Diversity Interview Questions to ask a company

Birgit Pohl
12 min readMar 7, 2022

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“I’m finding that a lot of relatively ‘simple’ questions just yield a fairly standard answer (‘blah, blah, we value diversity, blah blah’)”. — Ho Yan Leung

Let’s tackle that!

I have asked the community on LinkedIn and Twitter and here I thank everyone who contributed to this beautiful collection. 🙏🏻 Every single person has their own strategy based on their experiences to find the right company, that truly values diversity.

Before we start, let me give you some tips on how to approach your interview with the company.
First, the company is not the only side that “interrogates” you. To make sure, that you find the right company for you, you have to start asking questions as well. And a good company will give you the time and space to ask them.

You will have several rounds of interviews. Many companies don’t communicate what kind of answers they have given and questions they have answered. So don’t hesitate to repeat them. The reason is, that some people value diversity, others don’t have a clue what is going on and again others are indeed able to show you, they don’t value it at all. This can happen in a single company.
While the talent acquisition managers have a high awareness of diversity and are well-prepared to answer all your questions, you will find that some tech employees don’t really know what is going on. This means you can assume that diversity has only reached recruiters and HR, but not beyond that. But you want to look out for companies, which have that as their values and as a business case.

This set of questions will be available in a Github repository which is public and open source. So don’t hesitate to contribute to it. Everyone who knows, how to do a git commit and can write in markdown is welcome to improve it.

Do you have a problem with gender diversity?

I usually start with this question. When companies answer with “No! it reveals a lot about how they tackle this and probably any other problem. Gender diversity in tech is a social problem, a bias itself. Every company deals with it. Saying, there is no problem, is just logically a lie. This is a red flag.

What gender distribution/gender-quote do you have in department X?
What is the gender quote on management/leadership level?

Companies often have a good gender balance. But often not in your department. Tech, legal, sports, sales usually come with more male employees. HR usually is a female-dominated department. The company should try to find at least a 20% balance. The opposite gender should not be the only team member in a team. It creates friction. In female-dominated departments not so much as in male-dominated departments. The reason is, regardless of our gender, we commonly tend to belittle women. Creating a healthy environment, where people can get used to communicating with other genders will put down communication barriers.

Did those women in leadership start in your company with a leading position or did they grow into it?

It is good for the company to hire people from the outside to get a fresh perspective. But you also want to see, if the company builds upon the people it already has. So what does the company do, to build a career for their employees?

How do you see diversity in the company?

Do you see, or do you have gender diversity as a business case? When do you plan to implement it?

As a company what are you willing to invest, in terms of time and money, for diversity?

Here it gets serious. Some companies or even some individuals find gender diversity important, but is it built-in into their everyday working life? Individuals will promise you the stars, but then you realize you are heading against a wall when you speak to individuals such as their bosses.

What kind of employee resource groups do you have?

That gives you an idea of if not only the company values diversity and inclusion but also if the employees value it. Check how active the recourse groups and initiatives are with the following questions:

PAST: What are your recent achievements and near-term goals?
Can you give me some examples of specific actions from your team/the company that demonstrate your value of diversity?

CURRENT: What active diversity initiatives do you have currently?

FUTURE: How do you identify future diversity initiatives?

How do you guarantee the alignment of your leadership team with these initiatives?

Check the company out to differentiate between lip service and real values. This goes really deep. Regularly attending women in tech and LGTBQ+ meetups is an advantage. Sponsoring those is even better. This makes sure the company does not only leech the community but also sustains and grows it.

Treatment with leeches. Historical artwork of a woman using leeches to treat disease. She has taken some of the blood-sucking leeches out of a jar at left and placed them on her arm. Leeches were prescribed to treat diseases thought to be caused by the presence of too much blood in the body. While this medical theory has been disproved, leeches are sometimes used today to drain areas of partially clotted blood (haematomas) from a wound. This woodcut is from Historia Medica by W. van den Bossche,
Wikimedia

Can you describe clearly an active hiring policy around diversity and inclusion?
What are you doing to increase the amount of women working in
your tech-teams?

Digging deep here as well, to avoid talking instead of doing, we will find out, what the company has done so far for hiring diverse.
Especially when working in a field such as tech, you often face a majority. A majority, that is so overwhelming, you wonder, why the company hasn’t done any efforts yet to balance it out.

