Signs your prospective employer may not be sincere in its D&I efforts
Why these signs matter and what organizations are hopefully doing instead
These days, any organization worth its salt has clued into the importance of workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I). You’d be hard-pressed to find a company or institution that doesn’t show imagery of smiling, diverse “employees” on every page of its careers site or sign off every job posting with the requisite “Equal Opportunity Employer” clause.
This transition to more inclusive branding is positive; however, the walk doesn’t always match the talk.
If you’re a candidate who prioritizes organizational D&I, it can be overwhelming to discern which organizations are sincere and who’s just paying lip-service.
Thankfully, you’re not the only one who considers feeling safe and included in your organization as non-negotiable. I’ve been in the same boat. It looks like others are too.
“83% of Gen Z candidates said that a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is important when choosing an employer.” — Monster, 2018¹
Back in 2018 when I started seriously job hunting, I eagle-eyed every organization for its stance on D&I. It was, and still is, my biggest criteria for choosing the right employer. Through that exercise, my continued work in the D&I space, and ongoing conversations with similarly-valued current students and recent grads, I picked up on a few signs to indicate which organizations are likely in it for the D&I-long haul.
If you’re not sure how to see through the smoke and mirrors, read on for three tells of a potentially immature or insincere organization when it comes to D&I. In the respective “Why This Matters” and “What to Look For” subheadings, I’ll break down why each of these signs are significant and the specific company information and behaviours that can indicate whether or not they’ve missed the mark.
The following should be taken as guidelines and not a “one size fits all” list. If the organization you’re considering (or currently employed with) doesn’t check all of these boxes, don’t immediately cancel them. Treat a less than perfect score as an opportunity to ask further questions.
1. Leadership is White and Male
Why This Matters
As if it were correlated, the whiteness and maleness of corporate leadership is almost as ubiquitous as the need for D&I strategies and actions.
Whether you prefer your diversity stats from TikTok data scientists or Catalyst reporting, it’s evident the leadership of the world’s most powerful organizations is abysmally homogenous.² ³
This factor speaks more to D&I maturity than sincerity. The average tenure of a C-Suite executive 4.9 years.⁴ It takes time to rotate a leadership team.
For companies that have been intentional about D&I for some time, they’ll likely be much further along in their efforts to create representative leadership teams.
There is an exception to this point which I address further in #3. It’s a red flag if women are still seriously underrepresented on any organization’s senior leadership team.
What to Look For: Marginalized Identities in Leadership Positions
Go directly to the “About Us”, “Senior Leadership”, or “Corporate Profile” page and take a look at who’s who in their zoo. Most companies will have the headshots, bios, and contact info for its senior leadership plainly visible. If not and the company is publicly-traded, you can also find the names of its C-Suite members and the board of directors in the annual report.
Even if the team is relatively monochromatic, take a quick peek at their bios for mention of charitable organizations they support or causes they’re passionate about. For example, a white senior leader as the executive sponsor or champion for an organization’s programs for Latinx employees demonstrates allyship and awareness of the significance of D&I.
2. Senior Leaders Are Silent
Why This Matters
Remember #BlackoutTuesday? That questionable weekday in June of 2020 where millions of people paused their regularly scheduled social media programming to post a black square in solidarity with the BLM movement? Yes, unfortunately, I do too.
Was it performative virtue signaling? Depends on the person and their subsequent actions.
Regardless, this lingering digital artifact and anything else an individual or organization posts on social media about D&I are extremely useful in your evaluation. A black square isn’t the most compelling example, but it at least proves anti-racism isn’t a foreign concept to the original poster. Better yet, it’s proof they’re willing to take at least a small (read: exceptionally small) step in solidarity.
A lot of D&I efforts fail because there isn’t a clear, visible commitment from senior leaders. If the CEO doesn’t care about D&I, why should their less bought-in employees? More mature organizations recognize the importance of having their senior leaders as active, vocal champions for their D&I strategies.
They also recognize the importance of separating church from state, or in this case: senior leaders from their corporate entities. Sure, it’s great when a company tweets a statement of solidarity or its commitment to D&I. Box checked. But compared to when a CEO and other leaders post from their individual accounts? It’s a different sentiment.
These public, individualized declarations demonstrate the poster is willing to put some skin in the D&I game. It may not seem like much, but remember not every leader is comfortable being associated with movements for equality. Especially in organizations where the leadership’s social media isn’t controlled by the marketing division, these statements go a long way to indicate personal interest in D&I.
What to Look For: Public Commitments by Leaders
Now that you’ve reviewed the senior leadership of an organization, take it a step further and creep those individuals on social media. Reminder, white men and others with visible forms of privilege can’t change that they are white, male, or otherwise privileged, but they can recognize the power they have as allies and use their platforms to play a role in anti-racism and D&I. Look for content that demonstrates their awareness of this responsibility.
See if these senior leaders are engaging with the D&I issues that matter to you. Pay attention to the language they use and their confidence in discussing these topics. Personally, I look for CEO interviews on D&I to see how comfortable they are in this dialogue. If the CEO in question struggles with the acronym “2SLGBTQ+” or hesitates before saying the words “Indigenous”, “Black”, or “African-American” as if they’re inappropriate, this can indicate a general lack of experience in discussing D&I.
