Kimberly Underwood, Ph.D., MBA, a research leader from University of Phoenix, has shared insights into social capital in the workplace and higher education during a recent interview. The interview was for “WorkingNation Overheard,” a video series that records conversations about employment and education at major U.S. conferences.
Underwood is the chair of Center for Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Research (CWDIR), housed within the University’s College of Doctoral Studies. She has over 15 years of experience in diversity and inclusion education, research and management in academia and government.
Professional Social Capital for Black Learners and Workers
The “WorkingNation Overheard” interview took place during the annual Horizons conference in June 2022 in Los Angeles. Organized by Jobs for the Future (JFF), a nonprofit driving economic advancement in the U.S. workforce and education systems, the event provides a platform for community-building and collaboration. This year the conference theme was “See Beyond.”
In February 2022, JFF and University of Phoenix’s Career Institute® announced an alliance in the interest of supporting Black learners and workers. The alliance aims to bridge professional capital gaps and develop the resources, networks and relationships needed for educational and career advancement.
Together, the organizations have already conducted an in-depth market scan, “Building Professional Social Capital for Black Learners and Workers,” which mapped the landscape of programs enabling this demographic to boost professional social capital, a major element in establishing racial economic equity in the workforce.
The report illuminated how, while important, education and training alone are not enough to achieve this equity, as Black learners and workers sometimes lack access to opportunities where they can begin building relationships that generate professional social capital. Often, they face prejudice and generalized assumptions about their suitability in the roles they occupy in their educational programs and workplaces.
Challenging Social Inequities
The report provides a rich picture of the ways in which some educational institutions and employers are lacking when it comes to social capital-building activities. The report also details the five elements that the most innovative social capital development programs can incorporate to increase areas of opportunity. These five elements are:
- Elevating current assets
- Building relationships
- Making connections and introductions
- Career onboarding
- Continuous learning journey
During the interview with “WorkingNation Overheard,” Underwood reflected on these findings, which she also presented in a related Horizons panel discussion with Michael Collins, vice president of JFF.
Underwood asked: “How do we create, first and foremost, equitable situations where social capital works? Social capital cannot work in an inequitable situation.” She touched on the challenges society must address for social capital to function well including barriers like the concrete ceiling that women of color can face.
A Passion for Diversity and Inclusion
Underwood has more than 10 years of higher education teaching experience and a history of serving in roles like associate dean of Academic Affairs and Policy, assistant dean of Student Affairs and Policy and chairperson of Doctoral Studies. She credits her time in municipal government as the catalyst for a career in diversity and inclusion and began working at University of Phoenix in 2009 as an associate faculty member in the School of Business.
Underwood’s many research interests include critical multiculturalism and organizational diversity socialization in business settings with publications and presentations that address subjects like diversity onboarding and diversity management within K-12 and higher education settings.
Higher Education and Social Capital
According to Underwood, it’s not just employers and workforce systems that require change. “Higher education institutions need to do a better job of giving students access to social capital,” she said. Colleges and universities represent an important stage in the journey to employment and, for many individuals attending higher education, obtaining a qualification can prepare them for a successful career in their chosen industry.
Underwood spoke about defining social capital and its value for students of color, specifically for Black students. She added: “In thinking about social capital, what are those needs? What are those skills?”
That means traditional course content alone is not enough. The degree programs that higher education institutions offer must align with real-world career paths and provide students with skills that improve employment success rates.
“What are those elements that help a person coming into higher education and making it into the workplace?” Underwood asked. “What’s needed besides content and besides the classes? What are those additional elements and those soft skills needed to be successful in the workplace and to get into the workplace?”
Career-Focused, Practitioner-Based Programs
Underwood suggested that one way to provide students with access to social capital is to prioritize practitioner-based programs of the kind that University of Phoenix offers. “These programs are often taught by faculty with extensive, hands-on experience within the workforce,” Underwood said. In fact, the University’s accomplished professionals average over 28 years of experience.
In addition to experienced faculty, University of Phoenix’s varied degree programs and certificate options are career focused, with over 90 percent in growing fields. Associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree options are available as affordable, online programs that help students from all backgrounds work toward their desired futures.
About University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix is dedicated to supporting the educational aspirations of adult and nontraditional learners and to guiding students through its range of degree programs and career options that best suit their interests. The University’s degree programs link to numerous in-demand career paths including in cybersecurity, nursing and business. Thanks to flexible start dates and online classes, as well as various scholarship opportunities, it’s possible for anyone to earn the degree they need. Additionally, University of Phoenix’s Career Services for Life® commitment to active students and graduates provides the resources needed to be prepared when entering the workforce for no additional charge. These services include resume and interview preparation, career advice and education and networking opportunities. For more information, visit www.phoenix.edu.