Companies Hiring, Executive Feature

Is Diversity Just a Buzzword at Your Prospective Employer? Here’s How to Find Out

Wanda Bryant Hope never dreamed she would become Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Johnson & Johnson Worldwide. That kind of title didn’t exist when she was growing up – but the will to fight for diversity was always in her blood.

Her mother, Tillie Bing Bryant, participated in several civil-rights marches and protests during the 60s, culminating in her arrest on February 21, 1962 when she led a lunch counter sit-in to protest the Jim Crow laws in South Carolina that barred her from ordering with the whites.

Toilet Paper Pic 1Police were called, and Tillie was thrown in jail. During her time in the cell, Tillie wrote her story on a roll of toilet paper that has been proudly displayed in her china cabinet as a piece of family lore. Tillie wrote: “Mommy, I don’t mind being in jail, as long as I know one day, when I have children of my own, they will have a privilege and can do the things we are fighting so hard for today.”

Fast forward nearly six decades later, and Bryant Hope does indeed have more opportunities than her mother. But the fight isn’t over. Though diversity is finally a part of the mainstream discussion in business, it’s easy for companies to pay lip service without doing the hard work, Bryant Hope says.

So jobseekers who prize diversity and inclusion must look deeper at prospective employers to make sure these purported values aren’t merely buzzwords. Bryant Hope explains how to do it:

Gather data in your initial research

Before diving in, recognize that “you have to not only examine each company separately – you also need to realize that each company is on a different part of the diversity journey. You’re looking to figure out where they are on the path, and whether that fits with your vision,” Bryant Hope says.

So how do you figure out where your prospective employers are on their paths? Start simple: Check out the website for each company on your list. Is diversity a key part of the message and mission, or do you have to search for it? Ditto for the company’s marketing materials: Is D&I held up as a core business initiative? Are company leaders quoted in news outlets talking about diversity?

Wanda Pic 3

The point is: If diversity and inclusion are indeed top priorities at the company, it will be obvious.

At Johnson & Johnson, the company’s four-part credo stresses the mission to create “an inclusive work environment where each person must be considered as an individual. We must respect their diversity and dignity and recognize their merit.”

J&J is “a company that has lived this for some time,” Bryant Hope says. “It’s about a data-driven strategy integrated into business priorities, and that shows. Some companies are just starting to have that conversation; some might think it isn’t a big priority.”

If diversity and inclusion are indeed top priorities at the company, it will be obvious.

Go in-depth to narrow down your target list

Once you’ve winnowed down your initial batch of companies, dive deeper into the firms who are left. Some companies tout diversity and inclusion in their materials without actually living it, Bryant Hope says, so this deep dive is important.

Scope out the executive leadership team, and any demographic data if the company releases that information publicly (if not, scroll through the employees via LinkedIn). Do you see diversity in the ranks, particularly at senior levels?

“The trend over time is just as important as the actual number,” Bryant Hope notes. “What it looks like today might not quite be where they want to get, but if you can see they’ve made progress over the years that shows their commitment.”

Check out whether the company employs a Chief Diversity Officer, and whether that person reports to the CEO. Additionally, dig into the activities of any diversity-centered employee resource groups to see if they are initiatives that have true impact on the community?

“A lot of organizations list [D&I-centered] programs, initiatives, trainings – which are great but are generally a first step,” Bryant Hope says. “That may not tell you whether it’s a true business priority. What is the actual impact of these programs, and how embedded is this inclusion throughout the company?”

During the interview

As good interviewees know, asking smart questions of your interviewer is a great way to make an impression – and it’s key for filling in the blanks on D&I, as you won’t be able to figure everything out with your own research.

“It’s about asking specific, quantifiable questions,” Bryant Hope explains. “I love questions such as ‘How diverse is your organization, and what data to you have to back it up’?’”

Ask about anything you couldn’t uncover in your research, and try to get a sense of what that really looks like at the company day-to-day: How embedded does your interview think D&I is across the company? If applicable: Is the company committed to making its senior leadership ranks more diverse?

“There’s a way to do it so you’re not interrogating: ‘I want to make sure I’m proving value to you as an organization, and that I’m getting value out of this too,’” Bryant Hope says. “To me, that’s someone who’s trying to make an informed business decision – the kind of thinking I want on my team.”

And don’t be afraid to ask if you can speak to someone who looks like you at the company about their experiences, Bryant Hope says. But if your interviewer seems surprised or annoyed by your questions, that could be a warning.

“If your interviewer isn’t expecting these types of questions, that may be real a sign of how this individual, at least, values [D&I],” Bryant Hope says. “I can tell you at J&J it’s a point of pride for us, because we know the value it brings. So if I got pushback, I’d have to take a step back. This is a discussion that should be welcomed.”

 

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