You want to work at a company that genuinely values diversity and inclusion, but it can be hard to separate reality from myth. How do you know if your prospective employer authentically believes in these values, or is just saying so to score PR points?
There are things you can look for as a job applicant. I know this for a fact, because it’s literally my job to give diversity in the workplace a lot of thought.
I’m the Head of People Development and Inclusion at Lever: We’re a tech company with a roughly 50:50 ratio of women and men, a management team that’s 53% female; a board that’s 40% female; a technical team that’s almost half female, and company that’s 40% non-white. I don’t just share these numbers to brag (though, yes, they make me proud!), but to make the point that none of this happened by accident.
We weren’t always as diverse or as inclusive as we are today, we had to take specific steps to build our team. Meaning, when you’re looking for a new job, you can look at what organizations are (or aren’t) doing, and gauge how committed they are to diversity and inclusion (D&I).
1. Before the Interview Process
I always recommend people scrutinize job descriptions—not just the one you’re applying for, but at least a few others. This will help you get a feel for the company culture, tone, and how they think about the value that their employees can bring. Research shows that some companies subconsciously default to language that appeals to one gender over another—and so, reading about multiple roles can help you looks for patterns.
Go beyond the jobs page as well, and assess the company’s website, employee, and social media profiles. Are there any signs that speak to their commitment to building a diverse and inclusive workplace? How involved do they seem in the broader community? Don’t rely on images alone, although those do send a message about the company’s sensitivity to featuring underrepresented minorities.
You can also take the pulse via sites like Glassdoor, (before you do that though, here’s some advice on interpreting online reviews). Remember, they’re often written by people who either have an overwhelmingly positive experience, or an absolutely terrible one. For women, there’s a review portal called InHerSight that assesses companies as places to work for female employees, based on 14 different criteria.
Next, look at the company’s leadership team (and, if applicable, board of directors). You can do that through their own website, or by checking out other sites like Crunchbase, or even searching news articles (for instance, Starbucks’ recent board additions were covered in the press).
Finally, find out if the company’s disclosed any demographic information. Larger organizations may periodically publish statistics, but even smaller companies are beginning to be more open about their workforce composition.
All of this information can help inform your decision whether or not to apply, as well as the questions you’ll ask if things move forward.
2. During the Interview Process
So, you did all of your research, and you’re feeling pretty good about the company—or maybe you’re still not entirely sure how they live up to their values. You can learn a lot as you move ahead in the process.
Start by considering your interview panel and the range of people with whom you interact during the process. While it’s tough for any company to evenly support diversity within every function, if every single interviewer looks, thinks, and talks the same, it doesn’t bode well for the organization’s self-awareness around diversity and inclusion.
Next, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Probe to identify success stories of employees from underrepresented groups who have risen in the ranks during their career at the company. The more examples you can find of diverse individuals succeeding and being publicly rewarded or acknowledged for that success, the more encouraged you should feel.
A question on that topic looks like this: “What type of people at your company get promoted and how are they celebrated?”
Flat out ask at least one of your interviewers what the company does to help people from different backgrounds and underrepresented minorities feel welcome and empowered. Pay attention not only to their answer, but how readily they discuss the topic.
If it's a stretch for them even to address the question, that's a sign the issue isn't yet top-of-mind. If the company’s made a meaningful commitment to D&I, then every employee should have the visibility to answer your question with confidence.
Inquire about the role of employee resource groups (ERGs) at the organization today: which ones are in place already, how active they are, and what the policy is for starting a new one if you were interested in doing so?
And remember, company benefits speak to inclusion as well: For example, a company without paid parental leave is making a statement about how accommodating it can be to new parents.
Your best bet is to discuss specific questions around flexibility and benefits with someone from HR once you have an offer. This gives you both the opportunity to find the answers you’re seeking—and some leverage to negotiate.
Ultimately, the best diversity and inclusion initiatives are a mix of top-down and bottom-up. Sure, company leaders are on the hook for creating the conditions that allow all employees to thrive, but recruiters and recruiting leaders are on the hook for creating an interview experience that reflects their company’s culture and passion for diversity and inclusion.
If you see a red flag at a potential employer, commit to being part of the solution by asking the tough questions. Given public awareness of the importance of D&I, there's never been a better time to get it right.