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Create the Conditions for First Generation Professionals to Thrive

Blog post by Tinisha Agramonte, Director; Cristina Bartolomei, Senior EEO Specialist; and Hillary Shah, Emerging Professionals Pilot Program Intern, U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Civil Rights

The mission of the U.S. Department of Commerce is to “create conditions for economic growth and opportunity.” This mission makes it essential to have a highly qualified workforce that reflects all segments of the diverse public we serve, including the broad socio-economic spectrum.

It was with that mission in mind that the Department’s Office of Civil Rights took the unprecedented steps in developing and launching the First Generation Professionals (FGP) Initiative, a first-of-its-kind endeavor in the Federal government that focuses on an often-overlooked dimension of diversity—socio-economic status. Launched in September 2019, the initiative creates the conditions that will enable the successful recruitment, advancement, inclusion, and retention of first-generation professionals, many of whom come from working-class, low-income backgrounds. This initiative champions the idea that humble beginnings should not limit how far one’s talents and drive can take them. 

Who are these first-generation professionals? They are trailblazers who are one of the first in their immediate families to enter the professional workforce. They have varying socio-economic backgrounds, life experiences, skills, and talents that diversify our workforce. When leveraged, first-generation professionals can help Federal agencies optimally accomplish our mission by delivering culturally competent and relevant programs, products, and services to diverse public constituents.

The FGP Initiative has been active since day one, hosting an Inaugural Summit with high-ranking Federal officials, many of whom are FGPs. The program also presented numerous workshops; established a First Generation Professionals Community of Practice; and most recently conducted a virtual stakeholder information session with over 450 representatives from academic institutions. 

This stakeholder information session served as a launching pad for the Pilot First-Generation Professionals Academy (FGPA) for Emerging Professionals, which will provide a series of webinars on topics that research shows are germane to the success of first-gen students when preparing to join the workforce. With the launch of the Academy, the Federal government, for the first time, is taking a coordinated, proactive, and intentional approach to address the challenges that first-generation, low-income emerging professionals may face as they leave the college campus and enter the workforce.

First-Gen college graduate and Superior Court Judge Tadia Whitner, served as a guest speaker for the stakeholder session and shared how first-generation professionals still experience unique struggles in the workplace as a result of their backgrounds.  She discussed the conscious and unconscious biases FGPs encounter based on social class markers; the lack of support, networks, and mentorships; and how many deal with imposter syndrome. Our FGP programs, designed for both college students and working FGPs serve to mitigate those challenges. We are helping first-gen students successfully transition from the college campus to the workplace AND creating conditions for first-gen trailblazers to thrive in their professional careers.

Our goal is to foster a Federal workforce that is beneficial and wholly representative of the talents in our diverse society.

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