Climb the Ladder

13 Questions you should ask to understand if a company cares about diversity, equity, and inclusion

Let’s be candid here… If you ask a hiring manager (or any one of your interviewers) if a company has diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies or procedures in place, you’re likely to receive a legalistic, by the books “but of course!” response. 

Yet, just because a company says something is true, doesn’t mean it is in practice. So, how do you find out about what a company’s culture is actually like? 

Here are 13 questions (plus a few tactical must-do’s) you should bring to your next interview to probe on an organization’s dedication to providing an equitable and inclusive environment for its employees. 

Start at the top. 

1 | How diverse is the executive team?

Change and impact start at the top and trickles down; a representative c-suite is a visible indicator of whether or not a company prioritizes diversity (in all senses of the word). 

This is a great place to start – and a question that you can probably answer through research on the company. Have a look at the executive team (the c-suite) – do you see people like yourself represented? If the team seems homogeneous, plan to ask your interviewers about what (if any) plans are in place or in motion to change the make-up of the executive team.

2 | What about the Board of Directors? 

A company’s Board of Directors holds enormous power, and can change or challenge the c-suite/leadership decisions, remove leadership, and make critical decisions about the future of the business, so it’s imperative that the Board is diverse. This is especially important for a privately held company where there is little regulation or color into leadership decisions. Remember, the Board will want to do what is best for business, but not all business decisions impact employees equally – make sure that you see someone like yourself on the Board, too. 

Ask about middle managers, VPs, and leadership opportunities

3 | What’s the makeup of the managerial team?

What does the current team look like? Are you joining a team of all men? All women? All engineers? All Ivy League grads? All white people? Diversity comes in all shapes and colors – ethnic, racial, socio-economic, sexual, geographical, political, religious, gender, intellectual diversity –  so it’s important to probe on the makeup of the team. 

Not to mention, managers and director-level employees are often on the front-lines of major decisions surrounding hiring, bonuses, layoffs, and firing. 

4 | What leadership training programs do you offer? 

Great, 40% of Associates are women of color! But what are you doing to advance these women within your company? Some firms do a great job of offering mentorship and training/education opportunities to help elevate and promote from within… ask about these initiatives – and who has access to these initiatives. 

5 | What does the promotion and evaluation process look like and who is in charge of these decisions? 

Now, we’re not telling you to ask for that promotion from day one. What we do encourage you to do is ask about how the company approaches annual/bi-annual evaluations and promotion decisions. It’s also important to ask who is involved in these decisions (is it a homogeneous committee?) and what data points are used to evaluate candidates (if there is not a process, that might be a red flag that schmoozing is overvalued, and things like hard work and ability undervalued).

Probe on programming and goal setting.

6 | How do you prioritize social events that all employees feel they can take part in?

Not all employees will feel at home at every event, and it’s important that teams consider this when planning company-wide or team-wide social activities. As we wrote about before, people with families might not have as flexible a schedule to attend evening events; people that don’t drink might be uncomfortable if every gathering centers around alcohol consumption. The fact of the matter is, if people are not participating in these key relationship-building events, they are not forging ahead in their careers simply from being left out. 

7 | How do you foster an open, communicative environment for your employees?

This question probes at a company’s willingness to provide a safe and open space for all employees to voice their concerns. Your interviewer might not know the ins and outs of the company’s formal policy, but they should be able — and willing — to speak to their personal experience, and that is likely better than a formal “our policy says xyz.” 

Another way to ask this question is: What are you doing to promote a culture in which individuals at all levels and of all backgrounds feel supported enough to speak up?

Ask about the HOW.

8 | How do you celebrate diversity of ideas and people?

This question is especially important for leadership and your potential immediate manager. Don’t be afraid to ask how they plan to elevate and promote the different opinions, background, and perspectives of their team and company. 

9 | Do you have a DEI working group or breakout group to help foster greater change? 

Not all companies are equally successful at fostering an inclusive culture, but all companies can (and should) continue to push for progress and do better for their employees. 

If you are interviewing with a larger company, the HR lead, Head of People, or Chief Talent Officer might be able to offer color into the various breakout groups that the company offers employees who desire the space to connect with employees of diverse backgrounds and experiences and help leadership with long-term DEI vision and goals. 

While that in itself does not mean that they value diversity, it is an indication of how they are prioritizing it.

10 | Who is in charge of the hiring process and how are they making sure that the pipeline of candidates is diverse? 

In other words, are candidates from non-traditional or non-obvious backgrounds even seeing the job opportunity? A company’s recruiting team should have processes in place to bring in diverse candidates early on in the interview process. 

11 | Did the company issue a statement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter?

If a company produced a statement around BLM, ask the people you are interviewing with about their follow through accordingly. As the adage goes, actions speak louder than words. 

If the company chose not to produce a statement, ask why – and then ask what they are doing to work towards actionable change.

And, lastly, don’t forget to ask the tough questions. 

12 | Where do you think the company needs to improve the most? 

Don’t be afraid to ask your interviewer about what the company still needs to work on in terms of creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. If the company is actually putting in the work, employees will likely be more willing to be more open and honest with you about the state of things.

13 | What tangible goals does the organization have surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion? Who is responsible for making sure these goals are met? 

Goal setting is a proven method to creating a more inclusive working environment. Understanding a company’s long-term vision within their DEI initiatives will help you better understand where they’re at right now, and what the work place might look like five years from now. Not every organization is starting from the same place, and tolerance for joining a company that may be at the early stages of their DEI journey is personal. 

And a tactical few points to remember… 

Ask to speak with a peer 

The most helpful thing is likely talking to people who work at the company because talk is cheap, and leadership can say what they want, but it’s the folks on the ground who really experience a culture in action.

Pick 2 – 3 questions and ask to multiple people 

Whenever you’re trying to understand something like core values of a company, it’s good practice to pick a few questions and ask those same two or three questions to every person that you meet during the interview process. Compare the answers: Is there consistency across the board, or are there conflicting perspectives?

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