Bonus points if whatever you find existed before May 25, 2020.
3. D&I Efforts are One Dimensional
Why This Matters
Every identity contributes to diversity, however, many organizational D&I strategies are severely one-dimensional, still focused on a single topic.
The advancement of women.
To be clear, I’m fully on board here. Equality for women is critical and it’s clear there is still plenty of work to be done. However, if women’s equality is the only cause an organization has put effort towards, it’s a clear sign of an immature or lackluster approach to D&I.
But why is there such a laser-focus on women’s rights?
- The burning platform has been established. Binary gender equality efforts are well documented. The dialogue is also normalized in society. Many individuals know what feminism is, the women’s suffrage movement is common in our curriculums, and most individuals are aware of the gender pay gap.
- It’s a cause people can intimately identify with. Most people advocate for what impacts them or someone they care for directly. Everyone has a female family member or friend they hope to see unencumbered by systemic barriers. It’s common to hear men at women’s initiatives state they’re there “for their wife” or “for their daughter.” This intuitive sympathy drives action and accountability.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for other causes. Not everyone has a Black friend, a queer friend, or a friend with disabilities. Still, the oppression experienced by many marginalized groups is neither mainstream knowledge nor mainstream concern.
As our definitions of diversity and our understanding of systemic barriers evolve, it’s clear that a focus on women’s rights is table stakes. More needs to be done.
Organizations that truly “get it” know and account for the full spectrum of diversity. They recognize the implications of our diverse experiences, identities, and perspectives through an intersectional and objective lens.
At minimum, they know not to conflate women’s equality with gender equality.⁷
What to Look For: Formalized Programming For and Commitment to a Variety of Diverse Identities
An organization’s employee resource groups (ERGs) often represent some, if not all, of an organization’s D&I priority groups.
ERGs are collectives of employees who collaborate to foster awareness, advocacy, and connection around a shared identity, experience, or cause. Although ERG is the most common title, some organizations refer to these groups as “affinity networks” or “employee caucuses” or “interest groups”. In practice, ERGs are traditionally extra-curricular initiatives sponsored by their organizations.
The first documented ERG was Xerox’s National Black Employees Association. It was started in the 1960s by the organization’s Black employees and was sponsored by then CEO, Joseph Wilson.⁸
Look for how many ERGs an organization has and what groups they’re centred on. Every company listed on DiversityInc’s 2020 list of the Top 50 Companies for Diversity has ERGs.⁹
It’s common for a single organization to have multiple ERGs. A quick search at the time of writing shows Xerox has 7, Royal Bank of Canada has 8, and Suncor has 7.¹⁰ ¹¹ ¹²
If an organization just has a women’s ERG, they have some work to do.
Search “Company Name + employee resource group” and see what you get. Also, check the reporting section of an organization’s website. Many annual reports now include a section on D&I where ERGs are often listed. Some organizations consider D&I to be a component of their broader corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts so take a look in that section too. Reports dedicated solely to D&I are also becoming more common — a definite sign of interest in the topic.
A quick note — even if listed, an ERG may not always be “active”. Because ERGs are usually “side-of-the-desk” programs, their effectiveness varies. If you have the opportunity to speak to someone at the organization, ask them about their ERG networks and other D&I programming. If they list a bunch of ERGs, but can’t give examples of what they do for the organization, it could be a sign ERG leadership isn’t receiving enough support to truly make an impact.
Again, I consider the three indicators listed above as foundational. However, if an organization is lacking in one or two, they aren’t necessarily a write-off when it comes to D&I.
Maybe the new CEO who starts on Monday has D&I at the top of their agenda whereas their predecessor didn’t. Maybe the organization is extremely small and does most of its hiring through referrals, negating the need for a boisterous “careers” page outlining all of its diversity initiatives.
What you see as an outsider won’t always tell the full story.
Whether or not you like what you find, at least you know you’ve done your D&I due diligence.
: Monster. (2018). What workforce diversity means for Gen Z.
: @Bri_Xu. TikTok. (December 30, 2020). #stitch with zacharyloft imma bout to crtl+c, crtl+v this audio with stats stay tuned
: Catalyst. (December 2, 2020). Women CEOs of the S&P 500
: Korn Ferry. (January 21, 2020). Age and Tenure in the C-Suite
: Satya Nadella. (June 1, 2020). Tweet.
: John Hopkins University. Diversity Wheel.
: Carolina Pía García Johnson & Kathleen Otto. (February 20, 2019). Better Together: A Model for Women and LGBTQ Equality in the Workplace,
: Rebekah Bastian. (February 11, 2019). How to Foster Workplace Belonging Through Successful Employee Resource Groups.
: Olivia Riggio. DiversityInc. (August 4, 2020). Exploring the History and Evolution of Employee Resource Groups,
: Xerox. Creating a Competitive Advantage. Accessed January 31, 2021.
: Royal Bank of Canada. Our Commitment to Inclusion. Accessed January 31, 2021.
: Suncor. Inclusion and Diversity. Accessed January 31, 2021.