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DEI Red Flags for Researching Jobs & Organizations

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

Searching for your next place to start or continue your career can be very stressful and requires careful consideration. You must research in order to vet your opportunities. How close is it to home? How much does it pay? Will I like my new manager? These questions are critical to your decision to not only apply for a position but to even accept it when you get an offer. Thriving in your new role may also depend on how well you feel connected to your company and the people there. Which begs to ask: How is its culture? Or more specifically, how inclusive is the company and its leadership?

Yes, a sense of belonging is an important factor for many job seekers, especially those who identify with one or more marginalized groups in the community. If you are among those who find this a vital component of where to lay your work hat, you’re in good company. According to a survey conducted by Glassdoor in 2014, 67% of job seekers said a diverse workforce is important when considering job offers.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion are often treated as buzzwords, an opportunity to seem “woke” and progressive in what some companies may believe to be simply a trend. However, the truth is, the data is already out there that more inclusive, diverse companies are more financially successful than companies that are not. There’s more company loyalty, less attrition, more thoughtful, sustainable innovations on products, you name it. According to Josh Bersin research, inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market and McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, conducted research which included 180 companies in France, Germany, the UK, and the US. They found out that companies with more diverse top teams were also top financial performers. Unfortunately, because some companies are beginning to realize that candidates are looking for these buzzwords, it’s easy for some businesses to claim they are inclusive. Often, these companies haven’t put forth any action towards the initiative, not understanding that this robs them of a competitive edge.

So, what are some items to look for to help you choose a diverse, inclusive company? Below are some ways you can research and determine if the company you’re applying to not only talks the talk but walks the walk towards an inclusive culture. These are some “red flags” you should consider when selecting the company for your next adventure:

First, start with the optics:

  • If you check the website and find nothing that mentions their mission of inclusiveness, that’s a flag. At the very least, the company should speak to their values of wanting their employees to thrive and that they believe in everyone feeling a sense of belonging. Though they may not use the buzzword of inclusion, the company should communicate that they are aware of the hurdles and disparities that affect employees from underrepresented groups and strive to work toward them feeling safe in their workplace.

  • If they do have a mission on inclusiveness on their website, but no metrics or explanation of what the company currently does, that’s a flag. Transparency is an important value in workplace culture and should be exhibited to some degree at the most basic stage of your research. Check out their site for metrics on their population. Is there a mix of gender and ethnicities that reflect the community? Even if the metrics are not that great, but if they have a plan to improve, it’s worth knowing they are open and ready to change. That says something about who they are.

  • Then check the photos of employees and people on the website. Do they reflect the community? If not, likely there’s a diversity debt that you should inquire more about during the talk with the recruiter. Stock photos are not a realistic view of what you would expect to see at the company. It is cautioned to companies to distinguish this by adding credit captions to stock images on their site as to not falsely communicate an environment that doesn’t exist.

  • Look at the Executive board. Do they reflect and represent the diversity of the community? Do they come from very different backgrounds and experiences? If not, that’s a flag. Representation matters and diverse senior leadership in both inherent diversity (race, sex, age) and acquired diversity (generational savviness, cross-functional knowledge) displays a sense of inclusion starting all the way at the top.

Learn about the company’s perks and benefits. Do they offer paternity and partner leave? Do they have mother rooms and/or prayer rooms? Do they have a mentorship program? Do they support Employee Resource Groups? If not, that’s a flag. Benefits are factored into your compensation and when looking into a company, learn about what they offer that will keep you there. Mentorship programs and Employee Resource Groups are signs of not only an inclusive company but a company typically invested in their employees’ growth and career development.

When you talk to the recruiter, ask them about the company’s culture of inclusiveness and focus on diversity. If the comment seems canned, ill-prepared, or non-existent of what actions they take, that’s a flag. Recruiters of your prospect company should be well educated in the goals and objectives of an inclusive culture and confidently speak to them. The recruiters are often the first representative of the company’s culture and brand, so if they are not knowledgeable here, then this should be a reason for concern.

UPDATE: Bonus Questions to ask:

Lily Zheng recently shared some questions job-seekers can ask that gets to the root of what you want to know:

🎯 1. "What are some of your organization's DEI-related metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)?"

This question lets you how seriously an organization takes its commitment. If the answer is "we don't have any yet," that tells you that regardless of what initiatives exist, they are likely to be insufficiently resourced or supported. If the answer revolves around hiring metrics and demographic representation, that tells you that DEI may be largely seen as a hiring and numbers game. Look for metrics and KPIs around culture, manager and senior leader representation, and outcomes like pay equity and promotion rate.

🎯 2. "How did your organization handle its most recent DEI-related failure or misstep?"

This question helps you assess both an organization's willingness to learn and grow, and the psychological safety of its members. "We don't have any" (especially paired with the lack of metrics) tells you that the organization is unaware of its issues or that employees do not feel safe sharing feedback. Look for answers that balance accountability (making things right after failure) with humility (accepting that failure happened).

🎯 3. "How has your organization's approach to DEI changed in the last three years?"

This question gives you perspective on the organization's growth arc and a sense of where it might be in the present. While answers can vary, look specifically for stories relating to learning, failure, and realignment, as well as specific objectives and goals (e.g., "we adjusted our goals for internal Belonging scores") that indicate a deeper level of engagement. Keep an eye out as well for stories involving the organization's senior leadership, and their involvement in DEI work.

When you interview, ask the hiring manager what actions they take to ensure they are creating an inclusive anti-bias environment for their team. If they dance around or deflect of what they actually do, that’s a significantly big flag. This person will be your manager and a long-term partner in your onboarding, engagement, and career development. All managers have the agency to foster an inclusive workplace even within their teams, so be sure to ask not only their philosophy on belonging but what actions they take to prevent their bias from affecting their leadership and what they do to be inclusive with their direct reports.

A sense of belonging matters to employees often more than their salary, and companies are beginning to understand the importance of an inclusive culture, but it’s a slow process. These red flags are not to shame a company, but as a candidate who finds inclusion a part of your career journey, they can help you assess the prospect company’s environment. Remember, it’s not in what a company says, it’s what they do. Actions still carry more weight than words, so when you’re looking to bring your awesome talent to another workplace and want to know if they deserve you, check the flags to determine if they are building an environment where you can thrive.

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