For both employers and job seekers, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are more important than ever. As the former head of people at two quickly growing startups and the cofounder of a nationally recognized workplace inclusion strategy firm, I’ve seen firsthand how questions of DEI are being centered in the hiring process for all roles. Employers want the competitive advantage provided by a team that reflects the diversity of their customers and brings a wide variety of viewpoints to the table. They also need candidates who will help rather than hinder their efforts to foster a welcoming and supportive environment—no matter what the job.
Consumers are also starting to hold companies accountable for insensitive statements and biased blunders. Companies want employees who will represent them well and demonstrate cultural competency. With those goals and concerns in mind, interviewers are starting to ask all candidates about their thoughts on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.
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That means if you’re looking for a job these days, it’s no longer sufficient to only prepare for the traditional common interview questions and role-specific questions about your skills and background in digital marketing or customer service, for example. From my experience in the hiring world, I advise all job seekers (regardless of the role you’re applying for) to also expect interview questions about diversity and inclusion.
To help you succeed in the hiring process with an inclusive company, I’ve put together this list of DEI questions you may be asked along with advice on how to answer them and sample answers to help you as you craft your own.
- Please Share With Us What Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Mean to You and Why They’re Important.
- In Your Opinion, What Is the Most Challenging Aspect of Working in a Diverse Environment?
- What Is Your Approach to Understanding the Perspectives of Colleagues From Different Backgrounds?
- How Would You Handle a Situation Where a Colleague Was Being Culturally Insensitive, Sexist, Racist, or Homophobic?
- How Would You Advocate for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion With Colleagues Who Don’t Understand its Importance?
- Tell Me About a Time When You Advocated for Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace.
- Can You Give Me an Example of How You Make Your Direct Reports Feel a Sense of Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity on a Daily Basis?
- What Steps Will You Take to Eliminate Bias From Your Hiring Process?
1. Please Share With Us What Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Mean to You and Why They’re Important.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion have much broader meanings than most people assume. Employers want to know that you not only grasp the true meaning of each term, but that you also find merit in each of these concepts and share a commitment to fostering them in the workplace.
How to Answer
If you really want to score points with the interviewer, make sure you address how each term—diversity, equity, and inclusion—has its own distinct definition and importance to you. Acknowledge that diversity doesn’t just refer to race and gender, but also encompasses categories such as age, sexual orientation, religion, military service, people with disabilities, and other traits and experiences that are reflected in a company’s workforce.
Ultimately, you want to make it clear to your future employer that you not only have a clear understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean, but also that you’re a champion for those concepts. Beyond that, your relationship to DEI is just that: yours. So don’t be afraid to find your own language to talk about how and why it’s important to you.
Your answer might sound something like this:
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are three very important topics to me. I believe that diversity means representation across a wide range of traits, backgrounds, and experiences. When we can connect and engage with coworkers with different perspectives than our own, we can more successfully achieve our overall goals. Inclusion refers to a sense of belonging in any environment. For a company to really achieve the benefits of diversity, it has to work to be inclusive in recruiting, hiring, retention, and promotions. Employees in inclusive workplaces feel more comfortable sharing their unique ideas and perspectives because they can sense that their differences are genuinely respected and appreciated.
“Finally, equity is important for making sure that every employee’s voice is included in the decision-making process, that everyone feels fairly compensated for their work, and that everyone has access to the same opportunities. It’s very important to me that everyone I work with feels safe, accepted, and valued and has an equal opportunity to grow and succeed. Together, the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion help create a workplace culture that drives the business forward.”
2. In Your Opinion, What Is the Most Challenging Aspect of Working in a Diverse Environment?
When a hiring manager asks this question, they’re looking for an answer that lets them know you’re aware of the challenges that can arise in diverse environments, but that you’re capable of appropriately addressing those challenges. While you can bring up a relevant experience if you have one, be aware that your interviewer is not opening the floor for a vent session.
How to Answer
This question can trip candidates up. You certainly don’t want to stick your foot in your mouth or ramble about a time you struggled to connect with a colleague of a different gender or religion. When you’re coming up with an answer to this question, go beyond just answering it at face value. You’ll want to dig deeper to show that you not only recognize some of the challenges, but that you also have thought through ways to overcome the challenges. Most importantly, keep your answer positive.
That might sound like:
“Diverse teams drive innovative solutions precisely because they can be challenging. By bringing diverse perspectives to the table, you get more ideas, but also more people pointing out holes in ideas. The debate that can come with differing perspectives pushes everyone to think and work harder. That is one of the most challenging aspects of working in a diverse environment, but it’s a challenge I embrace. For example, if I notice that we’ve gotten to a solution fairly easily but that we haven’t heard from someone on the team, I’ll ask that person to weigh in on the solution. I’ve found that on many occasions, inviting someone into the conversation might mean we’re debating an issue longer, but it also means that we end up with a stronger solution.”
