Documentation:Student Services Career Coaching & Advising: Language skill requirements and career navigation

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A few Advisors originally contributed scenarios to help build a session for the a 2018 UBC Advising Conference session, Making Diversity & Inclusion Work: Three Supportive Approaches to Student Advising at UBC. This session was developed and presented by staff at the Equity and Inclusion Office (EIO). The EIO then further developed the case study for this website with additional materials.

Target Learners & Contexts

This case study was created for student services professionals in higher education settings (e.g., Academic Advisors, Career Advisors, Study Abroad Advisors) for their professional development purposes. However, it could also be used in other settings (e.g., a higher education administration course, an inclusive teaching workshop for faculty and TAs) with or without modifications.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this case study activity, participants will be able to:

  1. Identify key concerns around inclusion and equity in the case scenario
  2. Develop strategies for more inclusive and equitable outcomes


Instructions for main facilitator:

Ahead of the workshop

  • Review the case study scenario(s) and adapt them to your context if necessary.
  • Review the talking points, which are suggested points for discussions. You may want to adapt the talking points (e.g., modify the language, make additional points) to your specific context.
  • Consider how you would like to facilitate the activity by thinking of the following questions:
    • Would you like to identify people who are going to facilitate small group discussions ahead of time so that you have a chance to discuss key points to be covered in the small group discussions? Or will the session participant work on their own in small groups?
    • Will someone be taking notes during small group discussions? How can these be shared back with the whole group?
    • Would you like to have students read the case studies and discussion questions ahead of time as “homework,” or do you have enough time to do that during your session?

During the workshop

  • Divide participants into groups of 4 or 5. You may want each group to include a facilitator with knowledge of the issues discussed in the scenarios, and who can help guide the conversation.
  • Give groups 10-15 minutes to discuss each scenario. You may want to give each group a large piece of paper where they can write 3-4 things that they would do in response.
  • Debrief as a large group. One by one, read the case studies before inviting each group to share what they discussed before opening it up to a discussion among the larger group.

Instructions for learners:

Read the case study that has been shared with your group. Take a moment to think about the discussion question then discuss them with your group.

Case Scenario

A student you know, Sampson, comes to you asking for advice on a new career trajectory. As part of your conversation, he shares that he’s concerned about his accent. He tells you about a recent student committee meeting where he got the impression that he was denied a chance to introduce a speaker at their next event because of his strong Taiwanese accent. Later, as you review that job posting, you notice two of the three postings explicitly require strong English-speaking skills. Marketing and public relations in Vancouver are tough industries and you are not sure how to direct Sampson. You know that a strong Taiwanese accent is likely to put off some people, but you also know that Sampson is a strong student with excellent written communication skills. What are some of the issues at stake here? How can you advise Sampson in this instance? What are some elements you may want to take into consideration? How can advisors help Sampson identify his strengths and leverage these to help him get to where he wants to be in the future?

Discussion Questions

  • From your lens as an Advisor, what issues does this scenario highlight?
  • As an Advisor, what is your role and responsibility?
  • As an Advisor, how should you respond at this point? What could have been done differently to support the students in this scenario? Consider these questions at both the local level (e.g., what you can do in the moment or in a short term) and a broader level (e.g., long-term, structural changes).

Talking Points (for Facilitators)

These talking points are meant to help the facilitator generate meaningful conversation with the group. There are not final or comprehensive answers!

Is it about accent or intelligibility?

When Advisors work with students like Sampson, who are concerned about their accents or language proficiency, it is important to distinguish accent from intelligibility. Misjudging the difference between the two can result in accent discrimination. Sounding ‘foreign’ does not necessarily mean that the student does not have sufficient English proficiency to carry out the job requirement. However, if the student’s English is not intelligible, or if their English proficiency is not sufficient to fulfill the job requirement, Advisors can direct the student to resources and support to improve their English skills and discuss how they can build their career while they work to improve their English.

Unequal power attached to different accents in English

As discussed above, having an accent in English does not necessarily mean that it is not intelligible. However, it is important to keep in mind that certain accents tend to be unfairly judged in Canada (Read a CBC article here). We need to critically question: Which accents are accepted as ‘normal' or legitimate? Which ones are seen as simple variations, or even attractive? Which ones are seen as a sign of poor language skills, or even a lack of intelligence? What are the consequences? The concept of intersectionality can be helpful here to explore how different accents are perceived and treated differently based on people’s gender, race or ethnicity, etc.

The student’s hope and the reality of the profession

While Advisors may want to encourage and advocate for their students to pursue their career aspirations, how can they advise and support the students without setting them up for failure? How can you talk with students about the current challenging reality of the profession or industry (e.g., explicit and implicit work expectations) that they are interested in, without making this reality seem as inevitable or unchangeable?

Strength-based approach

How can Advisors help students identify their strengths (e.g., multilingual skills and written skills in this case scenario) and use them for their own leverage to get to where they want to be in their careers in the future?

External advocacy

What are some of the strategies Advisors may be able to take to advocate for change in a profession/industry for more equitable and inclusive culture and practice? What may be their leverage points in their networks - within the university, with student internship hosts, professional organizations, etc.?

Sharing Permissions

Some rights reserved
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document according to the terms in Creative Commons License, Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0. The full text of this license may be found here: CC by-sa 4.0

When re-using this resource, please attribute as follows: developed by the Hari B. Varshney Business Career Centre at the Sauder School of Business and the Equity and Inclusion Office at the University of British Columbia.

Additional Resources