First-Gen Talent is a study on First-Generation Professionals (FGP), or white-collar professionals who come from working-class backgrounds. Phase 1 focused on understanding the experience of FGPs in the workplace. Phase 2 will focus on the career mobility of FGPs. In both phases, FGPs and non-FGPs participate in order to generate comparative data.


While some studies have been conducted on those who are the first in their family to attend college, almost no research exists on first-generation professionals. Bernice Maldonado, herself a first-generation professional in California, wondered if the unique circumstances of FGPs like herself affected their professional work experience.

She recalled skills and traits that were directly linked to her FGP identity: “Even though I didn’t have access to the same social networks or private tutoring like some of my colleagues did growing up, I learned a great deal from my parents and believe that the grit and determination they passed on to me have served me well in my career.”

But as a first-generation professional, Bernice also faced challenges: “It wasn’t easy to talk to my family about my career. As my work became more professional, we experienced a disconnect which meant that I didn’t have the support network that some of my peers did.”

Bernice wondered if other first-generation professionals had similar experiences. After realizing that almost no studies had been completed on the topic, she decided to take on the research herself, and FirstGenTalent was created.


FirstGenTalent aims to answer two questions:

  • What is the workplace experience of first-generation professionals like, and how does it differ from non-FGPs?
  • How can companies better support and utilize the unique talents of FGPs?


In phase 1, we began by drawing on secondary research to frame our project. We found that many organizations and institutions have indicated a need for a study of this population, such as The United States Department of Commerce and the College Board. Those studying class mobility, and low-income and first-generation college students, among others, have also called for studies on FGPs. We incorporated existing research to strengthen our approach.

Next, a mixed-methods approach was used, consisting of an online survey followed by a series of phone interviews. This data was then analyzed using data software, to spot patterns and trends.

Phase 2 is currently under development, and will also take a mixed-methods approach.


The research will be used for several purposes. One will be to share with other first-generation professionals, such as through affinity and professional groups, so they can utilize it to support their own career. Secondly, the research will be shared with higher education institutions, to support first gen students who are transitioning to become FGPs. Lastly, it will be used to support companies who are interested in more deeply applying the findings to create a workplace that can be even more supportive of FGPs, and better utilize their unique talents. 


All research participants will receive a detailed summary of the findings. We anticipate that individuals will find this useful for their own career progression, and leaders will find it helpful for business performance. It will be applicable both to diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and to leadership and high-performance employee programs. A summary of the findings will also be made public at

Our team

bernice maldonado


Bernice grew up in a working-class family in Southern California. Though her parents had very limited education and her mother was illiterate and unable to speak English, she went on to earn an MBA and is now a strategy consultant and advisor. Through her lived experience as an FGP, she brings intimate knowledge and expertise to provide diverse talent with the tools they need to succeed. Incorporating her background in human resources and change management, she develops practical solutions for organizations to build more engaged and effective workplaces through her consulting practice, Bernice

martha burwell


Martha is a social scientist who specializes in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) mixed-methods research. She holds a Master of Science in intersectional gender studies from a top university in Europe and has designed and led diversity research projects in many industries, including technology, startup, nonprofit, action sports, and event operations. She also holds a business operations background and helps organizations “translate” their good intentions into reality through the application of DEI techniques into day-to-day operations through her business, Martha Burwell Consulting.

Get involved.

We’ll be launching phase two of our study, which will focus on career development. We’re seeking individuals and organizations who would like to participate in this second phase. Will you join us?

Yes, I want to participate!