3. What Is Your Approach to Understanding the Perspectives of Colleagues From Different Backgrounds?
Thriving in a diverse work environment is easier said than done. Research suggests that working on diverse teams produces stronger outcomes because the diversity of perspectives can actually make the process harder. It requires teamwork and a good deal of effort to create the type of connection and understanding across differences that will result in positive business outcomes. The goal of this type of question is to determine how active you will be in building a bridge of understanding between your colleagues and yourself.
How to Answer
Getting to know and understand someone should be an effort that starts well before decision-making time. Only when you’ve put in the work to get to know your coworkers beyond your nine-to-five projects can you really understand them in a meaningful way. You’ll want to answer this question in a way that shows you recognize the power of relationship building.
So you might say:
“Whether it’s my supervisor, report, or peer, I take the time to get to know everyone I’m working with on a personal basis. Ideally, this takes the form of a scheduled lunch or coffee. However, I also find times like passing each other in the hallway or breakroom to quickly connect on a personal level. I like to know what matters to people outside of work, what drives their engagement at work, the values they hold and why. In my experience, this builds a relationship that helps instill a level of trust. When differences of opinion arise, that level of trust we’ve already established makes it easier to understand one another and work through conflict.”
4. How Would You Handle a Situation Where a Colleague Was Being Culturally Insensitive, Sexist, Racist, or Homophobic?
Employers want to know how active you’ll be in creating an inclusive environment. It is not enough that you won’t make insensitive remarks yourself. Most companies are looking for employees who will actively stand up against biased remarks and actions.
How to Answer
In answering this question, you’ll want to demonstrate your willingness to take action. Your interviewer wants to see that you won’t be a passive bystander in the event of a sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise problematic situation. Likewise, they’ll want to see that you won’t overstep or ignore company protocol in your response.
If you’ve experienced a similar situation before, whether in the workplace or elsewhere, this would be a good time to share a personal story. Otherwise, you can respond with an answer outlining what you would do if the situation was happening in front of you, as well as what you would do if you heard about the situation after the fact.
You could say something like:
“If the incident is actively taking place, I view it as my job to interrupt the bias, regardless of who is making the insensitive remark or action. I would directly call out that the insensitive statement or action does not reflect the company’s values or my own, and that I want it to stop. I might say, ‘We don’t talk like that around here. Please don’t say that around me again.” If I heard about an incident secondhand, I would inform the company’s human resources team so they are aware of the issue and can address it based on the company’s anti-discrimination policies.”
5. How Would You Advocate for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion With Colleagues Who Don’t Understand its Importance?
Unfortunately, there are still some people who do not understand the importance of workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion. Your interviewer may ask you this question because such people are present in the organization you’re seeking to join and they want to know how you would respond.
How to Answer
In answering this question, it’s often helpful to talk about how you could lean on data. People who don’t naturally grasp the personal benefits of working in a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment might be more convinced by the “business case” and how these values are proven to affect the company’s bottom line. So you might tell your interviewer you’d cite McKinsey research that found that companies in the top quarter for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to see financial returns above the median for their industry than their less diverse peers. Or that you’d share a 2018 study by Harvard Business Review that showed that companies with higher-than-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues.
But you may also want to mention that you’d tailor your methods based on the values and motivations of the person you’re attempting to persuade. With some people, specific stories or case studies might land better than broad data, for example.
If you have already had to convince someone about the importance of workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion, now is a great time to demonstrate your experience and confidence in doing so by sharing that story.
So you might answer with something like:
“If I encountered colleagues who are still unaware of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion, the first step I’d take would be to present them with facts. There’s so much research available touting the financial benefits companies reap when they have a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Of course, I understand that some people may be aware of this research, but still unconvinced. If that were the case, I’d gently but firmly push them to recognize that while diversity might be uncomfortable, it’s worth seeking out a diverse team in order to push ourselves to think beyond our own experiences and assumptions.
“I would translate all of that to what it could mean for our own company in particular scenarios. For example, if we were struggling to bring in new audiences within certain demographics, I might mention that a more diverse and inclusive internal team—where people from those demographics have a real voice in discussions about which products are made and how—could help us achieve our goals.”
6. Tell Me About a Time When You Advocated for Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace.
Interviews almost always include a question or two designed to gauge how you’re likely to behave in practice based on what you’ve done in the past, and this one is specifically intended to assess your ability to translate your values and beliefs into action.
