rather than later. In essence, this is because of a lack of organizations’ preparedness for the candidates’ cultural add.

Furthermore, people in higher education must tell the truth to employers to be successful in this work. Recruiting marginalized candidates is not enough. What are some of the decision-making factors that are happening? What is the makeup of your senior leadership? What are your management style or HR tactics, practices, and marketing? The problem is most of us are scared to do it because we don’t want to ruffle the feathers. That’s what being social justice warriors in career development means – writing historical wrongs by educating people about inequality regimes that have existed in corporate and higher education DNA, for

So, we must point it out. We must understand that, and we have to show the leaders in those spaces, that it means overcoming the desire to not want to give up benefits related to privilege. Real structural change happens with investment and accountability. Educate organizational leaders on what is wrong with current recruiting tactics to encourage real structural change.

For example, invest resources that share the benefit of systemic privileges in the communities of people who have been excluded from opportunities for advancement to help themselves build themselves up to an equitable standing in life. Think about gaps in African American/Black and Caucasian wealth. Reparations can help to close that gap. All mainstream organizations benefitted from Jim Crow and racism.

Educating leaders on what that historical context means now is how the Diversity Scorecard that Roderick Lewis created is used to bolster equity in higher education and corporate institutions.

What is your opinion about college students’ identity formation as it pertains to experiences such as
virtual internships and campus involvement during the coronavirus pandemic?

Highlight the value of the career services offices to achieve desired outcomes by moving career services out of Student Affairs and into the reporting chain of the Provost or President. This will promote students’ social mobility and agency in their understanding of factors that impact career choices and designing a collegiate and life experience that equips them for success, along with aligning academic outcomes.

This ideation includes multiple transferrable skills, the confidence to report these skills in virtual spaces, and the confidence to advocate for themselves by holding employers accountable with tangible, evidence-based questions during interviews and networking that go beyond the typical workplace culture. It is about highlighting students’ power within themselves.

In doing so, students know their plan and next steps post-graduation leading to improved first destination outcomes, alumni relations, and mentoring to current students.

Are there resources that you would advise the readers of this article to research and apply to advocate for
social justice within life, but particularly within career development?

Books and Articles:


The goal for me is to be a lifelong learner and not necessarily an expert; being strategic, reading things to keep ourselves engaged in dialogue, and commit to innovation.