Editing a job description to remove references to “preferred” or “required” candidate qualities may not seem like a significant shift, but for a job seeker, it can mean the difference between applying for a role and shying away from it. University of Chicago staffers from an array of units, in partnership with local workforce development partners, recently dug into such nuances in a new series of workshops designed to make hiring more inclusive for local candidates. The effort is part of a broader push to minimize barriers to employment at the University for South Siders—and participants say they’re already putting lessons learned to good use.
After a small group of UChicago staffers took part in community organization Cara Collective’s Inclusion Action Lab hiring training last year, the group asked the organization if they could create and bring a customized version of the resource to the University. The University-focused series, developed in partnership with the Office of Civic Engagement (OCE)’s economic inclusion team, was inspired in part by recommendations from the Community Development Working Group — a group of more than 60 local stakeholders OCE has convened since 2019 to explore how the University can help to spur more equitable development and economic inclusion on the South Side. Working group participants, including representatives from Cara Collective, had advocated for more inclusive hiring practices and training for University units with a specific focus on meeting UChicago’s local hiring goals. Partnering with Cara Plus—Cara Collective’s professional services arm, which leverages the organization’s long history of working to reduce employment barriers—the economic inclusion team said, was a natural fit.
“We fundamentally see our mission as creating more career pathways for job seekers that are often overlooked,” Liana Bran, Cara Plus’ director of expansion strategy, said. “So, I think if we can help an organization like UChicago, with the thousands of job opportunities that they have, to position themselves to reach individuals that are often overlooked or don’t see themselves as able to apply to a great organization like UChicago, that’s why we’re doing this work.”
Bran applauded the University’s explicit commitment to local hiring and says she and her team designed the workshops to hone in on that aspect of the University’s hiring practices as well as on hiring solutions that could be responsive to each decentralized unit’s specific needs.
Participants met six times over the course of the series. In addition to editing job description language to better attract candidates of different backgrounds, the group worked through ways to evaluate education and other requirements for open roles, discussed their units’ unique needs such as the number of entry level or more specialized roles they might need filled, and shared best practices for engaging with community partners and leveraging community networks. UChicago employees representing five departments—Alumni Relations and Development (ARD), Campus and Student Life, Library Services, the Physical Sciences Division, and UChicago Press—participated in the initial pilot with Cara Plus facilitators as well as representatives from the Chicago Urban League and other workforce development groups that serve the South Side.
Angela Jacobs, ARD’s senior director of human resources and recruiting, left the experience energized to approach ARD’s recruitment efforts in new ways and think about the points throughout the hiring process when a candidate may face obstacles such as responsibilities outside of their job hunt, timing restrictions, or limited resources.
“It was a good reminder for us that not everybody is in the same boat,” Jacobs said.
Ultimately, hiring more local candidates will require shifts in mindsets and more intentional community outreach like recruitment events and workforce organization partnerships, she said.
“Just posting a job somewhere, that to me as a recruiter, never works,” Jacobs said. “You really have to go out and find people and talk about working at the University. UChicago can be this monolith—it’s shiny, it’s big, it’s complicated, but sometimes people just need a way in to see what it’s like here. And yes, it is big, and shiny, and complicated, but here’s where your skill set might work, here’s where your career might go.”
The workshop series is one of several ways University units are prioritizing community member needs as they build out best hiring practices. It builds on a policy, implemented in 2020, for example, that requires “fair chance” language to be added to all UChicago job postings noting that criminal records won’t necessarily preclude applicants from being hired, as well as a Workday filter that identifies local candidates.
For the Chicago Urban League’s Employment Services Team Lead Gregory Austin, the Inclusion Action Lab series was a valuable opportunity to connect with University units directly and communicate the needs of those his organization serves. Austin says strengthening relationships and employers’ overall sense of empathy is key to this work, and those were the main points he tried to emphasize throughout the workshop series.
“If you don’t open your door, sometimes you can be blind to the realities that some people in this city, especially on the south and west sides, experience,” Austin said. “And because that’s the population we work with on a daily basis, we know what it feels to be in those shoes. So, just giving us this opportunity to share that is so important. I applaud the UChicago team for being champions for change and wanting to break down that door.”
While measuring the long-term impact of the action lab will take time, OCE’s associate director of Community Development Initiatives Kelli Chávez says some participating units have already updated job posting language and sought position referrals from participating workforce partners. Going forward, processes for tracking the number of South Side applicants who have applied, been invited to interview, or been hired within each participating unit will additionally be implemented. Chávez says OCE is working on finalizing dates to offer the series again to additional University units this spring. If you or your unit are interested in participating, email Kelli Chávez at email@example.com.