With diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) a priority among organizations across the nation, many companies are seeking individuals with the training needed to help drive policy and business culture, in law, health care, STEM, education and the arts.
Companies from Sephora to JP Morgan as well as universities, government offices and hospitals have all formed DEI offices that address challenges.
Career paths for graduates
This growing trend has increased the demand for graduates steeped in how to address these topics with impact, says Alexandra Cornelius, director of the Center for Women's and Gender Studies and associate teaching professor for the College of Arts, Sciences and Education. Cornelius sees the fully online bachelor's in women’s and gender studies as fully applicable and necessary to inform organizations and effect change.
Cornelius outlines several career “tracks” within the program for students to consider including law and social justice, STEM and health professions, and education and the arts. She explains that the curriculum —with resources and related programs across the university — allows students to develop interdisciplinary skills and career prospects.
“The degree teaches students to bring communities together to identify and try to find solutions for disparities in health, education, housing. Our students also are interested in pursuing careers that will allow them to be advocates for LGBTQ+, immigrant, minoritized communities as well as survivors of domestic violence and sex trafficking,” she adds. “For example, the degree offers students the tools to think critically about the ways in which public policies or health policies affect people’s ability to thrive.”
Along those lines, thriving in Miami is near and dear to alumna Audrey Aradanas’ heart.
For Aradanas ’15, vice president of programs for Miami Homes For All, Inc., the reason she pursued her degree in women’s and gender studies was personal.
“It wasn't until literally my first woman studies class where I understood ‘intersectionality’ and how my experiences define me,” says Aradanas, who at an early age experienced abuse, living in poverty, the effects of gentrification on her family’s home and the instability of moving from apartment to apartment before her parents could scrape enough money together to buy a home.
“I learned so much about myself, and what I can do, moving forward and through those experiences, I was able to identify and say, ‘hey, I want to make sure that what happened to me doesn't happen to other young girls,’” she explains.
Preparation for careers
Today, Aradanas manages and directs affordable housing and homelessness programs through policy advocacy, community building and data research. She credits her FIU degree in women’s and gender studies for providing the foundational framework for a career helping and advocating for others.
Aradanas is particularly proud of her organization’s role in helping extend eviction deadlines from 15 days to 30. The short deadline was of grave concern to those who are month to month renters, she says.
“Now, we're working on other policies with partners to make sure that we prevent evictions and foreclosures in our community,” says Aradanas, who stresses that the interdisciplinary nature of the WGS program helped prepare her for the collaborative work she must do in her role.
Federal laws, politics, nonprofits
However, it’s not just the local community where graduates are having an effect. They’re changing policy on campuses across the nation, and regarding new federal laws, says Professor Vicki Burns. She notes that every semester, her lectures are updated to reflect what is happening at the federal level so students glean the most relevant information and can work through topics with an intersectional framework.
“There are issues related to power and privilege and systemic inequities, so we really look at that,” Burns says. “There are different skills threaded through all of our courses that are really important right now—things related to critical thinking.”
Burns notes that many alumni of the program seek careers in politics, whether it's as congressional aides, running for office or working on campaigns. Other students also seek positions with nonprofits working on issues related to human rights or the LGBTQ+ community.
“These are not the only jobs that our alumni have by any means,” Burns notes and highlights the dire need for a focus on women’s and gender issues in health and humanities as well as arts and education. She also points to the growth in the field for graduates of women’s and gender studies.
“As we continue to add more faculty and apply for grant funding, there's going to be even more opportunities for students to get involved in projects, so students can get some very valuable experience and have a profound impact,” Burns concludes.