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Emerging Professionals: How to Attract and Keep Them

A large lobby with a large screen in the middle.
The SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2021 is taking place at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas and virtually.Photo by Amit Dadlaney

​LAS VEGAS — Re-imagine work and career. Focus on the desired outcome and impact at your organization.

Chelsea C. Williams emphasized those key themes during a presentation Tuesday at the SHRM Talent Conference & Expo 2021 on retaining and developing diverse early-stage professionals. The conference is taking place in Las Vegas and virtually. 

Williams is founder and career strategist at College Code, which provides programs to develop and retain early-stage professionals. She spent 10 years in HR on Wall Street, managing national early-career recruitment and development, compensation and diversity, and equity and inclusion across the United States, Europe and Asia.

Among the strategies she shared for bringing more people from underrepresented communities into your organization:

  • Communicate to potential job candidates how they can thrive at your organization. Demystify career paths so that early-stage professionals can see themselves in a career they may never have known existed. Start early, through strategies such as internships, company branding and partnerships with educational institutions, long before emerging professionals start looking for a job.
  • Cultivate a culture of belonging. This is a key element of retention, Williams noted. After a year or two with your organization, will the employee from an underrepresented group look around and say, "No one looks like me"? Would that employee refer your organization to a peer?

By 2025, Generation Z—the most racially and ethnically diverse generation—will account for nearly 30 percent of workers, Williams said.

"We can't stop at diversity recruiting," Williams said. "That is just the first part of the [employee] journey." An organization's efforts, she said, must "be front and center, not a side conversation, a quarterly or annual conversation."

People often say "DE&I" as if it were a single topic, Williams pointed out, but diversity, equity and inclusion are three distinct concepts:

  • Diversity is the makeup of all the many characteristics of a person.  
  • Equity is "how we ensure fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement by addressing systemic barriers to the advancement of marginalized groups," she said. "We have to consider where there might be a challenge getting into our [industry] sector, region of the country" and the like. 
    Addressing these barriers involves looking at the candidate screening tools for interns and job candidates. Do you make selections based on whether the candidate attended the same school as the leaders at your organization? Do candidates tend to come from certain regions of the country?
  • Inclusion means a workplace that is safe, engaging and welcoming for everyone, she said. It is reflected in job descriptions, interview questions, and even whether the hiring manager and others make an effort to correctly pronounce candidates' names.

Best Practices

Williams shared the following key strategies for implementing DE&I throughout the employee life cycle:

  • Design and execute recruitment and talent development so they support underrepresented populations. That includes, for example, making sure an employee who identifies as transgender feels safe at work.
  • Audit early-career programs and assess the experiences of your junior talent. Emerging professionals want to work for organizations that offer development opportunities, provide clear communication around advancement and foster a sense of belonging, Williams said.

Employers need to know not only the percentage of Generation Z workers in their organization, but also who they are—women, Black or Latino individuals, people who identify as LGBTQ—and find ways to better understand their work experiences and expectations. Employers can use that knowledge to design relevant programs on topics such as wellness, professional development and advancement opportunities.

Generation Z values professional development. College Code's website cites a 2018 Future Workforce Survey from McGraw Hill that found only 41 percent of 1,000 college students said they felt extremely or very well prepared for their future careers.

Leaders set the tone, Williams said. They should model inclusive behavior.

"I might experience belonging," Williams said, "but if I can't see or understand how to advance and move forward, I'm going to leave." 

[Want to learn more about HR's role in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion? Join us at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2021, taking place Sept. 9-12 in Las Vegas and virtually.]


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