January 7, 2021

13 Questions You Should Ask to Understand Whether 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) whether their company has diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) policies or procedures in place, you’re likely to receive a legalistic, by-the-books “Of course!” response. 

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

Here are 13 questions (plus a few tactical must-dos) you should bring to your next interview to probe 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 starts 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 question is a great one to start with, and you can probably answer it through your own research on the company. Have a look at the executive team. 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 to change the makeup of the executive team.

2. What About the Board of Directors? 

A company’s board of directors holds enormous power. It can change or challenge C-suite decisions, remove leadership, and direct 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 public regulation of or transparency 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?

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, socioeconomic, sexual, geographical, political, religious, gender, intellectua — so it’s important to look carefully at 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 percent of associates are women of color! But what is the company doing to help these women advance further? Some firms do a great job of offering mentorship and training opportunities to elevate employees and promote from within. Ask about these initiatives — and about who has access to these initiatives. 

5. What Do the Promotion and Evaluation Processes 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 is that you ask about how the company approaches annual/biannual 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 no concrete process, that might be a red flag that schmoozing is overvalued, while things like hard work and ability undervalued).

Probe Programming and Goal-Setting

6. How Do You Prioritize Social Events in Which All Employees Feel They Can Take Part?

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’ve written about before, people with families might not have flexible schedules to attend evening events; people who 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 because they are being left out.

7. How Do You Foster an Open, Communicative Environment for Your Employees?

This question explores 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. Such an answer will likely offer far more insight than a standard “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 to answer. Don’t be afraid to ask how they plan to elevate the different opinions, backgrounds, and perspectives of their team members.

9. Do You Have a DE&I Working Group or Breakout Group to Help Foster Greater Change? 

Not all companies are equally successful at fostering inclusive cultures, 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 insight into the various breakout groups the company offers. Many employees desire the space to connect with others of diverse backgrounds and the agency to help leadership with long-term DE&I visions and goals. While giving employees this space doesn’t necessarily mean the company values diversity, it does indicate how the organization prioritizes DE&I.

10. Who Is in Charge of the Hiring Process, and How Are They Making Sure the Candidate Pipeline 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 ensure diverse candidates are brought into the pipeline at the earliest stages. Evaluation criteria should be the same for all candidates, too.

11. Did the Company Issue a Statement of Solidarity With Black Lives Matter?

If the company did produce a statement around BLM, ask your interviewers about the organization’s follow-through. 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 toward actionable change.

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 are likely 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 for creating more inclusive work environments. Understanding a company’s long-term vision for its DE&I initiatives will help you better understand where it is at right now and what the workplace might look like five years from now. Not every organization is starting from the same place, and your tolerance for joining a company that may be at the early stages of its DE&I journey is a personal decision. 

A Few Tactical Points to Remember

Ask to Speak With a Peer 

Talking to people who work at the company can be incredibly helpful. Leadership can say what they want, but it’s the folks on the ground who really experience a culture in action.

Pose the Same 2-3 Questions to Multiple People 

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

Sarah Schultz is the director of operations and communications at Scouted.io.

Read more in Diversity

Sarah Schultz is the director of operations and communications at Scouted.io, an HR tech startup modernizing recruiting.
https://scouted.io/