Can I meet with a person from an underrepresented group?
Can you give me references for a woman who worked in your team?
Can I speak with one of your women/nonbinary engineers on my seniority level 1:1?

Ask this if you hadn’t yet met a person like this from the interviewer pool. Some companies often don’t have anyone available and had to substitute in a designer or PM), which is a signal. If you are a person in tech, you want to speak to a person in tech.

Ellen König pointed out quite correctly, you often get the marketing answer for your questions. This is why she and many other contributors recommend meeting with marginalized groups.

I too have discovered, that specific individuals have been excluded from the hiring process in fear they could tell something pretty negative. But when I discover this, I don’t wonder about that person. I wonder, why would the person think like that. What is it, the company has to hide? In this case, I recommend the company re-evaluate its culture.

What do you do, if your male employees have a colleague with a female lead?
How were previous incidents handled?

Women feel the need to prove themselves. It has a reason: Women are often forced to prove themselves, over and over again. And once they have done that, it is still not enough. Because of (gender) bias, people will find various kinds of reasons, not to like a specific human being. This is a topic of cognitive dissonance. Someone will always find a mistake in another person. You want to know, how the company deals with this type of conflict.

I heard a story of a positive example: Sat1/Pro7 Media group has many male leaders, but one female senior lead and her reports started to complain about her a lot. This is strange because she has proven her position already. But her manager defends her and helps her de-escalate the situation.

A bad example is when a company fires the female lead, because of “team fit” when a report has a written record of ill-communication and never-ending unsatisfaction.

This situation actually reminds me of the dog world, where you find biases as well: It is comparable with removing a well-trained rottweiler, a healthy pack leader, in a situation where the rottweiler tries to show an untrained chihuahua that constant barking is not allowed in the pack, and then you remove the rottweiler because you think the big and strong rottweiler is the problem, where the chihuahua was the conflict creator and will continue to do so because it has learned to succeed with this behavior.

I guess you can see with this question, you can figure out, if the company creates toxicity on the systemic level, or if there is actual space for you as a non-white-cis male.

What activities are proactively done by your managers to remove their biases related to diversity and inclusion?
Which measurements do you use to make sure this isn’t a toxic workplace?

Is there any information on how the company sustains and retains diversity?

A question to prove, if a company means it. Observe if they start to think and only find sloppy answers. It means firstly, they haven’t thought about reducing biases, and secondly, if they did, they haven’t aligned yet.

You also want to know whether the company came up with a strategy on how to raise awareness and sustain diversity. A company can hire pretty much diverse. But how many of them actually stay at that company?

Which trainings are mandatory?
Do you have ever done any biases training?
What kind of training does management undergo in order to improve communication, especially within to improve diversity?

What does the company actually do, to improve the awareness for how to communicate with someone who is not male, white, and heterosexual? You want to know if the team members are trained regarding everyday biases.

How do you and your teammates promote inclusivity day-to-day? Can you provide any specific examples?

Look for topics like meeting etiquette behavior and written forms of communication to ensure it’s not an environment where someone with the loudest voice wins.

How do you handle maternity leaves?

How did women coming from maternity progress in their career at your company?

Has the company thought about how a woman would love to get back to the company? Some women would love to get back full-time right away. Some others like part-time. Does the company support day child care?

Also, pregnancy and a single mother carrying for her children are often seen as having less performance. From the company, you want to know, if mothers have the same opportunities as any other person in the company, where many of them could be dedicated fathers.

Which criteria does your company use for performance evaluation?

What is the personal growth strategy at the organization?

A reasonable evaluation makes sure, that you will be evaluated by professional metrics and not by biases. As soon as information is missing, people will fill it in with biases. You want to make sure, that the company is aware of that and has created a path that is equal for everyone.

What is the strategy of organization to create resonant leaders?

Competence over confidence. You want to know how the company selects and grows its leaders. What are the criteria? Check in the gender ratio in leadership.

Do you have a system to report someone? How does it work?

You want to know, what the company does to uncover any unprofessional acts from employees. Topics can be unprofessional comments up to sexual harassment. My blood pressure is still rising hearing the story of one of my mentees. She felt a lot of pressure from her CEO. When she reported this to her CTO it resulted in her being fired, because both of them reasoned, she would create unnecessary negativity inside the company. When you ask this question, dig deeper into how a company would handle a situation like this.

