Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has always mattered to those from marginalised communities. Being the only person in a room that looks like you can sometimes make you feel excluded.
For a black woman, something as simple as getting ready for work might cause a level of anxiety that in an ideal world, wouldn’t exist. She’ll likely spend more time considering how she should style her hair in order to not ‘stick out’ against the backdrop of the majority. Will wearing her natural hair be considered too “unprofessional” to white colleagues? Or will she spend the day responding to comments about how her hair looks ‘different’. For professionals with dreadlocks the story might be similar. When preparing to meet new colleagues, they might find themselves instead ‘getting ready’ for an afternoon of their hair being called “Interesting”.
Whilst companies are doing more to address these issues within the workplace, it’s long overdue.
Workplaces are slowly becoming more representative of the demographics which we see in the world today. For a company to be successful, its employees should reflect the demographics that the business serves. Companies are catching up to this. D&I leads to higher rates of employee engagement and lower rates of employee turnover. Also, McKinsey found that D&I improves financial performance. Companies with more than 30% women executives were more likely to outperform other companies. The numbers were even higher for diversity in ethnicity than for gender.
We discuss how companies are doing in D&I. However, recruiters also want to make sure they filter out the “bad apples”. It’s common to ask questions about D&I to see if potential employees are committed to these values. If you are looking for a job, you must research this topic and come prepared to interview. Luckily, we are here to show you how to approach questions on D&I.
This is your chance to show that D&I is important to you. First, take the time to research, understand and describe what each concept means to you. Secondly, be able to describe why each point matters to you.
You must show that you understand the difference between diversity and inclusion. Diversity means having employees that represent various backgrounds and experiences. This can mean diversity in gender, race, religion, age, socioeconomic background, orientation etc. Inclusion means that employees of diverse backgrounds feel included in the company. While diversity is important, without inclusion, employees will feel like they do not belong.
After describing these two terms, why are they important to you? You could say that diversity is important to you as it allows you to engage with different worldviews and perspectives. Maybe you noticed that working in a diverse environment led to more creativity and innovation. For inclusion, you might feel that this is important to ensure that everyone feels that their unique perspectives are valued and respected. Feel free to be specific and personal as to why both diversity and inclusion are important to you. For example, women might hold executive roles in a company, but not feel included due to pay conflicts or gender norms. Diversity is not always enough. This shows that you truly understand the depths of the topic and its complexity.
Also, be prepared for interviewers ask you about equity. Take the same approach. What does it mean and why does it matter? Equity means for there to be a fair access and opportunity within a company, striving to eliminate any barriers that have previously prevented full participation. True equity is when employees are part of the decision process. They have access to fair compensation and benefits. To show that it matters, you could explain how you believe it’s important to tackle inequality. Equity levels the playing field and recognises that employees have different needs.
Finish by summarising why these concepts are important to you. You could say that these values help build a strong business and foster a positive workplace culture. They ensure a better sense of community: what a good workplace is to you.
For this question, employers look for evidence that confirms D&I is a priority to you. Now is the time to be specific and demonstrate how you’ve advocated for any of your colleagues. Do not worry if you feel as though the situation is not impressive enough. What matters here is showing that you are authentic, and value D&I.
The best way to approach a “tell me about a time…” question is through the STAR method. Practice this method and you will ace behavioural questions. Let’s apply the STAR method to a time when an employee called John advocated for a non-binary colleague.
Situation: Talk about the situation. Set the scene. What happened? Where was it?
John was a Sales Development Representative in a tech company. His colleague came out as non-binary and announced their pronouns were they/them. Other colleagues were making transphobic remarks.
Task: What needed to be done in this situation? Any challenges?
This behaviour needed to stop as it was transphobic. The colleagues continued even after John asked them to stop.
Action: What did you do? What were the tasks?
John and the colleague being harassed wrote a list of changes to take to HR to make it a trans-inclusive workplace.
Result: What were the outcomes? Achievements? Failures?
Employees were given trans-inclusive diversity training. “Gender identity” was also added to the list of the company’s anti-discrimination policies.
Companies are aware that diversity has a direct correlation to profits and lessens employee turnover. But how does it benefit you?
Here is where you show your future employer how much you’re able to thrive in a diverse environment. Be genuine and describe how diversity has benefited your everyday work experience. Maybe working with people from all walks of life has allowed you to look at problems differently. Think of a specific time when in a diverse workforce you found an innovative solution or wider perspective, helping you to solve a problem.
Has diversity helped you improve your interactions and engagements with clients? Working with a diverse workforce might have helped you expand your horizons and learn new communication skills. You might be more aware of the different needs of clients. Are you more sensitive to customs, cultures, and religions? This allows you to adapt to different contexts and build long-term business relationships with your clients.
This question could make you feel uncomfortable. Good! It is important to reflect on the challenges you faced working in a diverse environment. Demonstrate how these challenges have made you a better employee. This second part is important.
If you are struggling to think of some challenges, a common one could be communication issues. In a workplace with diversity, you’re going to have employees who communicate differently. Younger employees may use language that older generations aren’t familiar with.
Some women may be less likely to ask for what they need, due to gender roles. Even non-verbal communication can be challenging! Maintaining eye contact and appropriate levels of physical space can vary depending on the culture. Explain how this challenge has made you a better employee. Have you found value in different forms of communication? Are you more sensitive to other people’s backgrounds and customs? Have you developed more empathy for others? to asking questions to learn more about your colleagues’ cultures. How did this make you a better employee. This second part is important.
Another common issue is that employees worry about sounding ignorant or saying the wrong thing. You can use this as an example of a challenge. For example, if a colleague was celebrating a holiday from another culture, you used to keep quiet to not sound ignorant. Now, you are open employee? It improved your relationships with your colleagues and created a friendly workplace environment. One where your colleague’s cultures are appreciated and respected.
Walk the recruiter through the steps you would take to tackle this situation. The first step would be to speak up. They are looking to know that you would speak up against discrimination. Only then can you be committed to D&I. Describe why speaking up is so important. You could argue that being silent in the face of racism would signal to a colleague that racism is tolerable. This does not reflect your values.
Then, describe how you would address your colleague. Although your initial reaction could be anger, explain how you would stay calm to convey your message. Show your disapproval and suggest educational resources on the matter. Let the interviewer know that you would follow up with your colleague. Racist colleagues often receive a fairly light slap on the wrist, therefore it’s important to highlight to your prospective employer than you’re comfortable having these difficult conversations in the workplace.
Another step would be to report this person to Human Resources. Let your recruiter know that this doesn’t have to be the last step. Show that you believe everyone should be held accountable for their actions. However, show that you are respectful of those who are facing discrimination. It would not be wise to go behind someone’s back and report the perpetrator to HR.
Companies are changing gear on the topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, many of which are quickly realising that a successful business needs a successful D&I strategy. When preparing for a job interview it’s important to prepare, in order to show that you are committed to their D&I values. Pro-tip: to show that D&I is a priority to you, ask your interviewee about the company’s strategies. Look for a successful D&I strategy that goes beyond diversifying a workplace. Many companies engage in “tokenism”. They hire people of colour to appear progressive without making sure they feel included in the workplace.
All in all, come prepared and do your research on how you can make D&I a priority as an employee. Show that you care about these values and the interview process will go smoothly. These sample answers are a good place to start from but feel free to book interview coaching sessions with us.
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