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Care about gender equality? Ask hiring managers these 5 questions

Every employer worth working for needs to be able to articulate how it’s building a more inclusive workforce. Here’s what to listen for.

Care about gender equality? Ask hiring managers these 5 questions

Lately, many employers are finally starting to think harder about ways to eliminate gender bias and discrimination in their workplaces. They’re experimenting with ways to close the pay gap, reinvent performance reviews, and build inclusive work cultures where women want to stay.

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But some employers may be talking up their efforts in a way that outpaces their actual progress. For women job seekers–indeed, for any candidate who cares about gender equality at work–the interview is the perfect time to nail down whether an organization is actually as good on these issues as it sounds. Here at InHerSight, an employer review platform for women, we’ve been asking employers pointed questions about their approaches to diversity and inclusion. Based on some of their best responses, here are a few questions worth asking hiring managers to find out how an organization really stands on gender issues.

1. What would you tell women job candidates about why it’s so great to work here?

Your interviewer might never have considered this question, but their answer can shed some light on what they think a women-friendly workplace looks like. For women who value flexible work (and many do), for instance, Jenn Koiter, Dell’s social media and brand engagement lead, had a great answer. “Our goal is that 50% of our workforce will work remotely on either a full-time or part-time basis by 2020,” she told us. Candidates should listen for clear commitments (including stats, dates, and figures!) like these.

2. Can you share data on your company’s diversity?

This question is important for two reasons. First, a company that knows its numbers demonstrates that it is more likely to care about its demographics than a company that doesn’t. Second, organizations that own up to their numbers, good or bad, are more likely to value transparency than those that don’t.

Beware of companies that say things like, “We’re not comfortable sharing that data,” or “We have a woman CEO, so diversity is really important to us.” That’s not enough. Eli Perez-Gurri, a recruiter at the e-commerce platform Weebly, shared the perfect answer when we posed her this question: Just the facts. “Women make up 50 percent of executives and 35 percent of all employees,” she said.

3. Do company execs support your diversity efforts?

Here’s what you want to hear: “Our head of diversity is on our executive team and has a seat at the table. Our CEO is personally invested in this. We have a significant budget dedicated to supporting these initiatives.”

Here’s what you don’t want to hear: “It’s not on the C-suite’s radar, but our recruiters and hiring managers take diversity really seriously.” That’s great, but senior leadership needs to as well.

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When we put this question to Lindsey Sanford, a talent acquisition expert at Palo Alto Networks, a cybersecurity firm, she had the right response: “Our CEO is not only interested in inclusion and diversity, but he’s committed to following through,” she asserted–and then followed up with a clear example: “Last year, he signed the ‘CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion pledge,’ which encourages increased diversity and inclusion workplaces across industries. And it’s with our leader’s support, our collaborative nature, and our drive to accomplish our mission, that will ensure our inclusion and diversity practices are here to stay.”

4. What diversity, inclusion, and cultural competence trainings have your managers had?

A company can have diversity and inclusion policies on paper, but employers also need to teach everybody what that means. Training is critical. A hiring manager who tells you, “We don’t have anything in place now, but are hoping to add that in the coming years” is waving a red flag.

Kylie Quetell, vice president for training and development at the real-estate tech company Amrock, had a better answer. “All of our team members go through training regarding inappropriate workplace behavior on their first day with the company. We don’t stop there, though,” she explained. “Every person in a leadership role goes through diversity and inclusion training. We receive monthly videos highlighting the diverse backgrounds of our team members. We believe in more than just counting [on] people to make sure we are diverse. Instead, we focus on making sure that all of our people count.”

5. How are your recruiting efforts building a diverse workforce?

Companies need to focus on attracting and supporting diversity at every step in the employee lifecycle. If an interviewer tells you the organization uses “blind hiring,” “focused efforts to reach women,” “diverse interview panels,” and more, those are all promising signs.

A red flag? “We get so many applicants! We don’t really have to do anything to attract tons of qualified candidates.”

Dawn Mitchell, who works in talent acquisition at the software company Appian, shared that the organization relies on a range of vendors to boost its diversity efforts, as well as “special interest groups at all of our visiting schools via our campus recruiting team.”

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At InHerSight, where women have shared company reviews for more than 65,000 U.S. employers, we’ve learned that what women want in the workplace is really pretty simple: equal opportunities, respectful and professional coworkers, and responsive leaders when something goes wrong. These characteristics are fundamental to any inclusive workplace–but really, who doesn’t want and deserve them? Everybody should ask hiring managers these five questions, and every employer should have an answer.


Ursula Mead is founder and CEO of InHerSight, an anonymous company ratings platform tailored specifically to women.

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