Adrian von Dewall, Managing Partner, Boyden Germany, explores how to unlock the potential of First-Gen professionals, this article highlights challenges and strategies for inclusion, advocating hiring for potential over pedigree. It merges insights from BCG and ISE, suggesting tailored support and a shift in recruitment practices to empower these trailblazers in the workforce.

By Adrian von Dewall
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In the intricate tapestry of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the workplace, the threads representing socioeconomic backgrounds often remain faint or entirely overlooked. Yet, the importance of weaving these threads into the broader DEI fabric cannot be overstated. Recent insights from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) illuminate the untapped potential and unique challenges faced by First-Generation (FirstGen) professionals—those trailblazers whose educational achievements surpass those of their parents or primary caregivers.

The Case for Potential Over Pedigree

A pivotal shift is needed in how we approach recruitment and talent development, particularly for FirstGen professionals. Traditional hiring practices, heavily reliant on CV sifting and written responses, inadvertently sideline candidates with less conventional experiences or who lack familial guidance in navigating the professional realm. The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) champions a more inclusive strategy, advocating for hiring based on potential, as exemplified by Amberjack's Model for Identifying Potential. This model prioritises a candidate's inherent capabilities over their past experiences, aiming to democratise the recruitment process and enhance the diversity of hires.

Yet, adopting face-to-face assessments as a more inclusive alternative is not without its challenges. Financial constraints, time limitations, and the daunting prospect of navigating a corporate environment for the first time can deter FirstGen candidates. Recognising and mitigating these barriers is crucial in crafting a recruitment process that truly levels the playing field.

Unlocking FirstGen Brilliance

BCG's comprehensive study on FirstGen professionals in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland reveals both the obstacles and the extraordinary value this demographic brings to the workplace. FirstGen professionals often embark on their careers with limited access to networks, less familiarity with career pathways, and a sense of being outsiders within corporate cultures. Despite these hurdles, they exhibit remarkable loyalty, intrinsic motivation, and a propensity to pursue leadership roles, provided they find the right environment to thrive.

These findings underscore the need for a holistic approach to supporting FirstGen professionals, from entry-level positions to senior management. Tailored training programs, mentoring, and career development initiatives are paramount in ensuring these individuals not only join but excel within their organisations.

A Call to Action for Employers

The synergy between ISE’s methodologies and BCG’s insights presents a compelling blueprint for employers. To truly harness the potential of FirstGen professionals, companies must:

Empowering FirstGen Professionals: A Shared Responsibility

The journey of FirstGen professionals is one of resilience, innovation, and untapped potential. As leaders, colleagues, and mentors, we share the responsibility of ensuring that our workplaces not only recognise the unique talents of FirstGen individuals but also actively support their professional growth and integration. By doing so, we not only enrich our organisational cultures but also contribute to a more equitable and inclusive society.

In embracing the potential of FirstGen professionals, we open our doors to a wealth of diverse perspectives, ideas, and innovations. Let us commit to transforming our workplaces into environments where every professional, regardless of their background, can truly flourish.

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