Commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is increasingly being listed on the essential checklist of a job description. While you may have practiced many of the standard interview questions, maybe you haven’t armed yourself with some great answers to some potentially unexpected interview questions on workplace culture and diversity. So, how do you ensure that you’re prepared for diversity, equity, and inclusion questions?
We are all impacted by diversity, equity, and inclusion, whether this is in your own personal or professional life, as well as how these matters impact your partner, family, friends, work colleagues, and the wider community.
Apart from the obvious cultural implications, having a good understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and being able to communicate this expertise, can not only benefit you positively in an interview situation but also in terms of building relationships with colleagues and clients.
In this article, we explore:
What are diversity interview questions?
Definition of diversity, equity, and inclusion
Does DEI really improve performance?
9 diversity interview questions and sample answers
“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” – Stephen Covey
What are diversity interview questions?
Given the increased focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, you may well be asked several questions in this area when you attend an interview.
Depending on the role you are applying for, the interviewer will be looking to measure your understanding of DEI matters. They will be interested in how you would react to a situation where you witnessed a colleague being the target of racist, ageist, ableist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise inappropriate comments.
If you are applying for a recruitment, HR, or leadership role, then the hiring manager will be looking at how you could make the recruitment and selection process more inclusive, avoid sub-conscious bias, and enhance DEI in the workplace.
When you compose your answers, make sure they are from your own experiences as much as possible to ensure you make a great impression in terms of authenticity.
Research the company values, recent news, and any past events related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This will help you identify any commonalities between your values and the organization so you can tailor your answers to DEI interview questions.
What does DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) actually mean?
If you want to be able to answer any DEI interview questions with integrity and conviction, you need to understand what these terms mean. Here is a brief definition of each term:
Diversity: A company hires a wide range of diverse individuals. Diversity is often misconceived as solely multicultural matters, but it also applies to a diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexuality, language, education, and background.
Equity: Gallup defines equity as fair treatment, access, and advancement for each person in an organization. Equity often involves issues related to fairness in pay, opportunities for advancement, and fairness in daily work experiences.
Inclusion: The Cambridge Dictionary’s definition is: ‘The act of including someone or something as part of a group, list, etc., or a person or thing that is included.’ Inclusion in the workplace is about ensuring that everyone feels valued and respected as an individual.
Does DEI really improve performance?
Research has shown that making the right decisions on diversity, equity, and inclusion matters can make a major difference in both an employee’s and a company’s performance. This is a good way to back up your diversity interview questions:
2 out of 3 job candidates seek out companies that have diverse workforces (Glassdoor) - Employees feel safe, respected, and engaged when DEI is a priority, meaning they will join, excel and stay with the company.
Corporations identified as more diverse and inclusive are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors (McKinsey). Creativity and innovation are common themes in diverse companies.
Diverse companies are 70% more likely to capture new markets (HBR) - Diverse cultures reach a wider audience and therefore provide a competitive edge.
9 Typical diversity and inclusion interview questions
To make sure you handle diversity interview questions like a pro, here are some of the key DEI questions you may encounter at an interview, along with some sample answers you can provide to show your commitment to these matters.
1. Can you explain to us what diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you? Why do you think they are important?
This is a pretty typical diversity, equity, and inclusion question. As a recruiter, you want to know the candidate’s understanding of DEI and their stance on each element of these three areas. This question also helps to determine what these values mean to the candidate.
In order to prepare for this question, be clear on the definition of each term – diversity, equity, inclusion – and the distinction between each. Diversity is commonly viewed as being about sexual orientation or race, but acknowledge that it covers much more, including age, religion, educational background, people with disabilities, and other traits that make up a diverse workforce.
Essentially, you want to get across that you champion DEI matters in a sincere way. Explain how different perspectives boost creativity and innovation in a company and how companies connect better with customers from all backgrounds if they have a diverse workforce. Talk about how teamwork is greatly enhanced when employees have at least a fair understanding of basic DEI principles.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are extremely important to me. I understand that diversity is a term that refers to a variety of different perspectives represented on a team. When people with different backgrounds, traits, and experiences work together it boosts creativity and innovation.
Inclusion is something I really value. Promoting a sense of belonging can really make a difference. Embedding inclusion in recruitment, selection, and training establishes a talented and diverse workforce which, I think, customers from different backgrounds appreciate.