How do you provide mental health support?

Did you ever wonder, why your peer has screamed at you when his country had Corona-lockdown? Did you ever wonder, why your report is working slowly and seems to be psychologically not present? Do you wonder, why your colleague is always reacting defensively? Or why do so many people quit?

Putting pressure at this time is not creating any effects. You want to know if the company is able to support its employees when they are having a hard time. All of these examples are real-life examples. The person whose performance slowed down had his thought by his mother who died at that time. A company should raise empathy and awareness and provide help. Humans don’t only have a physical body, but also a brain that shuts down when too much stress comes in.

Tell me about the accessibility in your office?

Do you have people with disabilities, chronic illnesses and neurodiversity on the team? How do you ensure they feel psychologically safe and are set up for success?

I’m sure many companies simply won’t hire anyone who is neurologically different, because they can’t even imagine what it means. Another case is, they would think about it as a weakness and think, the person is not able to provide performance as anybody else. We forget, that we put everyone in the same environment. I have seen heavy fire doors, that people with physical disabilities haven’t been able to open themselves and I have never seen a concept for people who have ADHD, which is pretty much common. Also, everyone not diagnosed with ADHD has a certain potential to get distracted quite a lot. Who of you has played the Facebook games, when they were big? You don’t need Corona to get digitally distracted — Just to raise a bit of empathy. ;)

How can the learning and development budget be used?

I find this is a very good suggested question. What does it have to do with diversity? I personally see, that women who ask for specific training are being rejected to get the training, while men being in a similar role, having the same starting point often get the advantage and are chosen over women. Having a learning budget free to use and discussing openly everything that goes over the budget without prejudices is something that the company needs to be able to provide.

How do you negotiate / decide / communicate salaries?

In many cases, people, like Gen Z, want to know the salary to be able to know, if they can effort a life in a specific city or life part-time.

Women find it important to know as well. They are more likely to apply if the salary range is available in the job description.

Most importantly for everyone: There is a lesser chance to jump off at the end of the hiring process because the salary was not clear. I strongly suggest preparing the annual salary check-in before starting the hiring process.

How many nationalities does the employee base has?
From where do you recruit candidates?

National diversity is good. But check-in with how the general culture is. Also, how does the individual person see the topic of diversity and inclusion? There is a culture clash between gender diversity and some national cultures. In some countries, the culture of patriarchy and “strong” leadership is very strong, and therefore “collaborative” leadership styles, that are often provided by women, and LGTBTQ+ are seen as “weaknesses”.

A very good mix of national cultures is to your advantage. Have one or two from this country, one or two from another. But, if you start hiring from abroad only from one country might not be diverse anymore. It is more of a homogenous monoculture.

Did your team celebrates any other festivals/days?

Is the company aware of your traditions? Would the company even support you on that? The company can collect some points in diversity and inclusion by acknowledging your culture and background and by participating in it.

Special Tech Questions

How do you name the git branch source of truth?
How do you name your primary and secondary servers?

Is the company aware of associative thinking? Our brain works like that. Do we still think in “master” or did we already evolve to “main” branch? A company that thinks about these details has gained some extra points in diversity and inclusion.

Photo by Adam Jang on Unsplash

People who have contributed

Thank you very much for your contribution. I’m very honored to have so many great people in my network! 🙏🏻

Denise Mauldin, Anton Drukh, Fabienne Schlangen, Sanantanita Burnette, Hina Sakazaki, Julien Bartholome, Anna Parfenova, Ellen König, Franziska Hauck, Kristian Rother, Vishakha Sharma, Angelita Frozza Sanches, un:equal, Tania De la Paz, Natalia Rizzi, Amber Janko, Mathias Meyer, and so many others.

I love how diverse this group is. Thanks, everyone!

Check out the original post on LinkedIn to get in touch with them.

Do you also want to contribute?

Don’t hesitate to open up a pull request on Github, open up an issue, and drop your contribution there. You can also write a comment here, LinkedIn or Twitter.

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Birgit Pohl

Your leadership coach and knowledge curator | https://birgitpohl.com | @devbirgit 📸 Instagram, 🐦 Twitter, 🎥 Tiktok