Supporting careers of LGBTQIA+ students in Australian universities
Zhou Jiang1, Ying Wang2, Damien W. Riggs1, Susan Mate2, Andrew Chapman3
Australians who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual and more (LGBTQIA+) face tremendous challenges in preparing careers through higher education. However, there is very limited knowledge on how they are being supported to achieve better career outcomes and what unique expectations they hold for university support systems.
While LGBTQIA+ students have emerged as a new equity group in the higher education sector, Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment (2018) has historically excluded these students from the existing officially defined equity groups. However, the estimated number (>60,000) of domestic LGBTQIA+ students are comparable to (e.g., students with disability) or greater in number than (e.g., Indigenous students) some of the traditionally defined equity groups. Evidencing the unique vocational challenges LGBTQIA+ students face in general and in extreme conditions such as during COVID-19, our project has served to advocate for explicit policy attention for this emerging equity group.
Qualitative findings from this research indicated that there was specific need for additional or explicit career guidance for gender and/or sexuality diverse students in Australian universities. Findings also suggested the importance of visible role models in the workplace and the efficacy of providing specific mentoring for students. Other key factors identified were the importance of visibly diversity friendly workplaces and how highlighting these workplaces would be useful for gender and/or sexuality diverse students. Finally, the importance of considering the whole person and intersectionality was highlighted by participants during interviews. Specifically, regarding support during the global COVID-19 pandemic, interview findings highlight the impact of social isolation and housing security on gender and/or sexuality diverse students.
Quantitative findings from this project indicated the importance of supporting gender and/or sexuality diverse students to be their authentic selves, with self-acceptance found as a significant and positive predictor of a number of factors related to participants’ career preparation. Similarly, the role of specific career guidance and support was demonstrated, with perceptions of support acting as a significant and positive predictor of many indicators of participants’ career effectiveness, such as job search self-efficacy, career resilience, and networking self-efficacy.
This project generated new knowledge regarding the effectiveness of existing efforts by Australian universities in supporting LGBTQIA+ students’ career development. In doing so, we identified LGBTQIA+ students’ unique needs and expectations in terms of preparing for and seeking employment after graduation. By considering also the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic, this project further identified factors that hamper or strengthen LGBTQIA+ students’ capabilities (e.g., resilience and adaptability) in navigating careers during crises, and uncovered the strengths and weaknesses of existing support initiatives. Altogether, it offered insights into how this group can be better supported to achieve sustainable and positive career outcomes, both in general and during extremely challenging circumstances.
Based on the qualitative and quantitative findings of this project (elaborated in detail in the “Discussion” section of this report), we recommend that Australian universities, government, and relevant policy makers consider undertaking the following actions to support LGBTQIA+ students in general as well as in their career development.
- University career offices should establish specific or additional career guidance and support programs for gender and/or sexuality diverse students.
- Career guidance and support programs for gender and/or sexuality diverse students need to be tailored to the specific needs of the relevant students. That is, a catch-all program for all LGBTQIA+ identities will not work.
- University diversity and inclusion departments should further develop Ally programs to foster positive role models for gender and/or sexuality diverse students.
- University career offices could partner with the university’s LGBTQIA+ alumni to start specific mentoring programs. Alternatively, career offices could build partnership with advocacy groups that already offer such programs, such as Out for Australia, and provide support to these established programs.
- University career offices in partnership with diversity and inclusion departments and queer alliances should develop resources for gender and/or sexuality diverse students regarding safe workplaces and being authentic. Resources could include links to accredited queer advocacy programs for reviews of friendly workplaces and/or career events with stalls from potential employers.
- University diversity and inclusion departments in partnership with other university departments should identify students in insecure housing and provide appropriate support, particularly during times of crises.
- Universities should establish accurate record keeping of any career specific programs for gender and/or sexuality diverse students for ongoing evaluation and refinement.
- LGBTQIA+ students should be explicitly and formally acknowledged as an equity group in the government’s higher education policies.
Read the full report: Supporting Careers of LGBTQIA+ Students in Australian Universities
This research was conducted under the NCSEHE Research Grants Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.
3Australian College of Applied Psychology
Associate Professor Ian Li
School of Population and Global Health
University of Western Australia
Research on the outcomes and issues for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual and more (LGBTIQA+) is scarce. At the same time, there has been increasing focus on career preparedness and outcomes for students who complete university qualifications, in Australia and internationally. Hence, this report by Zhou Jiang, Ying Wang, Damien Riggs, Susan Mate and Andrew Chapman addresses much needed areas of knowledge gaps and policy importance. Their work explores the perceptions of LGBTIQA+ university students in Australia on the level of support they are given, with a particular focus on career outcomes and preparedness.
This mixed methods study highlighted the need for action in several respects, including targeted career guidance, visible role models, and specific mentoring in driving positive careers outcomes for LGBTIQA+ students, among other findings. These actions, together with self-acceptance and the need to recognise the whole person, are important potential influences of career preparation and effectiveness, such as job search self-efficacy, career resilience, career exploration and networking self-efficacy.
The report sets out several important recommendations, including the need for better, targeted support at both the institutional and policy levels. The study provides timely evidence on barriers and enablers of LGBTIQA+ students’ career outcomes, in usual times and in times of crises.