CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet

The top 10 questions on diversity to ask during the hiring process

March 9, 2020, 6:23 PM UTC

This is the web version of raceAhead, Fortune’s daily newsletter on race, culture, and inclusive leadership. To get it delivered daily to your inbox, sign up here.

We are all diversity professionals now. This, as it turns out, is a new competitive advantage.

Recent analysis from the job and recruiting site Glassdoor shows that employees in the U.S. and the U.K. are increasingly pessimistic about the state of diversity at their firms. Research into employee reviews from 2018, the most recent numbers available, found that some 32% of employees based in the U.S. spoke negatively about diversity at their companies, the largest number since 2008. 

Enter the diversity and inclusion hiring boom.

By mid-2019, Glassdoor reported a 30% increase in diversity and inclusion job openings in the U.S., a significant bump in an already crowded field. Employee skepticism is driving the market. “Overall, the healthy growth signals that employers are taking a serious look at investing in diversity and inclusion efforts,” writes Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor senior economist and data scientist.

That insight turned into a prediction in Glassdoor’s Job & Hiring Trends for 2020 report. “In 2020 and beyond, as companies continue to usher in a new era of hiring action-oriented diversity and inclusion teams, we expect to see a wave of hiring for leaders and managers that will help carry forward the mission of building a more diverse and inclusive workforce,” wrote Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain in the report. 

Erin Thomas, PhD, is part of that wave. The inclusion expert was tapped last December to be the first-ever global head of diversity, inclusion, and belonging for Upwork, the global freelancing platform.

The research scientist and self-described pragmatist recently tweeted some excellent advice for anyone seeking or being recruited for a job in the field—or even reassessing where they’re working now. Now is the time to make sure you understand where any organization that’s caught your eye actually is in their diversity, inclusion, and equity (DEI) journey. “If you’re on the market,” she says, “be choosy.”

With her permission, we’ve recreated her top 10 questions to ask during the hiring process below, in her words.


1. “Why me?”’ 

I love asking this during third interviews. It gives you instant insight into how an organization has branded you, gives you a chance to clear up any misconceptions they have about you, and can alert you to a big potential problem: Is it really about me, or will I be a token? At best, it turns interviewers into your hype team.

2. “What have you done to prepare for this role?”

While this is mostly relevant to positions that are new to the organization, it will tell you a lot about how they’re thinking about it. Listen for actions they’ve taken to prepare key stakeholders to work with the person in this role; and specifically for how they are making the case for culture change. If you get blank stares in response to this question, they ain’t ready.

3. “Why now?”

This relates to question #2. Listen for thoughtfulness regarding where the organization’s attention is. What problem is this new role really designed to solve? Are there red flags, like another major initiative that’s in the works? Are they preparing to go public? Listen for any priority that may compete with the massive change in the management process that you need to lead.

4. “What’s the goal?”

Try to uncover a clear point of view regarding what success looks like. Are they focused on equality? Equity? Is everyone using the same terms the same way? What other fundamentals—like the distinct value proposition or benchmarks—are top of mind? Think about how these may influence your decision. You’re looking for (at the least) the potential to align their goals with your own personal ones.

5. “How do you define diversity?”

The beauty and complexity of diversity is that it can literally mean anything. Are they focused on social diversity, diversity of thought, introverts/extroverts, work styles—everybody, everywhere? This matters to the extent that you’re a DEI purist.

6. “Who ‘counts’?”

This is an extension of question #5. This is the time to gauge who’s considered as a “marginalized” demographic and who is currently being counted. Are they thinking along gender and race? What additional data will you need to collect? What might prevent you from collecting it? This is the time to assess any hurdles ahead to doing your best work. 

7. “What’s the salary?”

You shouldn’t have to ask this question but do get clear on this early on. (And don’t give your current salary—just your compensation expectations.) Do your homework and know your worth. You can do justice work and be paid well for it.

8. “What’s my budget?”

This needs to be discussed before you accept an offer. If the company wants someone who will change the world, and your budget is less than four times your salary, run—don’t walk.

9. “What’s my headcount?”

This builds on question #8. Do you have an adequate team? Are you authorized for new hires if you need them? Are they earmarked in the annual workforce plan? Again, you need to know what you’re working with before you sign on the dotted line.

10. “What’s the growth plan for this role?”

So, you’re sold on the current role. Great! Is there a place for you to grow in the organization? Listen for the organization’s vision for this role or your department over the next two to three years, the typical change management cycle. If you’ve got a fire in your belly, chances are you’ll be looking to grow into what’s next. Can they grow with you?