The idea that all employees are provided with fair and equal opportunities really resonates with me too. Equity ensures that everyone can feel safe, valued, and equal in terms of their feelings and the opportunities to grow and develop.”
Be honest. Draw on your experiences and think critically about what DEI means to you. Showing your perspective can meaningfully contribute to company goals moving forward.
Present yourself as a DEI savior, who can teach everyone else how not to be racist, classist, sexist etc. DEI is a learning curve rather than a ‘one fits all’ training program.
2. Tell me about a time you promoted diversity and inclusion in the workplace
While it can be great to hear you have a strong understanding of the individual components of diversity, equity, and inclusion, you need to back this up with concrete actions. Hiring managers are looking at how you promote DEI in your role. For example, if you are taking a supervisory role, then you need to explain how you will integrate DEI to develop your team.
When the hiring manager asks you to ‘tell me about a time,’ then it’s time to deploy the STAR method! This provides a great structure in terms of delivering a compelling example of how you meet the brief. STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Result:
Situation: Set the scene and provide some background information
Task: What were you responsible for in this situation?
Action: Describe the actions you took
Result: What are the outcomes of those steps and what was learned
“In my last role, I was working as a Project Manager for an FMCG manufacturer that was looking to infiltrate new consumer segments. I was tasked with pulling together a project team that would deliver the marketing and advertising campaign for our new product line.
It was clear to me that establishing a diverse, talented project team was important. This included equal numbers of male and female staff, as well as employees ranging from recent graduates to veterans, with each having unique backgrounds, traits, and experiences.
I received a little pushback from a couple of the team members who seemed unconvinced this group would work. I explained the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion, with research showing that higher-than-average diversity leads to 19% higher revenues (Harvard Business Review). I also highlighted our goal of attracting totally new customer demographics.
Our campaign was a major success, with sales of the new product line rising exponentially across target consumer segments.”
3. What is the hardest part of working in a diverse environment?
Clearly, an inclusive environment has many benefits but (taking the rose-tinted glasses off!) it is not always plain sailing when people from different backgrounds come together. Issues such as conflicting ideas, miscommunication, cultural misunderstandings/biases, and slow decision-making are bound to crop up.
A hiring manager is asking you this question to make sure you are aware of these challenges and secure a glimpse of how you deal with this sort of situation. Preparation is key in an interview. You don’t want to slip up and start talking about a situation where you weren’t able to build a positive working relationship due to cultural differences for example.
Keep your tone positive when describing the challenge and how you overcame the problem to show that you understand the value of diversity.
“In my last role, we started the week with a Monday meeting to prepare for the week ahead. Typically, the same three people would talk at length, and while we valued their input, this would not leave room for any one else to speak.
When it was my turn to lead the meeting, I ensured that everyone was invited to speak so we could hear everyone’s opinion. The meeting may have run a little longer, but it was worth it to hear everyone’s thoughts and unique perspectives.”
4. How would you react if you heard a colleague say something racist, ageist, ableist, sexist or homophobic, or otherwise inappropriate?
The hiring manager is looking to learn about your approach to dealing with conflict and whether you would stand up against biased remarks or actions.
Here you can share personal anecdotes where you called out any racist, ageist, or sexist language or behavior using the STAR method we discussed previously. If you don’t have a real-life example, then offer a hypothetical response that describes what you would do in this situation.
“If I heard someone making an inappropriate comment in the workplace, I would feel that it was my responsibility to intervene and directly address the inappropriate comment or action. I would maybe say something like, ‘Our team doesn’t speak to each other like that, so please don’t use that terminology again.’
If the behavior didn’t stop, I would speak to our HR department to make them aware of the issue so they can resolve it in line with anti-discrimination policies.”
5. How do you approach understanding the perspective of a coworker whose background differs from yours?
Acknowledging and understanding differences of opinion among employees is a great way to show your acceptance and respect for diversity. The hiring manager will be looking to see if your answer reflects that you are a great team player, who possesses strong interpersonal and communication skills.
Use your answer to talk about how you interact, communicate and build relationships with colleagues from different backgrounds.
“I am a firm believer that to understand someone, you need to learn about them, their beliefs, aspirations, and personal history. I take time to get to know the people I work with on a personal level, without being intrusive. This could be going for lunch together or coffee, attending team-building events, and participating in external sports activities.
