When you are being interviewed for a job, you are also interviewing your prospective employer.
So when they ask, “What questions do you have for me?” that is your time as a job seeker to evaluate the company’s values ― including those on racial diversity and inclusion ― and see if they align with yours.
Asking these questions can help you learn what you’re getting into before you agree to join an organization.
Here’s how to do it strategically:
1. ‘How do you define diversity?’
Simply asking your interviewer how they define diversity can be revealing, said Lauren Ruffin, chief external relations officer for Fractured Atlas, an organization that supports artists.
“If the person is just rattling off a whole bunch of identity markers, rather than them demonstrating a real understanding of systemic racism and inequity, that ends up being a pretty easy way” to know if the person has thought deeply on this topic, Ruffin said.
Pay attention to how they answer the question as much as what they tell you. “People who get it are eager to talk about it,” Ruffin said. Ruffin asks this question in her own interviews with candidates, and she pays attention to their body language. For example, when she asked one candidate to share his definition of diversity, he deeply sighed and “legit looked up at the sky like he was asking a prayer,” Ruffin said.
You can also make it a dialogue with the hiring manager and ask them what they personally have done to make their workplace more equitable, Ruffin said.
“The brief interactions that we have that signal that we might be devalued because of our identity, those tiny moments accumulate over time in a significant way to undermine health, well-being and performance.”
– Social psychologist Evelyn Carter
2. ‘What are the racial demographics of the team?’
You can be more direct when asking about the structure of the team, with questions like, “What is the racial diversity at the team level?” or, “What’s the manager’s understanding of what it’s like to be the only person of color or of a specific race on a team or in a meeting?” said Erin Thomas, the head of diversity, inclusion and belonging at Upwork.
In these answers, “look out for thoughtfulness, rigor, honesty and authenticity,” Thomas said. “They should be approaching their diversity, inclusion and belonging efforts as strategically as top-line business needs. And, at the end of the day, you need to believe what you hear. Even if you can’t codify why you don’t believe what you hear, trust that feeling.”
Research has found that when it comes to evaluating psychological safety in workplace environments, people from underrepresented groups are attuned to subtle signals beyond what a person is saying. In one study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Black professionals were presented with a consulting firm brochure that contained group photos of team members and featured either “colorblind” language that asked employees to “embrace their similarities” or language that asked staff to embrace what made them diverse.
When few minorities were depicted in the brochure photos, the Black participants presented with the similarity-based language felt less trust and comfort than did participants presented with the language valuing diversity.
Such feelings of mistrust and discomfort are relevant information to consider, because they may not go away once you have the job, said social psychologist Evelyn Carter.
“The brief interactions that we have that signal that we might be devalued because of our identity, those tiny moments accumulate over time in a significant way to undermine health, well-being and performance,” Carter said. “I do think candidates should take it seriously.”
3. ‘How has the company responded to Black Lives Matter protests?’
Carter said you can also ask an interviewer about the company’s stance on protests and the Black Lives Matter movement with questions like, “What kind of conversations are happening? What kind of resources are being provided for managers and teams to have these conversations? How have you been supporting your Black employees or other employees of color right now?”
This line of inquiry also applies to questions you can ask around political actions targeting certain groups, like anti-immigration legislation, for example. When asking how the company is addressing the present moment, the goal is to listen for what it has done to live its values on diversity and inclusion.
4. ‘What are you doing to retain racially diverse talent?’
If you want to learn about turnover for people of color at a company, ask about its programs that ensure that diverse talent stays and grows, Carter said.
You could phrase it like, “What are some of the processes that you have to make sure that it’s not just bringing in folks ― because I know we talked about how diversity is so important for you ― what are the processes that you have to keep an eye on retention and growth for the talent you are working so hard to hire?” Carter said.
In these answers, you want to hear about the formal and informal ways managers are investing in their team members’ growth to ensure equity, so that employees from marginalized groups have the same opportunities to advance as people from the dominant group at the company.
The biggest red flag is if there is no answer that these interviewers can give you, Carter said. “Not knowing the answer is worse,” she said. “If the company does not know the answer, that means they have not started to look at the data to understand how they can improve.”
Beyond the job interview, get multiple perspectives from people who actually work there.
If you want the honest truth about how people of color are treated in a company, it’s helpful to talk with people beyond the hiring manager. The best thing you can do is get the inside scoop from someone who knows both you and the organization, Thomas said.
“Comb your LinkedIn network or post to your social channels to connect with people who can serve as your eyes or ears,” Thomas said. “Even with that, you shouldn’t be shy about requesting to talk to a member of an employee resource group or the diversity, inclusion and belonging team if they have one. The more trust you have in your information sources, the more confident you’ll be in the decision you make.”
Also, do your own research on demographics by looking at the company website and social media bios of staff and leadership, and seeing who is represented and in what capacity.
These probing questions would not need to be asked if companies were more transparent about where they stand with regard to racial demographics and pay equity, though. When companies are upfront with every applicant, Carter said, that can remove the burden of asking from candidates of color.
“Having the company take the responsibility for providing that information proactively, rather than waiting for the candidate to ask it, you are making sure that you are reducing that power imbalance and you are proactively giving that signal of safety,” she said.