Thomas ends by quoting Maya Angelou. “When someone shows you who they are, believe them,” she says. These questions are designed to help the organizations that are courting you better show themselves.

 “I hope they help you consider what matters most to you as you embark on a new venture or examine your current situation,” she says. “Go in eyes wide open and remember: You must be in a good place to do good for others. You got this.”

Ellen McGirt

On Point

True diversity initiatives suffer when you redefine diversity Marta Geletkanycz, associate professor of strategic management at Boston College, warns that “watering down” the meaning of the term will impede your progress. A diversity of “knowledge, skills, and experience,” may feel more comfortable, but it’s not the kind of diversity that the “business case” is built on, she says. "We've redefined diversity, and when we redefine diversity to include anything, well then, this is what's contributing to racial, ethnic gender diversity slowing down," she tells CNN.

We have broken Bong Joon Ho That was just one takeaway from this delightful conversation between Bong and indie director Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Old Joy, Certain Women, First Cow), whom Bong has described as his hero. The Oscar phenom is back in South Korea and wants to get on with his post-Parasite life, but he’s just bushed. “Now that I finally have time, I’m trying to get back on it, but I’m so exhausted, mentally and physically,” Bong says. “I’m just a shell of a human.” But they quickly get deep into each other’s movies and the creative process, from multi-tasking to the casting of actual cows. “Whenever I watch your films, I always want to visit Oregon, but I’ve never been able to. I’m curious what that place means to you in your body of work,” asks Bong. “Please come visit! We’ll show you everything!” says Reichart. Awww.
The Atlantic

Zaya Wade
Dwyane Wade, Zaya Wade, and Gabrielle Union attend the Better Brothers Los Angeles' 6th annual Truth Awards at Taglyan Complex on March 7, 2020.
Andrew Toth—Getty Images

Zaya Wade hits the red carpet The resplendent daughter of Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union made her red carpet debut at the 2020 Truth Awards together on Saturday, the first such appearance since her father revealed that Zaya was a transgender girl earlier this year. The three wore coordinated outfits (in the colors of the genderqueer flag) that must be seen to be appreciated. "Everyone allow her to re-introduce herself her name is Zaya Wade!" Dwyane wrote on Instagram. Last night was Zaya's first red carpet and we couldn't have been prouder of how she handled the questions that were asked of her. She has emerged as one of the young faces and voices for the LGBTQ+ community. #truthawards
E Online

On Background

Spas can be nightmares for transgender and non-conforming people Arabelle Sicardi raises an issue that many of us may not have considered: The luxurious relaxation of spas and spa culture around the world are emotional mazes for people who are unable or unwilling to choose a gender-identified robe, locker room, or soaking pool. The unwritten rules: “If your gender identity is not what you were assigned at birth, if you have gone through all gender-confirming surgeries to align your gender and sex and it is visible, if your anatomy doesn’t align with expectations of gender norms—you’re essentially not allowed in, unless you optionally choose to misgender yourself.” The further away from femme, Sicardi moves, the more difficult the spa trips becomes. “[I]t’s also a reminder of the fact a place that was once a place of comfort is also (and has always been when I wasn’t thinking about it) a place of restrictions and sometimes violence.”

We were here first New York Magazine has dug deep into the archives of 1969 and republished a devastating read by the legendary Pete Hamill on the plight of the people formerly known as the working class: The white lower middle class, “the ethnics, the blue collar types,” who have been pushed to the point of desperation. Come for the sepia-toned language of race and class, stay for the realization that what has been informing hate speech of the modern era is nothing new. 
New York Magazine

What does a scientist look like? If you were a child 50 years ago, if you were asked to draw a scientist, you would have most likely sketched a man, probably in a lab coat. But according to a social experiment conducted since the 1960s, today’s kids are more likely than ever before to portray a woman when asked to draw a scientist. Some 28% of children in recent studies drew women scientists, compared to just 1% in the studies conducted before 1980. Doesn’t sound like much progress? Ask your team to draw their idea of “a leader.” Almost all, men and women alike, will draw a man. Oh yes, they will.

Tamara El-Waylly produces raceAhead and manages the op-ed program.


"It is not surprising that a new disease leads to public fear, stigma, and the scapegoating of certain kinds of people because we tend to understand these events through our past disease rhetoric, which is rooted in fear, stigma, scapegoating. Some of the U.S.' first immigration laws were targeting Chinese immigrants because they were seen as racial, cultural, and biological threats, for example the Chinese Exclusion Act. Perceived biological threat is tied to a perceived cultural threat."

Josue David Cisneros, professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in remarks to Business Insider on why the rise of an infectious disease triggers xenophobia and racism.