When you can build a relationship on trust, it makes things much easier if there are any disagreements or differences of opinion at work. The foundations of understanding and respect are there, so you can easily work through any conflict.”
6. As a manager, can you cite specific examples of making your direct reports feel inclusive and welcome within the team?
An inclusive leader promotes a positive company culture and positions the company as an employer that people want to work for. If you are being interviewed for a managerial role, this question will help show your values of diversity as a leader.
Explain how you handle performance reviews and team meetings, how you make decisions in terms of allocating work, and how you troubleshoot complaints for example. Talk about the ways in which you have made team members from different backgrounds feel part of the team.
“I consider myself an inclusive manager who ensures that all direct reports feel a sense of belonging and equity. As Office Manager with ABC Company, I was approachable and checked in daily with my direct reports to ensure a positive working environment.
I held regular team meetings and prepared an agenda ahead of these meetings, which I encouraged the team to contribute to in terms of any additional items they wished to discuss. During the team meeting, I ensured everyone had the opportunity to speak and encouraged those who were less inclined to speak to join in the discussion.”
7. How do you ensure you keep your biases in check when hiring new staff?
If you are interviewing for a position that will involve recruitment, this question will for sure crop up. Everyone has subconscious biases. No one is perfect, so don’t try to answer this question by saying that you have zero biases. This won’t come across as very honest or genuine to the interviewer.
The hiring manager is looking to see if you have an awareness of subconscious bias and that you can avoid letting these biases influence your decision-making during the hiring process. If you can explain how you have overcome these biases in the past, this will be a more compelling and believable answer.
“We all have subconscious biases and sometimes they can affect even highly experienced recruiters. I focus on trying to eliminate bias as much as possible from the recruitment process.
One way I do this is to ensure that the job is advertised across a broad spectrum of networks so that it reaches a diverse talent pool. During the screening process, I ask my team to remove names and photos from the resumes so that this does not influence my decision-making.”
8. Can you describe a time when you identified gaps in diversity, equity, and inclusion and how you addressed this?
As diversity, equity, and inclusion issues are becoming more pressing, interviewers will be looking to find out how you can suggest and/or implement positive changes in these areas to enhance their performance and boost their reputation as an employer of choice.
If you are being appointed in a supervisory capacity and/or the company needs to strengthen its DEI performance, then providing great solutions to closing these gaps might just bag you the job. Providing some specific examples and positive outcomes will be valued by the recruiter.
“In my last role as Learning and Development (L&D) Manager, I was responsible for handling the training and professional development of all employees. My focus was on enabling all staff to achieve their full potential as well as meet the needs of the organization.
Following an audit of existing training programs, it was clear that there were some gaps in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I devised the following action points:
Created diverse training groups and scheduled regular DEI training sessions
Embedded DEI into learning content, even when not specifically discussing DEI topics
Introduced peer exchanges, roundtables, and collaboration hubs
I noticed there was a huge improvement in employee morale and engagement as well as productivity levels after only two months of implementing these changes”
9. How do you plan to enhance your understanding and knowledge of DEI?
Establishing an inclusive workplace culture is a continual process and DEI matters are evolving, so it makes sense that you also need to expand your knowledge across these areas. Whether that is by completing training courses, attending workshops or conferences, and/or researching via reputable sources, this will all enhance your DEI knowledge base.
Hiring managers will be looking to measure your commitment to expanding your knowledge across diversity, equity, and inclusion. Cultivating a DEI mindset is best shown by your commitment to continued professional development in this area.
“I am committed to furthering my DEI knowledge as I recognize the value of continual learning and that a deeper level of understanding helps me perform my role more effectively.
I participate in regular DEI training and workshops, so I keep up-to-date with new and emerging issues, trends, and legislation. I also increased our company’s engagement in various community events. We now organize regular events with groups from various cultural backgrounds that feature different customs and traditions.”
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are here to stay and rising in importance, so it makes sense to prepare for diversity interview questions
Be honest and genuine as you answer DEI questions - provide specific examples of how you have developed your diversity, equity, and inclusion skills on both a personal and professional level
Be proactive in terms of enhancing your knowledge of new and emerging matters in the DEI field as this will enable you to ensure continual improvement in these areas