How to Answer
When you hear “tell us about a time when” or any similar request for a real-life example of how you’ve handled an issue in the past, it’s time to implement the STAR method. The STAR method gives you a way to provide a fitting example in a straightforward, compelling manner. STAR stands for:
- Situation: Set the scene and give any background needed.
- Task: Explain what you were responsible for in that situation.
- Action: Describe the steps you took.
- Result: Talk about the outcomes of those steps and what you learned.
Don’t worry if you don’t have some grandiose story about making sweeping changes at an organization. Your interviewer will want to know how you bring the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion into decisions and actions large and small.
An answer could sound like:
“In a previous role, I served as office manager for a fast-growing tech startup. I was one of the only women in a company full of men. We were moving into a larger office and had the opportunity to name the conference rooms. It was my job to oversee many of the logistics of the move, including naming these rooms. I wanted to create a democratic process, so I invited the rest of the team to provide name suggestions around a theme of famous innovators throughout history. However, the vast majority of suggestions I received were for male innovators (and most of them white). I knew from a diversity and inclusion workshop I’d attended that having most conference rooms named after men could be a subtle turn off for female candidates, and I knew that we needed to attract more women. I shared this context with our team when I asked for another round of suggestions and while I was met with some grumbles, we ultimately were able to work together and create conference room names that everyone loved. I always felt better showing female candidates around the office after that and we were able to slowly increase the number of women at the startup.”
7. Can You Give Me an Example of How You Make Your Direct Reports Feel a Sense of Inclusion, Belonging, and Equity on a Daily Basis?
Inclusion is such an important value for all employees to embrace and champion, but perhaps especially for those in management and leadership roles who can set the tone for others. Employers want to know that you won’t be just a passive bystander, but will proactively help make the work environment a friendlier place where everyone feels encouraged to contribute and feels positive about their opportunities for growth, regardless of their background.
How to Answer
This question gives you an opportunity to really show how you’ll shine in your role as a leader. Share an example of how you made others feel included in your current or previous position. Your answer to this question should highlight a specific way that you embraced and uplifted team members with different backgrounds and demonstrate how you helped make them feel welcomed.
This could show up in many different ways—how you run one-on-ones or team meetings, how you hand out work assignments, how you respond when reports need flexibility in their schedules, even how you handle informal daily interactions. Choose an example that feels true to you. You might say:
“I believe strongly in ensuring that all members of my team feel capable of success. One way this shows up is in the way I run meetings. I always strive to send out an agenda in advance and welcome additions to the agenda before the meeting begins. This ensures that everyone is able to voice their ideas and concerns, even if they don’t naturally feel comfortable speaking up or don’t do their best thinking on the spot. In the meeting itself, I’m mindful of who is speaking up and whose ideas are getting heard. When necessary, I’ll redirect the conversation to make sure that each person is included in the process and feels good about next steps.”
8. What Steps Will You Take to Eliminate Bias From Your Hiring Process?
Regardless of our own backgrounds, we all have subconscious biases. If we’re not careful, they can negatively affect how we interact with others. For those in positions to hire others, these subconscious biases can come out in subtle ways, such as feeling that a candidate “isn’t a good fit,” though you can’t quite put your finger on why or why not. Employers want to know that you’re aware that you may have biases and that you’ve thought through what steps you’ll take to proactively avoid them when looking for new team members.
How to Answer
The first step to solving any problem is admitting that the problem exists. Your future employer will appreciate your self-awareness and vulnerability when you answer this question honestly. Most importantly, though, they will appreciate hearing about the actual steps you’ll take to get rid of biases. If you have an example you can cite from how you’ve overcome your own biases in the past, now is an excellent time to share it.
A good answer might sound like:
“We all know by now that biases are all around us. Unfortunately, they can get in the way of even the most well-intentioned hiring team. In order to minimize bias in my hiring process, I begin by ensuring that the job opening gets broadcast to as many diverse networks as possible. This helps bring in a diverse range of candidates from the start. Then, I make sure to focus on each candidate’s skills and abilities. To the extent possible, I ignore gaps in their career history, which might reflect time off to care for children and disadvantage women. I also ignore college pedigree, which is typically unrelated to performance but can disadvantage people of color. Finally, I use a structured interview process where I make sure to ask every candidate the same questions so that I’m able to evaluate them on the same set of criteria.
“In my last role, using these strategies over the course of several years allowed me to grow the most diverse department in the organization and it really boosted our creativity and performance as a team. We simply did better work with more backgrounds and perspectives represented, exceeding our goals every quarter. Other hiring managers started asking about what I was doing differently in the hiring process and I was more than happy to share what had worked for me and brainstorm additional ways to eliminate biases in hiring across the company.”