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How to Assess an Employer's Commitment to DE&I




​When you're looking for your first job out of college, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to take the first offer you get, particularly in times of economic stress. However, given that human resources is an essential role at most companies, it's possible that you might have your fair share of choices. You may even be in high-demand if your GPA, prior work or internship experience, and extracurricular activities are impressive.

But whether you're in-demand or not, you shouldn't have to compromise your values for your job. As an HR professional, you likely prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). As such, you probably want to work for an organization that values DE&I and is evolving with the times. And since your organization will look to you as an HR professional to contribute and possibly lead DE&I efforts, DE&I should be a priority in your job search.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Introduction to the HR Discipline of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion]

But how can you gauge whether an organization is proactive on DE&I? And if it's not, should that be a dealbreaker? Or should you view that as an opportunity to change the culture at that company? In this two-part guide, we'll explore ways to navigate this complex process. In this guide, we'll be exploring the preliminary research that you should do before even applying for a job.

Research Tips

Start with the company website and social media accounts. Given the attention paid to DE&I in recent years—particularly in 2020 following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the subsequent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests—look for statements prospective employers may have made to show support for diversity and inclusion.

More difficult is determining whether an organization has taken real, significant action. Some organizations have been very public about this, but not all. Before interviewing, job seekers can take several steps to determine whether an organization is truly one that values diversity.

Ask for an informational interview. Before beginning your job search in earnest, compile a list of companies that interest you. Then reach out to them about an informational interview where you can ask questions about the company and how the HR role fits in. If you can schedule one, particularly if it's with someone who wouldn't be part of the hiring chain for the role you'd have, then you may be able to get real, candid information on the organization's diversity efforts, noted Ren'ee A. Mangini, SHRM-SCP, HR professor and department chair for HR at Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland, Wash., and a SHRM student chapter advisor.

Take a close look at the company's careers landing page. Check to see if there is diverse representation. Kyra Sutton, Ph.D., a faculty member at the Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations in New Brunswick, N.J., pointed out that a lot can be gleaned from looking at which employees give testimonials.

Does this company have employee resource groups (ERGs)? Companies in many different industries have ERGs that represent various communities, such as Trans at Google and the Ford-employees African-Ancestry Network (FAAN). These are great ways for employees to meet individuals who may have had similar career and life experiences. Additionally, ERGs can give senior leadership input so that the company strategy reflects the interests of that group. Some companies have ERGs for early-career professionals.

Is the company involved in partnerships and other DE&I initiatives? Beyond ERGs, is the company involved in other types of DE&I efforts, both internally and in the community? Are key players—such as senior and midlevel leaders—involved in and leading these initiatives? Check to see if the organization has partnered with professional associations that specifically support underrepresented communities in the workforce, such as the National Association of African Americans in Human Resources, the Society for Hispanic Human Resource Professionals, Prospanica and the National Black MBA Association. "For example, see if they have sponsored a recruiting event for one or more of those organizations," Sutton said. "Has one of the organization's leaders presented during a conference?" 

Look at the company's top performers and senior leadership team. Pay attention to which employees are in the news, as well as the company's C-suite executives and board of directors. Is a diverse group recognized and rewarded? Are personal pronouns listed after employees' names to show inclusion of all gender identities? "To me, it starts at the top," Sutton said. "If one or more of the C-suite executives is a person of color, it gives me hope for the organization." 

However, Mangini cautioned that looking at the C-suite or board pages isn't always the best place to gauge diversity. While representation at the highest levels is very important, she noted that companies aren't going to fire members of the leadership team just to make room for more diversity. "It's a gradual process and also depends on the industry and the location of the organization," she said.

Check for DE&I data transparency. Some companies, like Apple, are very transparent about their employee base and DE&I initiatives and report this information on their websites. During your research, look to see if a company's strategic goals include diversity initiatives. Check for a DE&I landing page, like this one from Bank of America.

Your ability to access this information depends on how well a company markets itself. An employer may have a very diverse workforce but just hasn't made a point to highlight it, Mangini noted. "You may find a company that doesn't look very diverse on its website, but really embraces those particular ideas and thoughts," she said.

How do customers or clients refer to the brand on social media? DE&I is not just about internal development, but also about brand awareness and marketing. After several companies released statements in support of the BLM movement in the summer of 2020, many former employees and customers called out the brands for hypocritical behavior. Searches on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Glassdoor, TikTok and other websites can reveal a lot about a company's public image and brand.

For example, model and activist Munroe Bergdorf accused L'Oréal of hypocrisy in June 2020 after the makeup brand made social media posts in support of the BLM movement. Just three years earlier, L'Oréal had fired Bergdorf after she spoke out against white supremacy following the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va. In an effort to rehabilitate its image and make amends, L'Oréal rehired her a week after she criticized the brand.

What's Next?

Once you've done your due diligence and determined whether a company is truly one you want to work for, it's time to go about applying and interviewing for the job. You'll want to think about what questions to ask during the interview process, as well as ways that you can potentially work to further a company's DE&I efforts as a new employee.

Ready for next steps? View: Questions to Ask About DE&I During Your Interview.

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