How Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leaders Can Vet a Potential Job Opportunity

Written by Avery Francis and Sarah Saska, PhD

Image via an inclusive space that we love and cannot wait to visit. Be sure to check out Ethels Club. Learn more about them here.

With social justice movements calling on companies to meaningfully engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work, DEI leadership has become a highly demanded role. But the problem is that many companies say they want a DEI leader, but it’s really just appeasement or knee-jerk reaction. With that in mind, it’s critical that DEI practitioners considering a leadership role at a new company vet them as much as the company might be vetting you.

At Bloom and Feminuity, we’ve helped place DEI leaders in multiple businesses. In this article, we’ve written down the process and questions we use to coach DEI leaders when it comes to identifying if the role is right for them. If you’re interested in how we advise companies when it comes to vetting DEI leaders, check out our DEI leader foundation and vetting a DEI leader guides. If you’re a DEI practitioner considering a leadership role, keep reading.

Why DEI leaders should vet organizations

Fundamentally, vetting a company is about two things:

  1. Identifying if you’ll fit there / if you’ll be able to make an impact.
  2. Uncovering the company’s true intentions in hiring for the role.

While everyone wants to do great work, the DEI leader space is a bit tricky. Many companies hire the role for perceived PR bump or marketing value, but have little intention of actually empowering their DEI leaders to make real change.

As a DEI practitioner, you’ve got to suss that out in the interview phase. In the best case, your vetting shows that intentions and words match perfectly. Amazing! In the worst case, you find out that the company’s true intentions are not what they stated at all. This doesn’t mean you’ll turn them down every time — you might be fine with their real intentions and be able to help anyway. The key is to know so you can make an informed decision.

Vetting questions DEI leaders can ask

Uncovering a company’s true intentions is about figuring out their context, challenges, and the actions that led up to you being invited for an interview. Here are the questions that we recommend every DEI leader candidate ask during the interview process and offer stage.

What decision-making rights does this role have? Seek specifics. “Anything you need!” is a cop-out.

Where does this role sit in the organization and who would I report to? You need to know that the organization understands the seriousness of your work and gives the role the position it needs to succeed.

Why me? This question is vetting for tokenization. Check to see if they’ve done their homework — do they talk about how your previous experience applies to their challenges, or do they stumble over themselves trying not to mention your identity?

What preparations are in place for this role to be successful? Just like the question about decision-making rights, seek specifics. Things like getting buy-in from leadership already, removing any obvious blockers, assigning resources from day one.

Why now? This will help you identify if the hire was thought-out and due to a real need or if it was a knee-jerk reaction.

What outcomes is this role held accountable for? You need to know what you’re supposed to produce. If you’re given generic answers like “make us more inclusive,” ask for specifics or definitions about what “more inclusive” means, looks like, and is measured by.

What’s the salary / range? Ask this for two reasons: 1) check that they aren’t playing games about negotiations, and 2) this is a leadership role and should be compensated as such. You could also potentially ask about variable compensation tied to profits, general executive bonus pools, and performance-related compensation.

What’s my budget / what resources will I have access to? Get clear on what resources the company is providing to help you (both money and headcount) achieve the outcomes you’d be accountable for. This will help you adjust expectations if the resourcing is not aligned to the scale and scope of outcomes you’re expected to deliver on. If there’s no / limited budget to start, ask for the clear, reasonable milestones that, when hit, would trigger a budget for scale.

What’s the growth plan for the role? The role needs its own headroom, growing to larger milestones, further entrenching DEI practices, moving to focus on something specific after laying a general foundation, etc.

Can I speak to employee resource group (ERG) leaders? If the company you’re looking at has existing ERGs, ask to speak with them to get a sense of what they’re up to — this will help you see how you get along with them and if your knowledge / experience can help them grow.

What happens if I find massive systemic inequities in your product, supply chain, or other revenue-generating area of the business? This question is to vet how much the company is committed to living their values, even if it means changing core business practices or forgoing some short-term revenue. If you get a cop-out answer here about “a case-by-case basis” or something like that, it’s a huge red flag that their ‘commitment’ to DEI work is surface-level. You want to identify if they have a decision-making framework that abides by their stated values.

Asking tough questions is part of the job

These questions might seem pointed and in some cases aggressive, but the reality is that change only comes from asking difficult questions and uncovering real challenges. As a new DEI leader, you will already have an uphill battle against people who don’t feel DEI work matters — you can’t succeed in the role if you aren’t set up for success and supported by your so-called champions.

Keep blooming!

Avery

One more thing At Bloom, we support companies who aren’t ready to hire a full-time Diversity, Equity and Inclusion leader but need the strategic leadership on an interim basis. We offer a holistic 3 part learning experience that will not only get your people talking more openly about race, power and privilege but feeling more comfortable with doing so through facilitated learning experiences. Read this article and still need help? Bloom’s here for you. Reach out to learn more about our DEI experience here.

We help startups and the people who work at them grow.

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